The future of work is human

Tech advances must boost people’s performance and well-being, says Korn Ferry’s Tania Lennon. First in a series.

Tania Lennon is a senior client partner with the firm.

We’re living in the digital revolution, as significant for humanity as the discovery of electricity or the Industrial Age. Computers already surpass the human brain at sheer processing capability. Artificial intelligence is developing intuition Robots and drones are becoming as common as cars—many of which may soon drive themselves.

First in a series.

The Future of Work: To work is human

Read the full series. >

It sounds like science fiction. But, according to some, this is the future of work.

Yet a key aspect is missing from the picture. People, and their contributions to business, are being painted out. But we shouldn’t be so quick to erase them.

It’s true that technology is positioned to reshape the future. But it’s people who will either accelerate or limit its impact. People are inventors, champions—and customers. There is no value to be created from technology unless people embrace it.

The concept of value itself is shifting. The emergence of the sharing economy, with its flagship examples of Airbnb and WeWork, heralds a new era of access, not ownership. Tangible assets like power plants and machinery may decline in worth. In contrast, intellectual property, innovation, and old-fashioned human creativity will forge value for customers and firms, fueling growth. Some analysts already insist that talent should become a financial metric, explicitly linking the value people bring with the performance they create.

And people do create value, simply because to work is human. People work for organizations that reflect their personal values and that allow them to release their innate human potential. Companies see the benefit in personal heroics and discretionary effort; that’s effort a machine will never make.

This isn’t a debate about man against machine. The purpose of advancing technology—always—is to boost the performance and well-being of people. The greatest value to societies, organizations, and individuals will be realized when people partner with technology to release their and its full potential.

But this poses huge challenges. Leaders must ask: What technology is right for my organization, and how will my people partner with it? Who will create the greatest value, how can I identify them, and how can I enable their best performance? What jobs do I need to release this value for my firm and shareholders? And what happens to the people left behind? This last question is important, from a business as well as moral perspective. Will they affect your business through political channels?

Korn Ferry’s clients are already asking these questions, and it’s the firm’s mission to answer them. Over the next seven weeks, we’ll share insight from experts aimed at helping companies prepare for, and to even outperform in the future of work.

The digital revolution won’t render people obsolete and the algorithm all-powerful. But it is a paradigm shift. And organizations that engage with the hard questions now, embrace the new reality, and enable their people will see superior performance and release greater value.