In a recent blog, I tackled the ludicrous claim made by LinkedIn in their fancifully named 'Australia Recruiting Trends 2017: What you need to know about the state of talent acquisition' that Australian and talent leaders say that Talent is #1 priority at their company (79%).
I suggested that you would be hard pressed to find one agency recruiter who would agree with that statement and that there was little evidence, if any, to suggest that even a large minority of Australian companies prioritised talent ahead of everything else, let alone a large majority of Australian companies who do so.
It seems I may have been right.
The Wall Street Journal mid-last month reported:
"When asked to rank their businesses' most valuable asset, leaders said technology matters above all, according to a new report from Korn Ferry Employees didn't make the top five."
The WSJ goes on to say:
"The Korn Ferry Institute, the research arm of the executive search and consulting firm, asked 800 chief executives and other top leaders at global firms about what they believe can generate profit for their companies and how workers fit into that vision. Two-thirds said they believe technology will create greater value in the future than their workforce will, and 44% believe that automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will make people "largely irrelevant" in the years to come."
"Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they "see people as a bottom-line cost, not a top-line value generator," according to the report, while 40% said shareholders have pressured them to direct investment toward physical assets like technology."
So, that's a survey of opinions about the present. What about the future? Surely CEOs are more positive about people's importance in the future? I hear you ask.
The concluding line of the WSJ's sobering article is:
"Looking ahead, leaders said the five most prized assets in five years will be customer-facing technology and products, innovation/R&D, product/service, brand and real estate, according to the report."
Specifically the Korn Ferry research notes "67 per cent (of CEOs) believed that in the future technology would represent greater value than people to a business, while 44 per cent said that the growing use of robots, automation and artificial intelligence would make people "largely irrelevant" in the workplace of the future."
Yep, people don't get a look in.
Can we trust the research? Well the Study Methodology notes:
"In August and September, 2016, Korn Ferry interviewed 800 business leaders in multimillion-dollar global organizations on their views on the value of people in the future of work. These leaders were in: the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Brazil, France, Australia, India, and South Africa."
Sounds like it's a bit more substantial than LinkedIn's "150 corporate talent acquisition leaders" doesn't it?
I think it's pretty clear that the people who actually make the key decisions inside a company take a vastly more pessimistic view about the value of employees going forward, compared to those people whose very job depends on new employees being hired.
CEOs might utter positive and soothing words to an employee's face in the office, shop or factory but when answering the questions of dispassionate researchers it's clear these same CEOs want technology to take much, or all, of the same employee's job as soon as possible.
Although this is a global study you would be naive to think this doesn't apply to Australia, a relatively high-wage economy.
In fact you only have to return to last week's blog in which I dissect new CEO, Peter Wilson's first two years at Clarius, for a compelling local example of what the Korn Ferry research reveals about the reality of human capital's importance in the minds of CEOs globally.
As I pointed out in the blog:
"... technology initiatives (the focus of, or contained within, four of the seven initiatives) in the Key Strategic Highlights section of the 2016 Clarius Group Annual Report ..."
"... not a single word can be found in the Key Strategic Highlights about the Clarius employees. You can read about branding, technology, back office systems, the operating structure, new products and services, China, clients and candidates but you won't find anything to enlighten you about how the consultants, and their leaders ..."
There you have it; evidence in our own country and from our own industry (supposedly ‘people-centric') that the relevance of intelligent and hard-working flesh and blood is quickly waning in the minds of many CEOs.
PS: Last week I was remiss in failing to acknowledge Jonathan Rice's, excellent blog on the demise of the Clarius/Candle brand in New Zealand, which he wrote six months before my own blog. I highly recommend you read it.