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White Paper

HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Future of Work|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards
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By Ravin Jesuthasan | April 29, 2020

This white paper examines the role of HR as a key driver in defining how work and the workforce evolve and how businesses will continue to produce value.

Published by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Saudi Aramco, Unilever, and Willis Towers Watson.



The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is blurring the lines between people and technology, fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds. The impact of those changes on the way people work and businesses produce value will span all industries, economies and societies and redefine the future of work. Businesses and governments will need to adapt to these changes and support the workforce transition at the same time. If managed well, the future of work may be one where many more people are able to fulfil their full potential.

HR 4.0, a framework for shaping people strategies in the 4IR, is an initial response to this challenge. In this white paper, we examine the changing role of companies in shaping people strategies and the role of the human resources (HR) function as a key driver in defining how work is experienced, how it is done and how the workforce evolves.

As businesses seek more holistic strategies to prepare for the future of work, CEOs are turning increasingly to the human resources function to evolve rapidly and adapt to the changing demands. HR professionals are finding themselves at the front line of helping their organizations and leaders to drive technology absorption, foster innovation, enable new work models and, ultimately, attract, retain and develop the workforce of the future.


“The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its significant implications for the future of work present the HR profession with a unique opportunity to redefine its mandate and further advance its mission-critical function by shifting from being a steward of employment to being a steward of work, while ensuring the continued relevance of the global workforce through the creation of a culture of continuous learning and reskilling.”

Ravin Jesuthasan
Managing Director, Talent and Rewards, and Co-author Reinventing Jobs, Willis Towers Watson


The first part of this paper explores why the Fourth Industrial Revolution creates the impetus for transformation in people strategies and HR practices as well as the implications of specific drivers of change for organizations and their workforce.

The second part of the paper outlines what business leaders — including Chief People Officers / Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs), CEOs and other C-suite leaders — can do to respond through six imperatives highlighted in this paper, including practical models and case studies.

The third part of the paper describes how organizations are already responding to the need for change, with examples of emerging roles, technologies and critical skills for the future of HR.

This paper is the outcome of a series of consultations with selected Chief Human Resources Officers and other experts to identify emerging challenges and a range of potential interventions to address them. It aims to start a conversation among business leaders on proactively managing the future of work through an empowered human resources function and deploying the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to improve employee experience and productivity. The authors are grateful to executive and expert support from Saudi Aramco, Unilever and Willis Towers Watson for this paper.


Key Findings

This white paper aims to support business leaders in defining new people strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and highlights the role of the human resources (HR) function and its professionals in delivering action against these strategies.

By managing the people implications of the 4IR for their organizations, HR leaders play a critical role in ensuring that businesses are able to successfully adopt and deploy new technologies—by supporting employees through adaptation and transition as their roles, tasks and skills change, and by integrating new worker and societal expectations to build attractive and inclusive workplaces.

We identify six key imperatives that business leaders, partnering with their human resources counterparts, will need to implement. The paper provides practical insights and a range of case studies for each imperative.

  1. 01

    Developing New Leadership Capabilities for the 4IR

    As organizations operate more distributed business models, leaders will need to lead from the edge, adopt the right technologies, drive a new vision of organizational culture and shape innovative people strategies for the future of work.

  2. 02

    Managing the Integration of Technology in the Workplace

    The way work gets done is changing. A growing area of responsibility for HR is to partner with CEOs and C-suite leaders to achieve the optimal combination of human workforce and automation to ensure a positive impact on the future of work.

  3. 03

    Enhancing the Employee Experience

    The increasing complexity of the workforce and the use of technology is calling for a change in the way work is experienced. HR plays a vital role in defining, measuring and enabling the meaningful employee experience in the 4IR.

  4. 04

    Building an Agile and Personalized Learning Culture

    HR plays a leading role in fostering a culture of lifelong learning in the context of declining demand for certain skills, the emergence of new ones and the requirement for talent to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn.

  5. 05

    Establishing Metrics for Valuing Human Capital

    The mutually beneficial relationship between the workforce, organizations and society make it essential for HR to create a compelling case for establishing viable and scalable measures of human capital as a key performance driver and continuously demonstrate the impact of its work on business performance.

  6. 06

    Embedding Diversity and Inclusion

    Changing social, economic and political forces bring an opportunity for organizations to profoundly advance inclusion and diversity. HR plays a pivotal role in promoting a sense of purpose and belonging in the workforce, and equality and prosperity for the communities and regions in which they operate.


Summary: Framework for Action

The six imperatives for the workforce of the future and the associated leadership practices and emerging HR functions are summarized below.

  1. Developing New Leadership Capabilities for the 4IR

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Embrace and explain ambiguity
    • Combine operational management, technology integration and people management skills
    • Use culture as the new structure
    • Use analytics as a key tool in the distributed organization
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Cultural Ambassador
    • Digital HR Lead
  2. Managing the Integration of Technology in the Workforce

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Build strategies for job reinvention, reskilling and redeployment of talent
    • Identify reskilling pathways for talent whose work is being transformed by automation
    • Orchestrate a combination of actions to address the impact of automation
    • Build a talent ecosystem encompassing alternative work models and employ different methods of finding needed skills
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Head of Work Reinvention and Reskilling
    • Head of Relevance and Purpose
  3. Enhancing the Employee Experience

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Create a human-centric, holistic and purposeful employee experience
    • Rethink and invest in employee wellbeing
    • Align the employee experience with the agile operating model
    • Use technology to engage employees
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Employee Experience Specialist
    • Bot Monitor
  4. Building an Agile and Personalized Learning Culture

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Foster a culture of lifelong learning and shared responsibility
    • Engage and pro-actively manage employees in at-risk jobs
    • Unlock the learning mix that is right for the organization
    • Track and measure skills in your organization
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Cultural Ambassador
  5. Establishing Metrics for Valuing Human Capital

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Use new technologies and data to develop new human capital metrics
    • Use technology and data to drive the business decision making
    • Create external reporting on the value of and value added by human capital
    • Include all forms of human capital within the organization’s metrics
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Head of Insights
    • HR Data Scientist
  6. Embedding Diversity and Inclusion

    Emerging Leadership Practices
    • Proactively manage diversity in alignment with business growth
    • Embed D&I into concrete steps in culture and process
    • Use data analytics rigorously to measure diversity and assess inclusion
    • Engage with stakeholders and knowledge sources beyond the organization
    Emerging HR Functions
    • Diversity & Inclusion Officer

HR 4.0: Success stories

Learn more from these practical examples:


This white paper was published by the World Economic Forum in December 2019 and has been reproduced with permission. To access the comprehensive version, please download the PDF below.

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Managing Director, Talent and Rewards, and Co-author Reinventing Jobs