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Gerd Leonhard

The Futures Agency

Futurist and Humanist, Author, Keynote Speaker, CEO The Futures Agency

Read more about Gerd Leonhard

HR futures: coding for humanity


In today's world we seem obsessed with the need for educators to prepare students for working life, which usually means focussing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and a general emphasis on learning to write code i.e. to program computers. We focus on learning just-in-case instead of just-in-time, and we focus on repeatable, ‘hard’ skills.

But perhaps we should be learning how to code humanity, as more artificially intelligent machines will do away for the need to type, calculate, track or even write things by hand.

This is where a new vision for Human Resources comes into play – not as a business-tool of the CEO or the board, or a mere matchmaker of talent within and without corporate walls, but as a leader asking the key question of how we will keep our humanity in the face of exponential technological change that is impacting every facet of our organisations. This is the biggest single burning issue of the twenty-first century, and HR is right in the middle of it.

Better than robots

Already, the question is shifting from how techno-savvy our newbies and veterans are, to how humanly creative they can stay in the belly (or on top) of the machine. Coding for humans involves a far wider vision for what we used to call Human Resources.

But mind you: I do not buy the line that current machine intelligence is equal to human smarts. Far from it. Current technology is often inhuman to the exact degree and ratio that it hinders human flourishing. My vision of twenty-first century Human Affairs excellence goes further than the simple belief in the magic of technology – it encompasses what I like to call Digital Ethics i.e. our values morals of life in the 2nd machine age.

Digital Ethics as a code of belief as well as conduct – that is a vision for HR leaders, something to not only win acceptance from the board but demonstrate leadership to it. What’s to stop the Head of Human Resources evolving into a Chief Humanity Officer, just as the IT head has already evolved into a Chief Information Officer (soon to be the Chief Understanding Officer)? 

Information is more than technology, just as humans are more than a business resource.

Information (and truly understanding it) is more than technology, just as humans are more than a business resource. What is the price of cultural awareness and diversity? How can you value a so-called ‘female perspective’ monetarily? How do you measure compassion, empathy, intuition, morale, imagination, reciprocity, loyalty or inspiration? These are the real skills, not just literacy or numeracy.

Humanising business

In my book Technology vs Humanity I unveil a new agenda for corporate humanists, one in which uniquely human traits are not balanced, copied or simulated by smart technology (particularly, artificial intelligence) but remain the actual priority.

My message to HR leaders is this: focus less on demonstrating your ‘people management’ competence to the chief executives and seize the opportunity to really humanise your enterprise – exponential technologies are calling for exponential humanity, and those companies that achieve both will be wildly successful.

Exponential technologies are calling for exponential humanity

Consider that in many ways we have already entered the era when serious technological advantage is somewhat illusory and commodified. As every incumbent company, particularly in media, banking or retail, races to replicate the Google/Apple/Alibaba/Amazon stories with their very own discrete digital ecosystem, we have already forgotten that Apple first began by humanising the tech story. Remember Think Different? That campaign came before any iMac, iPod, iTunes or iPhone, and tripled the share price just by perception. Steve Jobs knew that what was missing in the digital space was a name and a face, with the customer as the new hero.

Now it's the employee's turn. Establishing and driving a new code of Digital Ethics to underpin the digital transformation strategies that are changing every organisation on the planet is not only possible and advisable for HR departments. It is, finally, what they have always been there for.

HR may have always lacked a bigger strategy beyond its composite activities, talent acquisition and management but now is the time for HR to rehumanise the corporate body!

Author Profile Picture
Gerd Leonhard

Futurist and Humanist, Author, Keynote Speaker, CEO The Futures Agency

Read more from Gerd Leonhard

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