World Science Day and Exponential Careers- Is HR really ready?

From the UNESCO Director General’s message…

This World Science Day for Peace and Development comes two months after agreement on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable DevelopmentThis new agenda embodies a new vision for humanity, for the planet, for peace, for the next 15 years – science stands at its heart as a force for positive transformation and a development multiplier… 

…to make the most of this power, we need to understand more clearly the global landscape of science and we need better tools to monitor progress.

World Science Day was last week, and it got me thinking about some of the opportunities we have in HR to take the lead and do what we’ve always aspired to do – build great organizations with incredible workforces, smart people and great careers.  Even if we don’t work for a science-based organization, science and technology drive just about everything we do, and in particular, they increasingly drive the change velocity of millions of careers; velocities that make HR tools designed to help people navigate their careers seem hopelessly dated – job descriptions, career paths, competency models, traditional training and mentoring programs, to name just a few.

Careers are moving at a velocity that people simply can’t keep up with.  Job descriptions are inaccurate the day after they’re written, and competency models are obsolete before the consultant cashes the check. Traditional one-on-one mentoring doesn’t work, isn’t scalable and is often uncomfortable.  Real mentoring takes a village.  No one mentor can possibly help navigate all of the options that exist in today’s careers, particularly science and technology careers.

We need new tools.  Tools that deal with exponential careers – careers driven by ever-accelerating change velocities, work technologies, collaborative requirements, business models and competitive landscapes. Managing a career effectively has two major components – the what (content), and navigating to the what.  Tools like Lynda and Cornerstone do an OK job of serving up the what, but figuring out which what to focus on is the real challenge.  Tools like do this better – with IBM Watson-curated content and blindly empirical success profiles. This way, content can be delivered in ways that help people understand the which what better, to explore their next steps (the “adjacent possible”) and plan the longer arc of their career in engaging, self-navigated ways.  Likewise, companies like Ramco Systems (the best HRMS software you’ve probably never heard of), are disintermediating static competency models with dynamic algorithm-driven, crowd-sourced tagging models.

We need to embrace the composite workforce.  While more than a third of today’s workforce is comprised of temps, freelancers, contractors, consultants and other enterprising and absolutely legitimate work models, organizations (and their HR teams) still manage through the lens of traditional employees.  Composite workforce arrangements aren’t limited to just Uber drivers.  Increasingly, scientists, technologists, creatives and others find these work arrangements to be vastly more consistent with their career- and life-goals.  In short, they offer workforce participants the opportunity to do their best work, and traditional employment doesn’t.  This is the reality, yet too many in HR focus on the traditionally employed and leave everyone else to Accounts Payable. Policy, practice and leadership behavior all have to focus on a single workforce, regardless of what the employment arrangement is.

And while we’re on the topic of Uber drivers, where is HR’s voice on this?  New and innovative business models continue to be saddled with outdated employment laws even over the objections of the people being “protected.”  There have to be ways for people to choose a freelance career and still be offered reasonable protections, and HR professionals should be figuring out how to connect the dots.  Disruptive business models like Uber, and innovative HR platforms like PTO Exchange, really do describe the future of work.

We need to create diversity, not just embrace it.  Too many organizations still suffer from three diversity-destroying biases:

  • Shiny pennies.  Resumes always look better than real people.  We make it way too easy to manage your career by leaving, rather than by staying;
  • Round pegs.  We look for exact fits, particularly when the last person in the role was “perfect”.  This may feel safe, but unless we advocate for diversity of ideas, skill-sets and approaches, the organizations we look after will calcify and die.
  • Pariahs.  Former employees should be treated like alumni, not defectors.  At one science-based company we’re familiar with, 900 ex-employees were asked “would you come back?”  87% said yes.  Why wouldn’t a talent-short organization see this as a resource instead of the more common “You left.  You’re dead to me.”

We’re in an era where science and technology are making fairly substantial dents in the universe.  If we go beyond just thinking differently, and push our organizations to execute on ideas, experiment more, and take a bit more risk, we have a huge opportunity to build truly great organizations.


-Tom Connolly, CEO of GattiHR, LinkedIn

GattiHR is the parent company of leading recruiting firms Gatti & Associates and Armstrong Franklin.