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Embracing Change in the New Year

I have been thinking a lot about change for a few reasons. First, I teach a class on organization change. We talk about the constancy of change and how organizations must perpetually adjust as critical aspects of their environment shift. Second, Villanova’s Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development is implementing numerous changes after completing an intensive strategic review. We examined where the HR profession is headed and how we can align our course offerings and schedule to best meet the needs of HR professionals who desire to advance their careers while working and having a personal life! And finally, I have been reading about the impact that technology, robots, and artificial intelligence has had and will have on the jobs of today and tomorrow.

I am sure you have heard that the only constant is change. You may also feel that the change we are experiencing these days is faster paced and qualitatively different from the change of yesteryear. But is it? Critical Management theorist Chris Grey argues that uncertainty has always existed in the past. When we look back on it from a historical vantage point, it seems tamer and more stable because it has been rationalized. We have made sense of it because it has taken place and we no longer have the unknown of the possible histories that did not occur. Grey asks us to consider living during the collapse of the Roman Empire or during the colonization of the Americas. How would we feel living during the Renaissance or the two world wars? And he argues that the space race, computers, the youth movement, and the cold war were all periods of great uncertainty and threat.


When we look back on (times of uncertainty) from a historical vantage point, it seems tamer and more stable because it has been rationalized.


So, are we really experiencing change at an unprecedented level? Or does it just seem that way because we have not yet rationalized it?

There is a good argument that we have entered a change period that is unlike the past. Thomas Friedman, author of the 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, believes that 2007 was an “inflection point” year similar to other “inflection point” years such as when the printing press and the longbow were invented. An inflection point is a mathematical concept related to when a function accelerates. The underlying cause of 2007 being an inflection year is a result of the accumulated impact of the doubling of computing power over 40 plus years.

To capture the progress made, Friedman uses the example of a VW Bug. If a VW Bug in 1971 had advanced in terms of power, efficiency, and cost as much as the microchip, it would go 300,000 mph, travel 2 million miles on a single tank of gas, and cost just 4 cents!

So, with all of these technological advances, how will jobs in HR fare? Will an automated AI robot replace recruiters, benefit technicians, conduct internal investigations, design candidate assessments, and monitor and adjust organizational culture?

Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future investigates the impact of technology on jobs. What makes sense is that rote job that are predictable with repetitive tasks are particularly vulnerable. However, there are many jobs that you might be surprised to learn may be able to be done by a robot. For example, among them are radiologists and surgeons. Alex Williams of the New York Times, writes, “Professions that rely on creative thinking enjoy some protection (Mr. Ford’s older son is a graduate student studying biomedical engineering). So do jobs emphasizing empathy and interpersonal communication (his younger son wants to be a psychologist).”

As we make changes to our graduate program in HRD, we are cognizant of the impact that technology will have on HR jobs. Our new vision statement might not be technology-proof, but I don’t think it will be overtaken soon by robots. We develop global thought-leaders in HR who drive high performing, inclusive organizations and create meaningful work experiences. It is our mission to develop HR leaders through evidence-based education and applied experiences in functional and strategic human resource management, within dynamic organizational environments. We believe strongly that the people in every organization are the greatest asset of that business and to achieve success, the business must not only leverage but support, motivate, and develop those people. We educate our students on the research that supports these beliefs and provide opportunities for experiences to explore the application of these beliefs and the foundations of strategic human resources in our classrooms.

We know that our graduates will be relying heavily on interpersonal communications, creativity, and empathy! Here at Villanova, we’re looking to the future with excitement and optimism.


Gerry Brandon, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the Director of the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development at Villanova and an Associate Professor. Learn more about him here!

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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