By: James Elliott, General Manager, Talent Strategy & Acquisition, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Posted on 27 Oct 2015

From staying abreast of new technologies and foreign exchange rates to exploring nascent products and markets, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is at the forefront of the country’s financial services sector. And when you’re in the business of managing money, you’re in the business of futures. Predicting the future of HR, however, might be even tougher, says CBA’s General Manager, Talent Strategy & Acquisition, James Elliott.

If HR doesn’t redefine itself, businesses will step in and fill the void.

“If HR doesn’t redefine itself, businesses will step in and fill the void”. Citing increased computerised intelligence as becoming capable of replacing knowledge workers, plus the capacity of such intelligence to learn on the job, James views automation, machine learning and AI as new frontiers for HR to interpret. Yet, despite the fact that improving the end-customer experience might be the first priority for these technologies, he thinks his HR team should also focus on how higher quality talent can be working on higher value activities in this new future.

Currently on the cusp of a “Second Machine Age,” with the promise of driverless cars, computerised healthcare and robotic work colleagues, you could argue about the role of humans in the future workplace altogether. Who to hire, what total rewards look like and how data can be used to improve workforce performance are intensely intertwined with the contributions that technology brings to the workplace. Commenting that we’ve only scratched the surface of what computing power will enable, James sees HR’s role as bridging the gap between what work can be done by machines and helping employees understand their new machine co-workers. In fact, as automation handles the transactional aspects of business, the human factor will be a crucial differentiator; “the human concierge” that brings deeper critical thinking, creative insights, and exemplary customer experience skills into the equation.

In the complex, multifaceted future of work, James sees further implications for HR. Computing power is driving the decentralisation of the workforce, which is particularly impactful in the banking industry. Activity-based, “work from anywhere” arrangements are rapidly becoming the norm in contrast to reporting for work in traditional urban centres and massive HQ facilities. Since every change has the potential to impact other aspects of the business, he cautions HR professionals to consider the following:

  • Is workplace flexibility breaking down silos or creating worker isolation?
  • Are you really enabling creative collaboration and connections via video conferencing and other communications tools?
  • How do you build inclusive leadership when workgroups are remote?
  • Should HR – not procurement – oversee freelancer management and even crowd-sourcing solutions from as alternative talent pools?
  • Similar to creating engaging customer experiences, what are you doing to ensure a simple and compelling employee experience in the face of all this rapid change?

Move faster or be left behind.

HR is in the midst of a transformation. As management teams get more comfortable leveraging complex data to drive business decisions and predict outcomes, James sees substantial unlocked value in HR by using talent data in the same way. HR should think expansively about its role in enabling leaders to make better decisions around how we hire, invest in, motivate, and enable talent. Part data analyst, part digital marketer, part people coach and management consultant, HR needs to be better prepared to integrate with the organisation it supports. “Move faster or be left behind,” says James. “We need to find ways to maintain our focus on care for our people but also help leaders make better decisions faster, based on good data and our superior insights into human behavior.


About The Author

James Elliott
General Manager, Talent Strategy & Acquisition, Commonwealth Bank of Australia


As General Manager, Talent Strategy and Acquisition, at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, James is responsible for all recruiting activity across the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Group - 52,000 employees across multiple brands and locations. Prior to joining the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 2012 James was the National Recruitment & Mobility Director for Deloitte.


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