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How Organizations Can Navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is blurring the lines between people and technology and its affecting the way people work and the way businesses produce value.


This was a key insight from the study HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” conducted in partnership with the World Economic Forum, Saudi Aramco, Unilever and Willis Towers Watson.

"The impact the 4IR will have on the workplace will be the most profound of any previous industrial revolution," said Scott Cawood, president and CEO at WorldatWork. "While IRs 1 through 3 had direct ramifications on our manufacturing ability to mass produce and improve quality, the 4IR will have a much more direct impact on how we work and will likely dismantle the traditional workplace along with it. Leaders need to ready both their people and their workplaces for an on-demand world that favors purpose over profit and speed over structure."

The study draws upon a series of consultations with select chief human resources officers and experts to identify emerging challenges arising from the future of work and a range of potential interventions to address them.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its significant implications for the future of work present the HR profession with a unique opportunity to redefine its mandate and further advance its function,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson and the study’s co-author. “HR can accomplish this by shifting from being a steward of employment to being one of work while ensuring the continued relevance of the global workforce through the creation of a continuous learning and reskilling culture.”

The study indicates businesses and governments must adapt to these changes and support the workforce transition. If managed well, the future of work may be one where many more people are able to fulfill their full potential.

"This means Total Rewards and HR professionals may finally have their biggest moment yet where they can influence a much better experience for their people while at the same time contribute to the growth of the organization," Cawood said. "To do this, it will require a shift from the extreme focus HR has on employment-related issues to the magic that happens when we go for the gold and focus on work and people. Focusing on those two things can produce outcomes that better the world."  

The study identifies six imperatives that business leaders, partnering with their human resources counterparts, will need to implement to successfully meet future challenges:

  • Developing new leadership capabilities for the 4IR;
  • Managing the integration of technology in the workplace;
  • Enhancing the employee experience;
  • Building an agile and personalized learning culture;
  • Establishing metrics for valuing human capital; and
  • Embedding inclusion and diversity.

“As the Fourth Industrial Revolution transforms work and the workforce, HR professionals must respond to proactively manage the future of work,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director, World Economic Forum, and head of the Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society. “HR leaders will increasingly need to develop skills and understanding of data analytics and technology, as well as supporting others to develop those skills to encourage employee experience and productivity.”

About WorldatWork

WorldatWork is a professional nonprofit association that sets the agenda and standard of excellence in the field of Total Rewards. Our membership, signature certifications, data, content, and conferences are designed to advance our members’ leadership, and to help them influence great outcomes for their own organizations.

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Membership provides access to practical resources, research, emerging trends, a professional network, and career-building education and certification. Learn more and join today.

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