When all you see in front of you are obstacles, there is no path forward.
Elatia Abate, a leading female futurist, entrepreneur, and former human resources (HR) executive, described in a recent keynote speech how rapid shifts in technology, the workforce, and the economy are tunnels that lead businesses down the same rabbit hole of inaction. Any one of these factors on its own is enough to create massive disruption in the job market. Today, we’re experiencing all three simultaneously at an alarming speed.
“It sounds scary, doesn’t it?” she says. “There is no cavalry coming. There is no future committee who’s out here planning what the future is going to look like. Because we are the cavalry, and we are co-creating what this future is together.”
Three Strategies to Turn Disruption into Opportunity
Abate doesn’t shy away from the challenges of disruption. It causes chaos, creates fear, and exacerbates the isolation we already feel. Instead of being held captive by our circumstances, however, she invites us into the captain’s seat and asks the central question:
“How might we empower our success in the face of great uncertainty?”
Disruption, according to Abate, is opportunity that just looks different from what we’re used to seeing—and it could be our ticket to creating a better world of work. She suggests now is the moment to design new business models that let go of the paradigms of the past and forge a future boundless with possibility.
To navigate this bold new world, Abate presents a three-step journey out of the rabbit hole and into the future.
1. Transform Chaos into Clarity
First, we need to shift our mindset from “What can we do with the resources and knowledge we already have?” to “Given that we’re here, what do we want to create?”
Before we can move forward with clarity, we need a crystal-clear vision for what we want to create and why it matters to us. To do this, Abate says, we must declare purpose, define values, and—equally important—protect boundaries by learning to say “no.”
This process means taking a few steps back and asking three key questions of ourselves and of our teams, free of constraints of the past:
- What do I want to create?
- What kind of impact do I want to have?
- How do I want to use my life?
“When we think about how this links to human capital management (HCM) and the organizations we’re running,” Abate says, “think about how these things could fall in line for recruiting, for career pathing, for helping people flourish inside your organization, for retention, and for engagement.”
2. Evolve from Fear to Fearlessness
In the face of all this change, one of the first things we feel is fear.
One of the most critical skills we can develop, Abate says, is learning how to name, define, and question the assumptions we have. By challenging what we think we know about well-being, productivity, and engagement in the workplace, HR can truly drive business strategy.
3. Transition from Isolation to Connection
When the pandemic thrust the world into an isolation none of us had experienced before, this circumstance cemented the importance of connection with other humans. Now, as we rely more and more on digital technology to reach one another from different locations, the question becomes: How do we use these powerful platforms to meaningfully connect?
Abate explains the distinction between problem-solving and solution-seeking. The former is primarily introspective—Why is this happening to me?—while the latter focuses on moving forward.
“Connection is about building community,” she says.
In a world where many people work remotely and apart from their colleagues, isolation can have unintended consequences for our teams. Leaders who model community by sharing their story and taking a genuine interest in the personal stories of others can have a profound impact across the organization. Collaboration, productivity, and innovation thrive when leaders encourage engagement.
The Future of HCM Is Now
Traditionally, preparing for the future was based on data from the past.
However, Abate challenges HR and business leaders to think differently. How can we work back from the future we want to create? And what can we do in the moment—right now—to shape what that future looks like?
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