Rita Gunther McGrath encourages HR professionals to see change as the chance for opportunity

“We’re going from a world where we’re really thinking about people who want to ascend career ladders to a world where people are basically being entrepreneurial,” Rita Gunter McGrath said in her opening keynote speech at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition 2014.

The associate professor from Columbia Business School encouraged the audience to see today’s fast-changing working world and more individually-minded employees as something that creates opportunities for HR, rather than something to be afraid of.

During the session Gunter McGrath outlined tips to help HR realise this potential, which included:

Don’t get tricked into counting on stability in the long-term

Blackberry fell into this trap, explained McGrath, by relying solely on the success of their phone without diversifying their product offering. "When we get into this mode of thinking, that stability is going to be with us for a long time and that we don't really need to do things differently, that's when I think we're really putting ourselves at risk," said McGrath.

Make time to take a step back and see the bigger picture

Being aware of the big picture stopped Fuji Film from following the same fate as competitor Kodak, McGrath noted. She warned: "So many of our systems in organisations push us to not ask those questions."

Cultivate leaders who are prepared to make changes when necessary

“When new information is coming at you the whole time, you need to be able to respond,” McGrath said. “You need to be able to redirect and that’s what organisations need to look for in their leaders.” She also encouraged the audience to consider training to encourage and support these attributes.

Remember that there is no such thing as a job for life

“This has huge implications for people. Today’s careers are going to be fundamentally differently built than yesterday’s.”  She said that this puts more emphasis on the individual’s need to manage their own career.

Rethink the way you approach problems

McGrath said that Alan Mulally, former chief executive of Ford Motor Company, is a prime example of a leader who doesn’t shy away from problems and hard-truths.  He challenged the other Ford executives to be open about the problems they faced, encouraging them to work together to come up with solutions, fixing problems before they had the chance to escalate and changing the long-entrenched company culture for the better. 

Maintain healthy networks

Today’s employees are more likely to rely on a network to get things done. McGrath told the audience about an MBA graduate who completed a task in a fraction of the time her employers expected her to by tapping into her network. “We’re talking about a completely new contract with people than the one that we’ve been accustomed to,” said McGrath. But she added that, maintaining those networks is currently “not anybody’s job”.

“It falls between the cracks and I think that is something HR could be very productive in.”

Don’t trap your talent

“You want to be thinking of your organisation as a magnet for talent, rather than a trap,” said McGrath. In particular, she called the trend towards tying employees into non-competitive clauses, regardless of job role, “worrying” and stressed that those companies who foster supportive relationships with their employees often outperform those that don’t.

Commenting on Gunther McGrath’s speech, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said that the CIPD  had been considering the “shifting context that we live in”  in their recent work.

“These trends are vitally important for us as a profession to understand,” he said.