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Rethinking required! The transformation of work

AI changes the world of work. Specialists are needed, but very difficult to find. Companies have to put a lot more effort into filling the growing gap of experts.

Which employees are needed?

The Human Resources (HR) department is currently undergoing a major transformation. Focal points are changing and intelligent tools – such as machine learning – will in future liberate companies and employees from tiresome routine tasks. Constantly recurring work processes are successively being taken over by machines that show no signs of fatigue and work continuously with one hundred percent attention. The term for this is robotic process automation.

In combination with AI, knowledge-intensive processes from a wide variety of data in different software applications are controlled by algorithms. In addition, computers are already learning without human support, so that they will become better and better on their own in the future. Productivity increases while labor values are redefined at the same time. There is more time to think about creative models of collaboration and future business ideas. Traditional competence profiles and functions lead to changed forms of collaboration with new creative possibilities.

This represents a major challenge for most employees, who had previously been used to departmental or divisional structuring. On the one hand, this causes uncertainty and irritation. At the same time, however, it offers scope for greater openness with regard to self-responsible, hierarchy-neutral, heterogeneous and virtual teams. This is a radical and strategic-cultural change that puts previous roles and organizations to the test. Personnel work plays a key role in this reorientation. How can this Herculean task succeed?

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„If you want to sustainably retain or win over high-performing employees today, you have to offer them a meaningful job.“

Corporate purpose.

If you want to sustainably retain or win over high-performing employees today, you have to offer them a meaningful job. But what does a company stand for? What is its point of difference? Simple questions, but precisely what an organization stands for is often unclear to many employees. In an applicant market in which highly qualified talents can virtually choose their future employers, the question of purpose is a decisive selection criterion. Employees who find meaning in their work and thus make a contribution to improving the company’s success, experience great intrinsic motivation. This factor is much more important to Generation Y than extrinsic motivation through financial or material incentives.

For this reason, alongside the traditional topics, in times of major upheaval it is necessary to address issues that go beyond the company’s key figures. The employer needs to reach out to employees and touch them. In close cooperation with management, HR professionals are challenged to highlight this facet of the company’s mission more clearly for their employees. This makes HR an essential component of corporate decision-making for new business models, subsequent acquisitions and implementation partners for necessary organizational structures. After all, transformations can only succeed if there is a common understanding of how the company differs positively from others.

This has a decisive influence on the inner attitude and mindset of the workforce. Human resources managers are therefore good sparring partners for management, executives and employees. Along with “management by objectives”, transformations require transformational leadership. In other words, in addition to clear goals and areas of responsibility, the necessary leadership qualities such as recognizing team member potential and fostering and inspiring valuable ideas, even if they do not come from the minds of managers. Joint learning through networking, irrespective of place and time, is therefore absolutely essential when it comes to keeping up with the competition in the long term. This in turn requires tolerance and acceptance of other ideas and ways of thinking.

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Trust and transparency.

To continuously develop the company further, the linking and moderation of a summative intelligence of creative new approaches is a factor that should not be underestimated. This requires decision-makers to consciously demonstrate trust and openness as well as a high level of emotional sensitivity, attentiveness and error tolerance. Swift experimentation and trial and error supersedes complex planning. Failure should not be perceived and evaluated as being a defeat, but as an opportunity for development. Unfortunately, this thinking has still not become manifest among all managers and employees.

The key competence for this change in leadership culture is mutual trust. Managers need confidence in the competencies of their co-workers and they have to trust their superiors to be able to realize a successful change process. To this end, both sides need to let go of traditional behavioral patterns. For HR managers, this means positioning themselves at eye level with operational decision-makers in transformational leadership issues. This requires new leadership skills to be able to inspire decision-makers, co-determination bodies and employees to adopt this new approach. An ability that has so far been neglected in the human resources area due to a focus on rigid job groupings and strong rule orientation. In other words, the human resources management of the future will become the human capital facilitator of a successful corporate transformation.

Inspiring success.

If you win people’s hearts, you don’t need to worry about their heads. But how do we win the hearts of those who make a significant contribution to the success of a company? Money is a valid argument, but it is not the key to making employees burn with enthusiasm. People want to make a valuable contribution and be proud of their performance. That is the reason why work is an essential part of our well-being. We want to be needed and that is what drives us. In disruptive times, it is therefore of great importance that people’s potential is recognized much more quickly.

This requires a dialogue between manager and co-worker that increasingly takes place on an emotional level. Even though this has long been regarded as a weakness in the traditional business world, in times of ever faster change, communication and recognition on an emotional level is one of the basic prerequisites for good and fruitful cooperation. A rigid potential development program is not sufficient and has become a thing of the past. Direct and open discussions about job satisfaction, culture and cooperation offer timely reaction opportunities to make meaningful adjustments.

In these conversations, the main thing is to get to know each other better as individuals. This promotes an appreciative perception between colleagues and managers and liquefies whining about “the others”. Community Building tears down walls between different areas, creates greater transparency with regard to various attractive career paths and helps to more quickly identify individual opportunities to assume new responsibilities. HR managers should support this process with intelligent tools in the spirit of a learning organization.

Agile cooperation.

The expectation behind agile is to become faster, more effective, more reactive and more impactful. How can this ideal be put into practice, especially since it involves permanent adaptation in the work context? There are many organizational ideas, but it is those of the agile organization that most closely reflect the vision of an innovative company. Agility is much more than change and flexibility. It requires the willingness to constantly embrace change and to calibrate collaboration with the changing framework conditions. It is about distributed intelligence and diversity. The core requirements in this context are networking and mobility.

The goal of an agile organization must be an organic self-conception. This requires a high degree of self-organization and self-responsible teams that are organized from the outside to the inside. This in turn calls for team players who possess a high degree of social competence in addition to their professional specialization. Appreciation and acceptance of different team members determine the effectiveness and efficiency of such projects. This enables the potential of those involved to be better exploited. The motivation of co-workers grows and the flexibility and performance of a company increases. At the same time, this form of organization requires managers to have the courage to be insecure.

In times of digital upheaval, it is precisely personalities like these that are needed. Instability becomes, so to speak, a prerequisite for stability. Organigrams are replaced by networks, which work on the overall result of a project through fluid cooperation between different experts rather than on self-positioning in a specific department. HR managers can actively support these significantly altered working methods as facilitators. This is not something that can happen on its own for any company, but rather a transformation process that both continuously analyzes work results and constantly adapts them by means of a continuous improvement process with effective measures. In addition to the objectives achieved, the evaluation of each team member in terms of self-management, responsibility and team leadership also forms part of the process. Performance in the project team also provides a broader picture of the strengths of the individual and the opportunity to position oneself for further challenges within the company. Agile work is therefore not a trend that has spread from the IT world to other areas. Neither is it only something for “digital natives”. It is simply a necessary form of flexible, structured collaboration that leads to much faster and better work outcomes through the rapid changes in the digitized world. Interdisciplinary co-located teams break up traditional silos and encourage the networking of different functions to create customer-focused, rather than area-focused solutions.

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New skills and intelligent incentive programs.

Because AI is replacing many work processes and requirement profiles are changing accordingly, new skills are needed. In a study by the Gartner Group, the most sought-after skills in job advertisements were structured into three areas, with creative skills given the highest priority. This involves

  • Initiative
  • Integrity and
  • Imagination.

These are characteristics that a computer does not (yet) possess. The prerequisite for applicants is therefore the inner attitude to carry out their tasks in the team with a high degree of commitment and self-determination. Applicants who constantly strive to demonstrate their uniqueness as individuals are out of place in agile work environments. That is why HR managers need intelligent incentive programs that promote team performance much more intensively than individual performance.

At the same time, a spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be awakened in the DNA of all employees. What is called for are people who think entrepreneurially, initiate projects independently through their own ideas, and who do not stoically and passively process tasks without creativity – because the latter will be taken over by machines in the future. Identification with corporate themes will become a success factor for creative employees with a high degree of customer orientation. They will also be willing to get deeply involved in a topic, recognize holistic interrelationships and convincingly argue internally for potentially changed solutions. Alongside the necessary professionalism, this can be achieved more effectively by people with high levels of enthusiasm.

The second most important factor for the future is an affinity for dealing with new technologies. This extends beyond the obvious use of Microsoft Office applications. Constantly improved customer relationship management tools and workflow applications are establishing themselves in this VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) as the standard for modern communication. The third skill is in-depth expertise in new technologies. Employers are looking for problem-solvers who can also develop strategic and holistic solutions and can be effectively deployed on new business models and new competitors. In this respect, we are not talking about individualists with an affinity for technology who are only proficient in modern programming languages, but about specialists who have the ability to align their analytical expertise to the needs of corporate strategy in a highly focused and substantiated manner.


Outstanding teams and co-workers master new forms of learning, the art of mutual appreciation and possess a different awareness of talents. Realistically, in the not too distant future, we will see the first systems controlled by artificial neural networks. In other words, there is no getting around dealing with robotic process automation. And it remains a great challenge that has to be mastered. The good news is that we have the capabilities to do this.

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Harald Smolak, Director and HR Director at globalise company Atreus

Harald focuses on the fields of mindful leadership, coaching top management executives, conflict management, organisational and team development and enterprise transformations. In his work he advises and assists clients from the IT, telecommunication, services, electronics, medical technology and insurance industries. He has more than 25 years of experience in general management, marketing & sales, human resources and consulting. Before hiring on at Atreus, he held several executive positions in leading telecommunications companies, including Senior Vice President Sales Americas at Siemens AG and Head of Human Resources Marketing & Sales at Nokia.