Change the workplace to change the world

Written by
Dr Alan Watkins, Founder and CEO, Complete

02 Mar 2020

02 Mar 2020 • by Dr Alan Watkins, Founder and CEO, Complete

The emergence of a brighter tomorrow is largely in the hands of business leaders, argues Dr Alan Watkins, CEO of Coherence and author of The HR (R)Evolution: Change the Workplace, Change the World.  

Something is happening out there. The corporate world is teetering on the brink of a breakthrough. But it could equally break down. We could experience an ethnocentric, protectionist regression the like of which we haven’t seen for 50 years. 

Whether we will experience an emergency, or the emergence of a brighter tomorrow, is largely in the hands of business leaders. The decisions business leaders take over the next decade or two will dictate whether we suffer an extinction or emergence from the current chaos. And HR professionals must stop reacting and start leading. 

Our 2008 wake-up call

For many, the penny first dropped after the global financial crisis of 2008. It became obvious that something was profoundly wrong with capitalism. It had become excessively Darwinian. Cash was king and nothing else mattered. But 2008 was our wake-up call. 

Post-financial crash, even well-established capitalists started to talk of “triple bottom lines”, “conscious capitalism” and “conscious business”. We saw a rash of books exploring “post-capitalism”, “full-spectrum economics”, “sacred economics”, “caring economics” and the “circular economy”. 

Some authors went further to describe what happens “when the money runs out” and how this may exacerbate the current drift towards greater ethnocentricity in “every nation for itself”. The basic realisation was that there are significant problems with the idea that business exists solely to generate profit and shareholder value. 

To avoid a breakdown, we must “change the workplace to change the world”. At the heart of this change is people — and how organisations approach people development. HR practice must evolve once again to a higher level of thinking, being and doing. 

Seven waves of change

We must understand the ‘seven great waves’ of change that have emerged since the first industrial revolution. We are currently in wave five with two more yet to come. A handful of thinkers have gone beyond wave five, but the leading edge is not the reality for most workers. Most organisations are stuck in earlier waves from the past. Unless they ‘wake up and grow up’ we are doomed. 

But if we understand the opportunity, we go further, faster and we embrace the future with all its disruptive technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning. We can build a society that works for everyone, not just a few. 

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