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Disrupting HR and Hawking on AI

A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about:


HR Disrupted – Lucy Adams

I pre-ordered this book in December based on my recent introduction to Lucy’s blog, and it arrived via post this week (A package? For me? How lovely…). Despite having reached my quota for “disruption” last year, I do find Lucy’s perspective to be both refreshing and substantive. She begins with a very honest tale of her embattled years as Director of HR for the BBC, and how this ultimately led to a significant shift in how she views the profession.

To be blunt, it’s so nice to read something from an actual practitioner who has really been through the peaks and valleys as a member of an organization, rather than a self-styled “thought leader” or long-time consultant (sorry consultants, please don’t send hate mail). Having said that, Lucy has launched her own consultancy, Disruptive HR,  since leaving the BBC, which seems to be focused on helping organizations implement the EACH model she lays out in her book:

Employees as:


Consumers, and

Human Beings

I’ll write more about the book as I work my way through it, but so far I am nodding along with Lucy’s thesis about the way that traditional HR has failed to evolve with the modern realities of work. A few quotes:

“HR systems and manuals are geared towards making HR feel better rather than enabling employees to do their best work.”

“So much of what we do when we manage people at work, whether it be related to training, development, or management, is based on this old-fashioned parent-child relationship.”

“Ask yourself whether your HR procedures are designed to protect your organization against any eventuality, rather than to help people do a better job. Because one thing is certain – there are not enough rules in the world to keep everyone completely safe.”

This last one in particular hit home for me, as it’s something I’ve written (and ranted) about before. A worthwhile read, if you’re up for some common sense challenges to  status quo HR thinking.



Work-Life Balance Beats Work-Life Blend, According to New Google Research – Jessica Stillman for Inc.and Re:Work – Google’s corporate blog

Not a new thesis, but now with 100% more Google data to back it up! It seems that Google decided to use people analytics to determine if there was an optimal approach to managing the frequently overwhelming and conflicting personal and professional demands most working people grapple with.

From their Re:Work blog:

To help us answer this question, we looked to past research from Christena Nippert-Eng that suggests that people tend to either use one of two strategies to manage work and nonwork roles:

  1. Segmentors are employees who create rigid boundaries between their personal and work lives. They reported that: “In my life, there is a clear boundary between my career and my non-work roles.”

  2. Integrators are employees who blur the lines been work and home, switching back and forth between the two. This group often agreed that: “It is often difficult to tell where my work life ends and my non-work life begins.”

As I mentioned in last week’s Weekly Musings post, this is a hot topic, and one that is only going to become more important for companies that recognize how unsustainable (for both individuals and organizations) the current volume of information, communication, and collaboration has become.

While we’ve recently seen France takes steps to curtail expectations for employees to respond to after-work e-mail (pushing towards a Segmentor type experience for employees), Jessica points out in her Inc. post how surreal that might seem to American workers, for whom such a move would seem unlikely from both a regulatory and cultural standpoint.

Unfortunately for them, Google’s findings seem to favour a more French approach:

“Using this framework, we asked Googlers to tell us what type of work-life arrangement they preferred and what their actual work-life experience was currently. We found that, regardless of preference, Segmentors were significantly happier with their well-being than Integrators. Additionally, Segmentors were more than twice as likely to be able to detach from work (when they wanted to).”

One strategy Google shares is a technique in which employees set and communicate a clear non-work goal (“I won’t check e-mail after xpm”) to their team lead or manager as a way to create their own work/life “segmentation” – a topic for a future blog post!

Future of Work

Stephen Hawking: This will be the impact of automation and AI on jobs – World Economic Forum

Picking up on another theme from last week’s Musings, I enjoyed this excellent, if somewhat terrifying, post and infographic courtesy of the World Economic Forum describing Stephen Hawking’s prediction about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on jobs:

“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

As he notes, this has the potential for far-reaching consequences aside from merely eliminating or radically altering jobs as we know them today. With significant amounts of work once done by many people able to be done by far fewer robots or computers, the owners of these machines become concentrated end points for profits, further increasing income inequality. This is likely to have significant social consequences, (as well as major impacts for leaders and HR professionals, obviously).

“Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

In particular, let me draw your attention to the Bottlenecks in Computers side-bar in the image below, which echos what I mentioned last week about automation not yet being good at doing non-routine, unpredictable human interactions. This infographic offers some good examples (and perhaps some comfort to an unusual mixture of professionals).


What did you read this week? On a scale of 1 to 10 airhorns, how sick are you of stuff being disrupted?? Share in comments below…and have a good week!

Image credit: Tim Marshall via

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m glad you’re back on the keyboard Jane, I look forward to your thoughts each week. Peter Drucker wrote a lot about disruption in his last book in late 1990s, reminding us that 10,000 monks were put out of work when the printing press was invented; that the first owners of printing machines became enormously rich, were treated as A list celebrities by the Courts of Europe but within 2 decades (as competition increased) were no longer celebrities but just tradespeople.
    The rate of disruption is getting faster but this doesn’t bother me. What does concern me is Hawking’s point about the concentration of wealth (& opportunity) in the hands of fewer and fewer people. The resulting social inequality carries serious dangers, especially for Western democracies.

    January 15, 2017
  2. Thank you for your kind welcome back John 🙂 I like the monk story; I’m sure you are also familiars with the similar tale of the weavers in Northern England who were ‘disrupted’ by the loom in the 1800’s – it’s where we get the term Luddite, apparently! The thought of increasingly unequal concentration of wealth is indeed alarming. The world already feels very fractured at the moment…

    January 15, 2017

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