Earlier this week, we outlined some of the top sessions we at People Matters had found most engaging at the WEF annual meeting in Davos 2020 so far. The rest of the conference held many more must-view sessions. Of course, there were the big-draw speeches by world leaders and CEOS such as Angela Merkel, George Soros, Prince Charles, Greta Thunberg, and Donald Trump. However, among these headline-grabbing talks were the myriad learning sessions, Q&As, and panels also worthy of serious attention.
Below, we summarize some of the key talking points from a few of our most unmissable sessions at Davos 2020. Even better, these talks are now available in full on the WEF website.
Leading the 21st-Century Corporation
On Wednesday, audiences were treated to a session in which Kevin Sneader (Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Co), Adena Friedman (President and CEO Nasdaq Inc.), Robert F. Smith (Chairman and CEO Vista Equity Partners) Tidjane Thiam (CEO, Credit Suisse) and Chuck Robbins (Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems Inc) met to discuss the potentials and pitfalls of effective leadership as they move further into the 21st century.
Topics for discussion included combating large-scale inequality, the “nervousness for jobs” created by tech and the moral obligation businesses have to give back to the community. Thiam used the example of Switzerland to illustrate how remedying the skills shortages begins with education, pointing to the country’s “quality of education system at all levels” and the apprenticeship schemes - undertaken by 80% of Swiss youth - that provide the population with both a university degree and technical skills to meet society’s needs. Meanwhile, Cisco leader Chuck Robbins outlined how training people in top skills serve a dual purpose: creating a global company “ambassadors” who love the organization, while often channeling talent back into the company.
The Future of Mobility
On Thursday, Christoph Wolff, Florian Reuter, Jane Sun Jie, Elena Cherney, Andreas Renschler, and Tarek Sultan Al Essa met to discuss the industries, institutions, and initiatives driving systemic change. Issues facing the mobility sector include cost, infrastructure, digital disruption, sustainability, and other complex externalities. This session looked at how advances in technology have positioned mobility at a “second inflection point” in which autonomy, electrification, and digitalization were leading mobility towards a safer, cleaner and more inclusive future. Panelists engaged in discussion on logistics, aviation, tourism, and vehicles. When asked about logistics, Tarek Sultan Al Essa Agility’s Vice-chairman, mentioned digitization (leading to blockchain, RPA, data analytics, and smarter supply chains), the movement towards carbon-neutrality and the increased dependence on SMEs.
You can’t talk about sustainability and development,” he said. “Without talking about an inclusive way to include SMEs in the process.
Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter outlined the quieter, zero-emissions offering made by his company’s helicopters and how this would add an additional mode of urban air mobility and air taxis. Ctrip.com’s Jane Sun Jie highlighted three trends shaping tourism and how people travel: more personalization to high-end customers, trips enabled by technology and greener vacations. For Automotives, VW Board of Management Member Andreas Renschler highlighted the industry’s “dramatic transformation” and the direction taken towards a low-carbon, electric mobility option which is currently possible, though expensive. It was reassuring and exciting to see these industry leaders thinking so deeply about how to negotiate these complex prospects while making such a broad commitment to a sustainable, clean and safe future.
The Future of Human-Robot Interaction
Thursday continued with an afternoon session under the ‘Tech for Good’ banner. Professor Henny Admoni (Assistant Professor at CM’s Robotics Institute) and Professor Amy Webb (NYU’s Stern School of Business) discussed how autonomous technologies will impact every aspect of life in the future. Professor Admoni looked into how robots can safely and efficiently exist in the “complexity of our world,” moving beyond the factory to “deal with the fact that humans exist” around them. “Robots that are going to do a good job also need to understand people,” she said. Professor Admoni implored us to “think about the last time you cooked with another person,” using this example to highlight how tasks were delegated and safety ensured largely non-verbally. Admoni’s goal is to enable robots to understand these “complex, non-verbal communications,” so they can assist people in the necessary contexts - those with physical impairments or social and therapeutic situations, for example. A fascinating overview of how to “find new connections between how humans behave in a task and what the robot should actually do,” here, we saw autonomous tech developed not only for good but for the better: one that takes people into the equation from the start.
Accounting for Human Capital
A hotly-anticipated session for all who work in human resources, on Friday morning, Jonathan Haskel (Professor of Economics, Imperial College London), Alain Dehaze (CEO, Adecco Group AG), Christy Hoffman (General Secretary, UNI Global Union) and Amy Bernstein (Editor, Harvard Business Review Magazine) met to discuss an often lauded but rarely quantified asset - talent.
Transparency over a number of metrics and matters were key to accounting for capital, Hoffman said. “Injury rate, turnover rate, freedom of association, [and] course wages and benefits.” Transparency is also key so “investors who want information about this issue can have access to this data.”
When it comes to incentivizing workers, Alain Dehaze talked about training investment as a way to negotiate IR4.0 and assign value to human capital. In France this year, he said, they’ve tripled financial investment (100 million euros) into training 45,000 people.
Jonathan Haskel recognized the problem for accountants dealing with human capital, observing that “unlike a building or a vehicle, the ownership of the human capital asset is tricky.” But he warned against setting human capital value “to zero” because it was simply too hard to quantify, suggesting it was better to attempt assigning a value to human capital. “Rather than being precisely wrong, it’s better to be approximately right,” he added.
Hoffman added that the social aspect of human capital should be celebrated, looking at how people can become “an asset of the society,” she said, “rather than treating people like a car.” Training, transparency and the importance of putting in a little bit of effort were the key takeaways from this illuminating discussion.
Encompassing topics as diverse as human-robot interactions, different leadership styles, the future of mobility and the tricky job of quantifying human capital, many of the issues covered in these Davos sessions will also be up for discussion at the People Matters TechHR conference taking place in Singapore next month. For those seeking further conversation, we look forward to seeing you there!