Human resources and sustainability

The world is getting impatient. For results, for success. And corporate training for employees have become shorter; often so short it is non-existent. People and companies are pressing for results and when they do spend, they want the results immediately. And the quality of HR suffers; they are just trying to sift the market and find the talents to hire. Those with experience but are not capable will no longer be able to find work when they are planning to switch. That’s if they are not made redundant yet.

The ones who are inexperienced may find themselves somewhat discriminated against. But if they prove themselves to be capable, they’ll be able to move pretty fast in the private sector. The market will reward them richly; but rarely would companies incentivise them to help train up more people to be like them. Companies would just want to get them for their performance. And drive their results with better rewards and compensation.

Is this sustainable? I’m not sure. I personally don’t think it is going to work. Because the ones who are capable would rise and then eventually grow bigger than the organisations themselves. Or if they are actually keen on upskilling and developing people, they might move out and start businesses themselves because existing businesses out there are not really rewarding employees for developing others and fostering better work environments. Why so? Because collective results are hard to properly attribute to these champions. It is easier to attribute individual results; or allocate achievements to specific individuals.

Scientific management is showing its cracks. I’m not sure how long it will take to manifest in company valuations and the reputation of companies.

Hunting for problems

In a previous workplace of mine, there were a lot of strong, capable people who were good at problem solving and very oriented to that. However, they were not always good at identifying the right problems to deal with nor defined the problems well. So they went on and hack away at problems that were poorly defined and ended up not solving much. A lot of resources, energy and efforts were squandered on poorly defined problems.

To give an example, we could think about it from the perspective of an observation first. Say, there is a cat which is on a tree and meowing. Objectively speaking, it is not clear if there was a problem. It might be a problem to the flat owner on the second storey who is annoyed by the noises made by the cat. A cat lover might think the cat is stuck on the tree and unable to get down. The one who planted the tree and lives on the ground floor might think that the problem is that the cat might scratch and damage the tree. Now if you want to help, you need to define the problem in the context of someone’s perspective.

While there seem like a ‘straight-forward’ solution which is to remove the cat from the tree, if none of those people I mentioned saw it as a problem, then it would not have been considered a solution to begin with. If we contextualise the problem as the meowing, then the solution could just be to get the flat-owner to put on earplugs or insulate his flat from external noises better. Without the other stakeholders in the room, the solution set actually expands.

Problem solving is just the last stage of a repertoire of skills we need in the modern workplace. Being able to identify, define and contextualise problems can be just as, if not more important.

Finding good people

Can people be talented in terms of their attitude and work ethic rather than in content? I think it is potentially harder to find good people who takes ownership in their work and do them well than so-called skilled people. Because our work and education system increasingly churn out lots of generalists in the market, education stops being a good system for sifting out the non-committed, the slackers and non-resilient.

We want the system to help everyone get a degree, get good jobs and get paid well but we forget that our market system continues to be built on the competitive premise of “may the best team win” – which is to say that at some space between the education system and our industries, something is going to snap.

To move away from creating broken systems or breaking one part of the system while trying to fix another part. You choose.

Layoffs and humanity

There’s been loads of news of layoffs in tech and it coincided with huge investments made in Artificial Intelligence as well as the launch of a beta version of ChatGPT that somehow took the world by storm. The recency effect led people to think that the layoffs somehow might have something to do with the fact that AI might be taking away more jobs and so on.

For a long time, human labour have been relied upon to move good around, help with loading and unloading from transportation, stock-take and do records by hand. These jobs have gradually been replaced by machines though in rare instances, having a human do the job is still more efficient or effective. Switching human labour for machines is nothing new. And it has been a good thing because machines free up human to take on more challenging kinds of problems.

This is how the ratchet of progress takes place. We invest time and effort in developing machine solutions which would eventually be able to replace human effort. And once the solution is adopted across the board, there are so many people who are freed up to work on further solutions and the ball keeps rolling. From a fundamental perspective, the world is progressing and civilization advances.

It is strange that our economic system, the market system that we have lauded and embraced do not exactly work in the same way. It creates incentives and competition towards progress but the result is a lot of stress, anxiety, and pain when new solutions are adopted and manpower is freed up. This is because firms and businesses are not adapted in our system to focus on innovation for progress but simply innovation for profits. And when this is the case, unemployment is a logical approach towards the adoption of new solutions.

When firms and businesses cannot think broadly enough to embrace what is fundamentally beneficial to society and mankind, then individuals, talents and smart people like you and I, will have to develop the courage to step out and do the work that the world needs. Because in many ways, that is what makes us human. That’s what AI cannot replace.