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Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I am old enough to remember when my profession was called the Personnel Department and thought itself ever so avantgarde when it changed its name to HR even though today, I feel that perhaps this name has run its course.

Just as the field moved beyond “personnel,” the term “Human Resources” no longer reflects the discipline’s broadened scope and strategic value offered by the profession. Today, the idea that we refer to employees as “resources” feels inhumane. I suppose being referred to in the same manner as minerals extracted from the earth, sums it up that the term ‘human resources’ is cold and mechanical.

This evolution in nomenclature is not unique to HR. Software engineers used to be programmers. Account representatives used to be sales reps and even within the field of HR, we seen the gradual shift from “recruiting” to “talent acquisition” and so on. In the past the field of HR heavily focused on compliance and operational support. Responsibilities centred mostly around ensuring employees got paid, industrial relations issues were minimized, and the organization’s exposure to risk was minimized.

The scope of responsibility was rarely given the respect equal to its importance in building a successful organization. In an endeavour to get the proverbial seat at the table (and equal footing with executive peers), some HR teams became more focused on their legacy mandates and earned a reputation as internal cops–often avoided and occasionally feared. Now I am not saying these HR departments no longer exists because there is plenty evidenceto the contrary.  However, there is a new camp within HR that’s far more focused on driving strategic business outcomes.

The evolution of HR can be traced back to a decision by one of the pioneers of modern HR, former Google SVP of people operations and current Humu Cofounder & CEO, who explains why he reframed Google’s team as “People Operations”:

“When I joined Google in 2006, it was clear: Conventional business language wouldn’t fly in the engineering-driven culture. While “HR” would be seen as administrative and bureaucratic, “operations” suggested the ability to get things done and use maths. So, People Operations it was. To illustrate the point, on meeting Urs Hozle, then SVP of infrastructure and one of the first 15 employees of Google in my first week on the job, he took one look at my bio and said, “Great title. 

We built People Operations around the principles of using data-driven decision making, of relentless experimentation, and of enriching the field of people management with the best ideas from across disciplines: psychology, economics, technology, and academia.And the name suited us well–it was the start of a movement in management that I’m proud to have been a part of.”

So, if the name HR is no longer in vogue what are we or should be changing to? If companies truly value their people, they should refer to them as such so the leading alternative it seems and one we already seeing a lot of, involves the word “people.” It ranges in variations from: people team, people & culture, people & places, people operations. Some prefer variations of talent: talent, talent & culture, talent operations. There are others doing the rounds like employee experience and human capital although, I should not dismiss the many who still strongly feel that the field should remain human resources.

I don’t know any personnel departments still in existence though, so I think it’s an argument doomed to die – a sombre realisation when I consider my corporate brand is heavily invested with the letters HR in its name. You might be asking what has really changed and the answer would depend on who and where you asked. Undoubtedly there is a major difference in capabilities, outlook and expectations of best-in-class HR teams and those still rooted in last century views and practices. But let’s have a look at some of the capabilities of modern HR or should I say People Operations, but you know what I mean.

The biggest capability difference comes in the form of analytics and data. Modern HR departments possess data – in spades. They also understand that data alone can be meaningless. Extracting insights from data that allows HR teams to adapt people strategies can be transformative. All the big progressive companies are turning to data to solve problems ranging from workforce planning, turnover, recruiting, and more. According to the Corporate Research Forum, 69% of large organizations have people analytics teams. Many modern HR functions have people analytics teams (or individuals) who are tasked with extracting insights from an increasingly complex HR technology stack.

Another big one is Employer Branding. A study by the HYPERLINK ""Harvard Business Review showed that a bad reputation can cost as much at a 10% premium per hire. The maturation of employer brand has transformed HR into a creative field. Leading HR organizations have Employer Brand strategies that mirror their peers in marketing, complete with conversion funnels, persona maps, and personalized digital engagement strategies. Companies investing in enhancing and actively driving their employer brand are seeing significant impacts on metrics including cost of hire, time to fill, quality of hire, and retention.

Where once sameness and paternalism were the order of the day, diversity, inclusion, and belonging are being recognised for what they bring to the bottom line. The business benefits of having a diverse organization is well  documented. A report by  McKinsey showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Leading HR functions are driving cultures that embrace “culture add” mind-sets and proactively tackling topics spanning pay equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Regardless of where you stand on the best name for the function, great HR is transformative. As the sophistication and impact of leading teams continue to drive the evolution of the field, we may soon be in a position everyone can agree on–the name doesn’t matter because the work speaks for itself.  So, am I going to change my company name? Maybe, but I am encouraged when the CEO of Humu said “the truth is, the name doesn’t matter. What does matter is the commitment to rooting decisions in science, in being respectful of the privacy of individuals, and of approaching people management in a truly human way.”  I guess that’s that question answered then.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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