Talent Acquisition in The Augmented Age

by Shai Phillips, Vice President, Head of Corporate and Finance Practice

Distracted by the short-term culture evolution engendered by the global pandemic of 2020, many of us may have missed our surreptitious slide into a completely new age of humanity - the Augmented Age. Not a new term by any means - any number of Ted Talks, etc. have alluded to it: it’s an age of technology so advanced, its implications cover every aspect of our lives, not least of all our jobs and new imperatives for the senior executive hiring methodologies of corporations. But it’s not a coming age of the future, looming on the horizon - it’s here, it has arrived, we’re in it. Contrary to widespread belief, we are no longer in the digital age or the data age, we have already transcended those. The Augmented Age has descended upon us, and for our companies and senior management teams to survive and thrive, we must adapt.
So what is the Augmented Age exactly? And how does it affect who we hire, and how we hire our senior-most executives? In short, the Augmented Age marks the point at which Artificial Intelligence has begun to make us more than human, augmenting our capabilities in multifaceted ways. No need to envision a dystopian future of terminators (which centers on the concept of broad spectrum AI). Instead, with narrow spectrum AI (i.e. AI designed to do very specific tasks, and does not require or cause self awareness), the phenomenon has arrived. Let’s begin with a few examples...
The smart phone: obvious example perhaps, but let’s start simply and ease into this. With each new OS update, we are becoming more augmented, much like Paleolithic man’s adoption of physical tools. Remember the days when we would need a library and an encyclopedia just to look up a single piece of information?  Today, pressing a finger to any word on our smartphones, we are immediately handed such information in an embedded pop-up, without even clicking away from the website we’re browsing (or by simply talking to our phones) - that’s augmented. How proficient, swift, and dexterous executives are at manipulating this ever evolving digital ecosystem is more critical than one may at first assume. Have psychometric or skills assessments been adapted to include a practical evaluation of this? Not to our knowledge. Perhaps they should. As millennials and digital natives rise to the ranks of VPs, SVPs, EVPs, and the C-Suite of Fortune 500s outside of Silicon Valley, perhaps such capabilities will be taken for granted. Until then, we must pay attention.
Wireless Power: moving slightly into the near future, we see wireless power having an ever more ubiquitous effect. Sure, remote work with the catalyst of the global pandemic and battery power has meant we can work from pretty much anywhere these days, but we’re still very much tethered to our power outlets in one form or another. Slowly, we will see the increase in range and distance of devices being powered without any wires at all. Two major technologies: RF and “highly coupled magnetic resonance” are driving us to the point where our devices will constantly be charging, not unlike cell reception from a telecoms tower. The hybrid office-home model of the pandemic era will endure for now, but eventually the question is inevitable - who needs an office anymore? Ultra progressive companies can benefit by coming first to the table with a “no office” perk for its liberated employees, slashing overheads in the process with fully remote environments, and improving health by working on the move. It’s not unthinkable that Chief People Officers and CHROs will then need to build out substantial “corporate culture departments” to ensure healthy professional and social synergy amongst employees, both physically/ in-person and remotely.
Quantum Computing: Now let’s journey about 10 years into the future of this Augmented Age, of which we’ve just crossed the threshold. At that time we will begin to see the emergence of what is likely to be the most profound technological advancement of the century: Quantum computers. “But what’s the big deal?”, I imagine you wondering - after all, we’ve been used to ever more powerful computers for quite some time. Very true, but until recently we’ve been held back by a principal known as Moore’s Law, which dictates that this progress will have to eventually slow and then stop when we simply can’t make a smaller microchip. Quantum computers on the other hand work on atomic and subatomic scales, and use unfathomable concepts such as quantum entanglement and quantum superposition to transmit data not just extremely quickly but instantaneously. And yes, I use that word quite literally - no time at all will pass from transmitting to receiving certain data. What a quantum computer can already do today, it would take the world’s most powerful super computer 10,000 years to accomplish. An arms race has already begun amongst nations to develop the first practicable quantum computer, because it will ultimately render all cyber security in place today as redundant. Companies like IBM, Google, Honeywell, Intel, and Raytheon are deep into the research, as are Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Baidu, and when these computers arrive, holy moly will your processing power increase. Every type of company from pharmaceuticals to banks to chemicals to manufacturing will need to be sure its employees are quantum software literate, or risk falling considerably behind the curve, and even face extinction.
Bionics & nano-robotics:  having your smartphone handy may make you augmented to a superficial degree, but journey another decade into the Augmented Age and we will no longer just use AI, we will BE AI. Already Musk’s Neuralink company develops brain interface technology that has succeeded to record/upload information directly to and from the brain. We have managed to download memories directly into the brains of mice, and before long, medical devices will come to the aid of Alzheimer’s patients and other neurological diseases. So to you professionally minded folks, I know what you’re thinking - can this tech increase brain power, IQ, and make us smarter? The jury is still out on that question but the current answer is: probably. The challenge then presents itself as to how to treat applicants for senior management positions who use such medical devices, and ethical conundrums abound. It’s time to start thinking about technology not just used by us but being us, as well as policies that help keep the order of things when we round that corner in the not too distant future.
Autonomous transport & the space economy: if ever we needed less evidence of Musk’s genius, two other companies (Tesla and SpaceX) account for vast dimensions of the Augmented Age. With The Boring Company - another Elon invention - we’ll travel at supersonic speeds underground. With Branson’s Virgin Galactic, point-to-point travel will get us from LA to NY in minutes, and on the ground in our EVs, we won’t lift a finger to get to meetings, allowing management’s productivity to soar. The space economy will have a more subtle effect at first, as we populate earth’s orbit with powerful satellites. But as we scramble reusable spacecrafts, like SpaceX’s Dragon 2 and Crew 1, and begin our efforts to colonize Mars, much will change. If you think working from a beach with your laptop is an upgrade, try doing it with a view of the entire earth before you, and then consider what your company might do to contribute to this most critical of pursuits. Perhaps it’s time we all pitched in to help humanity’s quest to ensure its long term survival and discovery beyond our current planet.
Talent Analytics: Finally, let’s circle back to present day, and the first steps of our journey into the Augmented Age, and look at our enhanced capability to measure the competencies of senior management teams. Talent analytics is somewhat a remnant of the digital age. It’s a helpful, sophisticated way to collect data to measure performance of senior executives, and we’ve long since been doing it. What’s different now is a few things: first, machine learning or AI programs allow for far more ample assembly, manipulation, and interpretation of data; second, automation means one has to do very little to keep track. But lastly, a counterpoint: the key problem with talent analytics is that it relies on historical data and regression analysis. When an employee leaves one company and begins the next, if their data doesn’t follow them, it becomes a task in futility to begin from scratch each time, as this has little to no predictive value. As such, Corporations will need to find a creative way to overcome privacy issues and work together on transmitting personnel files – only then will the power of Talent Analytics reach its full potential. For CHROs who are not yet utilizing talent analytics, the time to start is now! Happy New Year, and welcome to The Augmented Age.

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Berkhemer Clayton has a 27-year track record of successful senior-level searches for corporations, higher education and nonprofit organizations. We specialize in management-level executive searches in Communications & Marketing, C-Suite, and Boards of Directors.
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