As the saying goes, in Davos, you’re never more than ten meters from a CEO. If you’re looking for a place where company bosses across all industries knock heads and clink glasses to try to solve the economic issues of our age, look no further than the annual gathering at this small town in Switzerland.
Yes, it’s Davos 2023 this week, and our myriad intersecting global economic challenges are not exactly all positive.
Of the many Davos-related or Davos-adjacent reports produced around the event, it’s to no-one’s surprise that many of the challenges laid out within are remarkably similar across every publication.
The WEF report, summed up brilliantly by Allie Nawrat here, lists these as its top five risks in the near term:
- The cost of living crisis
- Natural disasters
- Geoeconomic confrontation
- Climate change
- Societal polarization
A key line towards the end of the report focuses on the acceptance of not knowing, of considering the possible:
“The first task of foresight is to identify future developments, risks and opportunities…Established methods can help crystallize expert disagreements, while a greater distinction between risk and uncertainty – imperfect knowledge, such that likelihood cannot be scientifically quantified or known – will help challenge core assumptions.
“Greater levels of uncertainty should shift the focus from the probable to the possible: the study of potential outcomes needs to be expanded to ensure that risk mitigation and preparedness addresses the full scope of possible impacts.”
Elsewhere, while not directly related to Davos, Deloitte’s 2023 Sustainability report is very relevant and unsurprisingly more business-focused in its scope. But the crossovers are plain to see, as the report splits down and addresses economic outlook, climate change, innovation, talent issues (e.g. competition/pipeline), as well as supply chain issues and more.
Key line: “As stewards of their organizations, boards can play a vital role in guiding businesses toward a more sustainable future by ensuring that long-term views are captured in management decision making. However, boards must know the right questions to ask—and where to push to find robust solutions.”
PwC’s annual global CEO survey takes a different tack and frames its research around questions to ask, rather than directly about issues that companies face, e.g. How do your resilience and your workforce strategies fit together? As geopolitical risks rise, what new contingencies are you preparing for?
The same answers return: Climate change. Conflict. Inequality.
The message is clear – these are common and widespread risks, affecting all global markets, but just because the challenges are obvious to spot doesn’t mean they’re easy to solve. These all take time, strategy and energy to address.
And where does this leave HR, a key player in business strategy? HR teams can lead in numerous different ways:
- In organizational design – as proponents of remote and hybrid work to help minimize business travel and encourage investment in local economies.
- In hiring – by staffing up organizations with people who have the superpowers to thrive; agility, curiosity, clear communication are all behaviors which will figure highly for successful navigation of a continuously uncertain world.
- In internal cross-skilling – as businesses look to retain their best, and augment the rest, to give them competitive edge going into a tough economic climate this year.
- In building culture – as exec teams look to improve resilience and employee mental health; this is a time to practice gratitude and appreciation. You know you’ll be paid back with loyalty.
These are the ways HR can take the lead. We know 2023 could be a challenge, but we can choose how we react to these challenges that the business is presented with.
HR is for the human and showing humanity has never been more crucial.
The fads roll on
Quiet quitting – so 2021. On my radar this week, courtesy of Fortune is the phenomenon of ‘chaotic working’, aka ‘malicious compliance’.
Explained in brief: doing things against company policy often for customer benefit, e.g. unauthorized discounts, or deliberately misinterpreting dress codes, etc. It’s even got its own Reddit thread.
I feel this one’s a bit trickier. At its simplest, it comes down to employees not caring about the business anymore. The spark’s gone, they’re not invested. It’s time to move on. But while I while I’m here, I may as well have some fun!
Some expressions of this new trend are funny, some are problematic and fraudulent. But my take is this: None of these behaviors is particularly new. People have been disillusioned with their work for as long as they’ve have been impassioned. What’s changed?
In the quest for clicks and notoriety these behaviors have now been codified and ascribed a name, a meaning, and a hashtag. And I think actually, this is a good thing.
These behaviors can now be highlighted, called out and added to a growing list of dissent that will one day result in a more equitable working environment for all. Will TikTok-originated fads die out? I doubt it.
But HR’s job is to work out which of these fast breaking trends need to be addressed and which exist purely for social clout. It’s not always that easy.
A different side of HR tech
Proctoring, keystroke tracking, dwell time monitoring. The old fashioned punch card is very much alive, literally in some industries, and figuratively and others.
This is the story of Karlee Besse, a Canadian woman accused of ‘time theft’, ordered by a court to pay back nearly $2,500 in unworked hours, thanks to tracking software that determined when she was – and more importantly wasn’t – working. Use of this tech is pretty common, and it’s not hard to understand its benefits.
But what the company may have gained in accuracy of employee working hours and cold hard cash recouped it surely lost more in employee trust and reputation. How many of the workers will now be ‘quiet quitting‘ or ‘rage applying‘?
Or is the company relying on the impending downturn to settle employees who may have thought about making a move away? With plans for four-day weeks and flexible working laws also on the increase, clearly we live in an increasingly uneven working landscape.
If Ms Besse hadn’t been tracked, would she have stayed forever? Possibly. But how many people might the business now lose? It’s hard to say but it seems another quirk of modern work like this runs anathema to the progress of the last three years.
Our agenda is now live! Have a look at the agenda for UNLEASH America 2023 here.