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Strategic HR leader Steve Rowe says future-proofing oranisations is one of the most pressing issues in HR

Change consultant and strategic HR leader Steve Rowe offers insights on the gig economy and technology, future-proofing for organisations, and tells us  why people say he has a “knack for seeing things others can’t".

Crowd & Co: Over the past 5 years, you’ve held various consultancy roles. Can you tell us a little about this work?

Steve Rowe: My consulting work has been quite varied. One of the most interesting gigs was with the Australian Institute of Company Directors where I helped them develop a Strategic Workforce Plan to help them take their business to the next level.  On another occasion I worked with a medical company in the IVF space to develop an employee value proposition to help them attract the best scientists and nursing staff. I’ve also done a lot of executive coaching over the years. I’m a firm believer that coaching needs to be set in the context of a life plan and it’s always so rewarding to help people develop that for themselves.

C&Co: You have many lovely recommendations on LinkedIn, however this one stood out: “Steve has a knack for seeing what others can't and devising creative and engaging ways to fix [these issues].” What helps you gain this insight?

SR: Yes, I felt very flattered by that comment and hope I can live up to it. I guess the way my brain is wired I always look to the end game first. This tends to prompt questions like, “What’s the business problem we are trying to solve? What would success look like?” I think this naturally allows me to take the big picture view rather than getting stuck on points of detail. I find that when you take this approach, the key issues and opportunities are hiding in plain sight

C&Co: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

SR: I had a large and complex role at Pfizer when I became the Senior Human Resources Director for most of HR in Asia-Pacific. Initially this comprised around 250 people across 15 countries, servicing about 40,000 employees. The team grew to around 400 people, after we bought Wyeth, another very large pharmaceutical company, and had the challenge of integrating them very quickly. I remained Sydney-based during this period but needed to spend a lot of time working in the region and also travelling to Pfizer’s Headquarters in New York. I loved every minute of this challenge – particularly getting to grips with the cultural differences across the region. But it was exhausting at times and my body never really worked out what timezone it was supposed to be in

C&Co: What is the most pressing issue in the HR space at the moment?

SR: That’s a great question. There are many pressing issues that I could choose but if I could pick just one it would be the need to future-proof the organisation by identifying and developing the strategic capabilities required for success in the longer term, particularly in the context of the increasing automation of roles.

Strategic workforce planning should be a foundation for any HR Strategy but it’s often a challenge for HR leaders to get their leaders thinking about their workforce needs beyond the next financial year. That said, there are tools and techniques that can be used to structure some great discussions around this and HR leaders to step up and lead these important but challenging conversations.

C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest challenges for next generation of HR professionals?

SR: I think the gig economy is here to stay. For some people this means the casualisation of the workforce and an erosion of workers’ rights. For others it means more agility and flexibility with the opportunity to better fit our work into our lives, rather than the other way around. The next generation of HR professionals will need to get their heads around what this all means and how it will impact on the development of HR strategy.

I think we are only just beginning to understand the implications of how technology and automation will change the future of work. The next generation of HR professionals will have more work to do than past generations in future-proofing their organisations to accommodate these quantum leaps.

C&Co: And the biggest opportunities?

SR: Technology truly offers us a huge opportunity to work very differently and potentially much more effectively than in times past. This will present us with an opportunity to radically re-think the nature of work as we know it. The opportunity to get “all the brains in the game” through technology-enabled collaboration is huge. This will inevitably put pressure on the more traditional command and control management hierarchies – and that’s a good thing

C&Co: How are you using technology in your work?

SR: Probably not as much as I should. Business social media such as LinkedIn is a key tool for me these days and of course the ability to minimise travel by connecting virtually has been fabulous. But I am open to influence and would love to be educated further about what I could be doing differently.

C&Co: What place does technology have in the future of HR?

SR: It’s massively important. Having quality, accurate and easily accessible data at your fingertips is vital for a contemporary HR professional and this would be impossible without modern technology. Being able to facilitate a talent and succession review interrogation and updating a system to capture decisions and ideas in real time is a beautiful thing. These days every facet of HR can be enabled with technology, and the technology is continually improving. These days it’s an essential pre-requisite, not a “nice-to-have".

C&Co: What’s the secret to “people"?

SR: Yikes! If I knew that I would have sold more books than JK Rowling right now and have billions in the bank. Seriously though, In the context of work, again I would start with the end game and ask a slightly different question, borrowing from Gallup, “How can you create the opportunity for people to do their best work every day”? Great leaders intuitively understand what this means for each team member and create the climate and conditions for them to succeed. Unfortunately, great leaders are in short supply. However, in a rather indirect answer to your question, I would say that if you want to unlock the potential in people, then selecting, developing and rewarding great people leaders would be a very good start.

C&Co: Finally, if you have one minute on the soap box, what would you talk about?

SR: Sometimes, I think I have spent far too much time on the soap box and should probably pipe down a bit. But as you ask, I think the thing that has frustrated me most in business is the lack of humility and the extent to which self-interest and ego impacts upon business decision-making at the senior levels. This may be more of a Western phenomenon, I’m not sure, but I think it inevitably leads to an erosion of confidence in others and workers that are discouraged and don’t seek to fulfil their full potential. I’m afraid I don’t have any ready solutions for this issue, but I do feel that if we could transcend this part of our human nature which seems to be magnified at the higher echelons of corporate life, we’d all be much better off.


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