The changing nature of human capital and people management

With new jobs being created almost daily, traditional learning systems are now less effective at preparing students for their future careers. That’s why business leaders are looking for talent with the ability to learn.

With new jobs being created almost daily, traditional learning systems are now less effective at preparing students for their future careers. That’s why business leaders are looking for talent with the ability to learn.

They are hiring people now whose careers could span many disciplines, some of which have yet to be invented or commercialised. But many employers face challenges with finding people who can adapt, create and learn.


Traditional education systems, recruitment processes, career development and performance management all need to change.


In PwC’s global CEO survey, CEOs clearly see the value of marrying technology with uniquely human capabilities. In my view, this is a very optimistic and hopeful message.


The capabilities that business leaders consider most important are those that can’t be replicated by machines.

Over one-third of CEOs say that it is very difficult to recruit people with skills like creativity, innovation and leadership. They say that it is the soft skills that are the hardest to find.

Creative, innovative leaders with emotional intelligence are in very short supply.

Managing change purposefully

One way to address this challenge is to take a step back and work on cultivating a strong sense of purpose among employees. Purpose will drive individuals to cultivate the capabilities and qualities needed in tomorrow’s economy.

In an increasingly digitised world, 58% of CEOs in our survey believe that it is important to have a strong corporate purpose that drives an effective culture and behaviours.

Most people feel more fulfilled at work, and will therefore be more productive, if they believe that they are making a difference and leaving something meaningful behind.

One way of prompting this kind of engagement is to make it personal and ask people: ‘What is your story?

What is our organisation’s purpose and how relevant is it to you? How are you contributing to that purpose?’

If an organisation succeeds in earning the trust of employees and alignment of purpose, then performance will follow and speak for itself. But work is not just about purpose and drive and accomplishment.

We need a new definition of work that also includes the time and space to dream and create.

Releasing people, perhaps by carving out a 10% time allotment for innovation or special projects, will make their 90% much more productive and fulfilling. We can unlock opportunities for the individual and the organisation by focusing less on measurement and more on trust and empowerment.

Organisations need people who can think clearly and creatively. This expectation suffers from significant misinterpretation, since we tend to assume that everyone can think.

But heavy exam loads, complex assessment criteria, memorisation and repetition do not create the thinking, creative, purpose-driven employees that employers need.

Exams and memorisation create drone-like and robotic behaviour, which is exactly the direction that many repetitive tasks are heading. Much of what we do now will be automated and conducted through artificial intelligence.

No amount of machine learning can replace the ability to relate to people, computers completely fail at soft skills. There is no algorithm for kindness or a sense of purpose.

Attitude—not just aptitude

Aptitude continues to be something that we assess, and rightly so. The ability to learn and to be taught says something about someone, and getting good grades can indicate the ability to thrive later on.

But our recruiting and career development methods should also tell us more about how people think.

Psychometrics and role plays and scenarios are great, and we can also expand internship programmes so that potential recruits can interact with us and understand our expectations sooner.

Some of the impatience attributed to the millennial generation (but often apparent among employees of all generations) relates to the desire to be seen and heard.

People are generally happy with career structures and the rate of advancement when they are engaged in interesting work and leadership opportunities.

Many of them also want more access to senior people but since junior people outnumber senior people, business leaders must carve out more time to spend with more people.

The emphasis is on the word ‘with’ because we need to value our interactions with each other and our teams. Effective leaders spend time with their people—and they are powerful listeners.

We can also appraise people in senior positions on the basis of the performance of their people and particularly those that are two levels below them. When people demonstrate growth, development and the ability to deal with difficult problems, then their leaders are doing a good job.

Working with high-performing people is easy but bringing everyone up to that level of performance takes work, which is really the essence of management. It can be so easy for leaders to insulate themselves in a bubble, tapping away at emails in a glass office.

Even their friends and family members may not know what they do, and why.

The nature of human capital is changing. It’s time to ask ourselves: ‘What is my story?’ and reflect on our purpose at work and in society.

Bernice Kimacia is the Country Senior Partner of PwC Rwanda.

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