Whose job is it to ready us for the future?

Here’s a question: who should have the job of building the future technology-readiness of your organisation’s employees?

In most medium to large companies, the leadership team tends to look to IT and the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) for strategic direction. After all, they’re dealing with all the computers and data and techno-stuff; it makes sense for them to also ready staff for the new things coming their way.

In other organisations, the responsibility lies with HR (Human Resources) or Talent Management. Their task is to manage the people estate to ensure the company has the skills needed to achieve its goals. This makes good sense as only HR has full access to sensitive personal data like performance appraisals and qualifications to determine each individual’s developmental needs.

And then there’s a third category of companies, where no-one’s really tasked with thinking about future capability requirements so individuals and teams bumble along, making headway where they can. This, of course, usually turns out to be the most dysfunctional, blinkered way to prepare a diverse collective of people for a fast-evolving tomorrow. When no-one’s in charge of stuff, stuff doesn’t tend to happen.

Which group would I choose to define and lead the strategy for employee technology readiness?

If I had to pick one departmental Centre of Excellence (CoE) to steer this crucial strategy I’d choose HR.

What the Human Resources team may sometimes lack in technical proficiency is more than made up for by their appreciation of how to develop and get the most out of people.

Most technology can be learnt, but human empathy, change management and culture tend to be much more nuanced, softer skills that require a subtler approach that’s not so easy to teach or quantify.

But please don’t think of my choice of HR over IT as simply a humanities vs. science form of reasoning. This isn’t a binary left vs. right brain issue. Fundamentally, we need someone to take charge and the skill required above all others is a robust understanding of how tricky people and change management can be.

You probably see this too. People are “fuzzy”, creative, sometimes unpredictable. But technology can almost always be precisely defined and categorised. IT has hard, distinct edges and while we don’t always know how it will morph and evolve, we can understand it and we can predict its outcomes. People, however, defy such simple classification; they’re really hard to understand and change. Moulding them into a cohesive collective calls for a very different set of skills than is typically found in the IT department.

That’s why HR gets my vote. But, take heed, this must be an HR team that’s intellectually aligned with the thinking of the technology leaders in IT and elsewhere in the company.

Because to ready your people for a very different future, you must first understand the people, then discover your passion for the technologies that will reshape their tomorrow.