In my sessions on 7 Steps to being a practical HR Futurist I tell people that they need to be watching trends in their industry and in their targeted employee population. In the HR literature we talk about the necessity of paying attention to trends in demographics, economics, and legislation. I was reading an article about the job of Sheryl Connelly, the Futurist for Ford Motor Company. She said that although she pays attention to Megatrends and macro trends she most often pays attention to micro trends. Micro trends are the one that she follows because the development cycle of a car is usually about three years. Reading this I realized that not everyone may really know about the differences between a fad, the two types of trends and then a megatrend. Here is a brief lesson which I hope you find useful.
A fad is something that quickly gains in popularity and may fade just as quickly, sometimes just not quick enough. Clothing, foods, exercises, hairstyles, language are all areas that are subject to fads. A quinoa eating super model wearing this year’s bathing suit that has high waist is a picture of a fad. They are fleeting and often last a season but may carry over a couple of years. This does not mean we ignore them, indeed we do need to be aware of them if we deal with populations of employees who may be subject to following them. Fashion, language and behaviors all have an effect on the workplace regardless of how fleeting they may be. Fads are often heavily driven by social media today. In fact social media at one time was considered a fad, which has now evolved into a macro trend if not a megatrend.
Micro and macro trends
Trends are a bit slower paced but represent something that is occurring on a much wider scale than a fad. A micro trend typically lasts 3 to 5 years. A macro trend, like social media has become lasts longer more in the 5 to 10 year range. A style of dress may be a fad that only affects one segment of the population, but the use of social media is a trend that reaches a broader segment. It has taken a bit longer to develop on that broad basis but now has the staying power that indicates it is a permanent alteration of the landscape. As Stan Mack of Demand Media says, “A macro trend is a large-scale, sustained shift…” Where people live, what jobs they take, their modes of transportation, whether they save for retirement, whether they seek higher levels of education are all trends that HR should pay attention to. Shifts to different population centers or shifts to different types of employment become trends that will have an effect on a company’s ability to attract talent and retain it over a longer period.
Changes in technology may speed some trends along. The nature of TV viewing is subject to trends and the resulting celebrity worship of non-celebrities is a trend that has taken several years to develop. The key is to pay attention to your employee population. Where do they fit? What trends seem to be the ones they will be subject to? This will allow you to start preparing for any shift that might occur.
If trends are a bit slower, megatrends are the glaciers of this set. Megatrends are the long-lasting, years in developing, things that shift the world. China as an economic powerhouse was identified at least three decades ago as having the potential to be a world economic force to be reckoned with. According to the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies “Megatrends are the probable future – or express what we know with great confidence about the future. Megatrends are certainties.” The identified megatrends of today are an aging population, globalization, increasing technological change, urbanization, prosperity, increased network speed, and just the speed of everyday life. These are forces that, barring disaster, we will all have to deal with. Of course there are things, the “wild cards” that could occur to derail these megatrends. The earth could be hit by an asteroid; the unrest in the Ukraine could blossom into World War III; terrorism could come to the US on a broader scale, a disease could develop that kills everyone over the age of 60; or some other such happening. The likelihood is small and you certainly don’t want to focus on them, but you do want to have a contingency plan in place.
What is an HR professional to do?
The best course of action is to be aware of the difference. You notice the fads, you pay attention and plan on the trends, and you study and understand the megatrends and make long range plans for dealing with them. You have to understand your current environment and population and start planning for them and from them to insure being prepared to dealing with them. One key that we can take from Sheryl Connelly in her job is the importance of the product cycle for Ford. She helps Ford understand how things like obesity and aging are going to affect car design. In HR you need to understand how decreasing graduation rates affect your ability to get and retain the talent you need and will need. How long does it take to get an employee productive and make the company’s investment worthwhile? You need to look at technology for your industry. Is it moving to heavier use of robots? If yes how will that affect your employees?
These are the kinds of questions you should ask. This is the type of stuff you should pay attention to.
There is no future in saying “I didn’t see it coming.”