We continue our Influencers series, talking to some of the Total Talent industry’s leading players, with Hugo Pinto, Digital Leader, Startup Mentor and Blockchain, AI and Innovation Advisor. Here Hugo talks about his career so far, opportunities and challenges for talent and the workforce, and how organisations can prepare for the impact of automation and AI.
Can you explain a bit about your career to date and what led you into the industry?
I’d describe my career so far as like an infinite game of Trivial Pursuit. Here, players answer questions on various topics to fill their playing piece with different wedges that represent different knowledge areas. My career has been similar, in that I began by studying engineering for a couple of years. I decided it wasn’t for me, so I moved into marketing where I obtained experience in marketing and business strategy. This was my first wedge.
I added my second when I set up a digital agency and then led the online business for MTV. When I worked at Telefonica I added my data and analytics experience and first contact with AI. Then, at IBM I developed innovation expertise and witnessed the impact of digital across very large corporate organisations. These areas combined now underpin my current work and profile, solving human needs and growing businesses with the help of technology.
When it comes to talent and the workforce, what opportunities and challenges do you foresee?
Culture is the biggest single challenge that I see all companies facing right now. Especially in communicating and changing a culture in a large organisation with misaligned internal and external facing workforces, that need to serve digitally savvy customers.
Part of the challenge is in hiring the talent needed to keep innovating and keeping them up-to-date with trends. It can be tough for a legacy business to attract talent, especially when competing against ‘cool’ tech companies for data scientists, digital strategists and so forth.
Retaining talent is another issue. Legacy organisations have a culture set-up at in a time where transparency wasn’t the norm. Hierarchies were built on information asymmetries between managers and teams, companies and clients. Now, it’s not too unusual to walk into a store and know more than a store assistant, who is bound by the information and technology that company has been able to develop, rather than all the relevant information available on the internet. The onus, therefore, is to keep talent motivated and equipped with the right information needed to deliver results. Technology plays a key role in this – surfacing business-critical information on colleagues, skills gaps and workforce analytics, for example.
Plus, there’s the speed at which legacy corporations can change. They need to be more agile and everyone working for them must adopt change rapidly. Market pressures, technological disruption and economic volatility add to this pressure. Mostly, clients and customers need new things every 3-6 months – can a company’s processes deal with this pace of change? Can teams?
Much has been said about the impact of automation and AI on the workforce. What’s your take on it – is the current hype and fears overblown?
This is a particularly relevant topic for every organisation today as automation is going to affect them all. Every business leader will be experimenting with automation as a way to increase efficiency, productivity and lower costs in their part of the business. But that’s a narrow way to look at this new(ish) tool and it overlooks the huge opportunity to be unlocked, by viewing automation as one of the accelerators of change. That said, organisations also face a significant challenge in change management and enabling people, rather than replacing them.
Workers will have to be reassured and empowered to adopt automation and to trust in the tools. Companies must be brave enough to have transparent conversations about the future of work and what that’s going to look like for every employee profile. Empowering them through technology is vital. Not just in streamlining their work through automation, but in giving them access to more opportunities in the organisation, to work in a style that they choose and giving them tools for lifelong learning while keeping aligned with an outcome, rather than a siloed set of metrics.
There must also be a cultural shift in how organisations get work done. It no longer centres on recruiting full-time, permanent employees. A myriad of options are available, including automation, contractors, consultants and freelancers. Many companies haven’t reached this mindset yet and it’ll keep holding them back.
How can organisations and workers prepare for the impact of AI?
Education, education, education. To use technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) effectively, they must understand what these things are. The same applies to concepts like Total Talent.
The second step is to empower people to use this understanding and these capabilities to improve their performance at work. Again, knowledge of the area is key. If people don’t see the bigger picture then they are at a disadvantage. They don’t fully understand their wider role and contribution to the rest of the business. This lack of visibility over every individual’s part of a bigger goal (or outcome) hinders the growth and innovation of an organisation – as experienced by its talent.
In the past, companies have managed talent as a quantifiable cell on an Excel spreadsheet, but they need to see employees as customers, with needs and aspirations. As Sir Richard Branson explains, “Customers don’t come first, employees do. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers”.
Many businesses are now used to using data to understand consumers better. How can these principles be applied to the workforce?
This closely links to my point about enabling workers with the right information. Everyone’s job has to be more data-driven. But that involves giving them the right, relevant data. Not just swamping them with a ton of data points that take a lot of effort to transform into insight, and to then make it actionable. It hinges on driving the right behaviours, by providing decision-ready insights.
Fostering an open and collaborative culture is important. The flow of information and decisions across the organisation should reflect this. Insights and information cannot be siloed with just one or two levels of an organisation.
For a company to grow and compete in the future of work, there must be more transparency and it needs to get different teams and talent pools working together. Technologists, Strategists and Designers better aligned to an end goal – customer service, product development, and maintenance, for example.
A big technology challenge that reflects on the organisation is modularising different functions and partnering with businesses or external workers to complete them. Organisations cannot invest in every aspect needed to become successful and operate – they must look to external experts who specialise in e-commerce, for example, or app development, logistics, and communications.
What do business leaders have to do now, to prepare their organisations and workforce for the next decade?
Training is critical, everyone must understand digital, how to be customer-centric, how to use data and how to drive innovation. Cultural transformation happens when the right conditions and mindset are enabled, it can’t be implemented and it must be recognised and rewarded.
Consider what experiments must be run to de-risk your strategic ventures – the value you bring to your customers today might be commoditised tomorrow, and this means companies will evolve much faster from now on.
Traditionally, a strategy was developed within a tight circle of leadership figures, but now it is more effective when run from the ground up, with the orchestration from the leadership team, and even the CEO himself. Organisations must get used to collaborating with clients, partners and external workers on creating and implementing strategies. This is a much more agile and iterative way of working. Just like in consulting, businesses used to bring value by having answers, where nowadays they need to help find the right questions.
But it all stems from education – without this, leaders cannot steer their organisations and make informed decisions about where to take chances and when to manage risk. It’s always worth remembering that a ship is safe at harbour… but that’s not what ships are made for.