Even Bolstad is the Managing Director of HR Norge, President of the European Association for People Management and Board member of the WFPMA. He has a Naval academy, MBA, labour law and executive education from LBS in his rucksack. Despite all of this, he has found that most of his competencies come from having the privilege of cooperating closely with a wide range of HR and leadership thought leaders as well as leading HR practitioners, from many countries and through many years. Life long learning, is in the long run most important.

Even, what qualities should a CHRO possess?

People and organizational issues are considered critical success factors, not only by HR professionals but also by strategy consultants, CEOs and practitioners. We also see a lot of young talent wanting to be a part of the people profession.

One of the things emphasized by Dave Ulrich and others, is that the synergy  is even more important than the sum of the individual competencies. It adds another dimension. That means that as well the leadership and managerial role of the CHRO is pivotal. And let us expand that perspective and focus on HR as something bigger than the HR department. It is mainly about delivering capabilities, right? Then we need to include culture, leadership and talent as a core elements, within the whole organization and beyond the HR department. I would also like to expand the perspective wider than the organization defined as “who are on your payroll”. In an agile business environment, with constant interactions also toward suppliers, partners, shopstewards and others with impact, there is a whole ecosystem to be considered and included.

Gartner produced this model for “World class CHRO”. I believe it has a lot of those elements needed, and illustrate some of the balances, paradoxes and also dilemmas involved. You need to link vision to operations, deliver results and take care of your employees. In addition you need to stand up and fight to make what you bring to the table to get impact. And actively link your insights to others.

CHRO model

What are the daily challenges of thos in the HR profession? How do all internal and external political, economic, technological, natural and demographic events affect the sector in Europe?

We indeed live in challenging times. A lot of turmoil, which also opens opportunities for change.

Talent is a scarce resource, for everyone – everywhere. That, by itself, drives the need for upskilling and reskilling, automatisation and robotisation. It also focuses on a wider and broader perspective on “talent”.

Out of covid, we know that digital skill have been massively improved. And that we have shown ourselves trustworthy; we might say that covid has been a trust reform. Hybrid work is here to stay, which redefines why to come to the “office” and what to do there. The answer is to a large extent to be creative – together – and not to forget building a robust performance culture, based on trust, good relations and shared purpose. Which also is good for retention.

But even if we have learned a lot, technological development run much faster than our ability to utilise it. To keep the internal development on a higher speed than external change, is an everlasting challenge. On knowledge and skills, but also on more agile and flexible work processes and practices.

Then came the Ukraine crisis, and the increasing distrust between the west and China. I believe this in the long run will have huge impact on supply lines and globalization. “Just in time” , “Global sourcing” and “Free movement and flow of labour” has gotten another position on the risk matrix, with direct consequences also for people and organisation.

What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence, entry and development effecting the human factor in the labor market (looking at both sides of the process – those involved in personnel selection and those who apply)?

AI is an obvious gamechanger, doing for especially white collar work what happened to blue collar work during the former industrial revolutions. That is obviously tough for those who become most effected, and everyone around. Everyone from journalists, legal advisors, teachers, architects to administrative HR personell, recruiters and payroll specialists are among the functions which will be massively affected. But all of us will feel the change. My hope and belief is, as in every other change process in the past of this magnitude, we will come out on the other side as better societies, with ability to produce much more and better with fewer resources, giving more people better work and their fair part of higher value creation.

I am a technology optimist. I believe the revolution we are witnessing might be important part of solutions on everything from talent scarcity, need for care for an aging population to green shift and lack of trust in supply lines.

World Economic Forum poject 83 mill jobs to be lost and 69 mill to be created in the next four years, This constitutes a reduction of employment of 14 mill jobs or 2%. Most jobs though, will not be “lost” or “created” – they will change.

As with every change, it will generate frictions and frustrations. My worry is that the development and implementation of AI runs so fast that technology will outmaneuver ethics and legislation, and that some countries with totalitarian traditions and global business leaders with focus on short term profit, more than producing sustainable societies, will be allowed space and access which for all practical purpose will define boundaries for when, where and to what AI should be used. We need wisdom, ethics and legal framework, in addition to technological and organizational skills. Regulations not based on fear and prejudices, but on insights and genuine wish to good for individuals, companies and the society. At the same time. Brave leaders, at all levels. The kind of leadership we all trust and support.

If we do not get that kind of leadership, I am deeply worried for fragmentation and rise of leaders without compassion, but with easy answers to complex questions. Populism triggering distrust, social unrest and an even more toxic environment. That might be within companies, at national level and internationally. I believe workplaces have an important role in forming the perceptions and beliefs for the future, and thereby attitudes and guidance for behaviours. That puts people and organization in the center of something much bigger than themselves.

As President of the EAPM, should there be a unified position as well as an explanatory campaign about the benefits and harms of using artificial intelligence? How do we prepare for what lies ahead? Which professions will be most affected, is timely retraining needed? What are our rights and how to defend them?

I believe the main purpose is to create, share and spread insights and perspectives, and to facilitate trust, processes and arenas for sharing and bonding. My role, together with the Board and Working Groups, is mainly to produce insights, link people together and enable the National Associations and their HR communities. At the end of the day, it is mostly up their motivation, their abilities, their capacities and motivation.

As such, an organization like the EAPM is very much like the ones we are facing in future. You do not come far with command and control, but need to focus more on the “why”, by defining a “North star”, common purpose and provide insights and culture for sharing and transparency.
The word “motivation” has the same origin as “motor”. We need to provide the sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery for that motor to start and deliver power. Then we need relevant skillsets to navigate and steer. And to balance sense of urgency with belief for those who are worried about being left behind. We need every talent, and every talent need income, dignity and “yes I can”-attitude.

I believe this to be a main responsibility for every business and HR leader. To take these conversations. “Look, in the future, your job might be dramatically changed, beyond your skills of today. Maybe disappear. But we would like to invest in your skills, making you employable also for the future. We need you and want to create a win-win. Invest, reskill and upskill, where we all walk extra mile.”. And we need to produce a society which can provide a safety net, giving the individuals ability and positive motivation to bounce back instead of early retirement or social security. This is very much about doing good and fostering a culture of reciprocity and trust. And it might also be a golden investment; a business case – in a competitive environment with talent scarcity and where retainment is a better alternative than continuous recruitment.

What are your observations on the general picture of the labour market in Europe?

The overall picture is very much the same. War for talent – attract, motivate and retain – and a much higher focus on building talent within your own company or industry.

Some countries, like Bulgaria, are struggling with brain drain to countries with higher salaries and which for many deliver perceptions of a better life. I often hear statements as “I have a cousin/brother/friend in Germany…”.  And these net receiving countries welcome young, skilled labour with open arms. Problem is, as word says, that such movement and net receiving countries drains the net contributing ones. And it often has a self-amplifying effect. In addition, it leaves dad, mum and grandma behind, increasing the already worrying demographic challenges.

Much focus is on the young talents; everywhere. But increasingly, we also take actions on the 50+ segment, to keep them employable, in combination with pension reforms. To stimulate work, as well as reducing costs. It is all about sustainability.

I have a feeling of being witnesses to some kind of business Darwinism. And Darwin did not say “Survival of the fittest”, as many think, He said “Survival of those most adaptable to change.”. That puts willingness and ability to change in the center; it moves focus from an external local of control to an internal one. Such a perspective might also have a positive aspect, at a societal and individual level. Companies who are not able to change, will be outcompeted. They will die, and talent will go elsewhere, to companies with better work, higher value creation and providing promises of a better future. In such a perspective, and with high participation and low unemployment, it might in fact be positive that the least fit companies go under. They might be the ones needed to fertilize the ground for those replacing them.

To some extent, same might happen to regions and nations. But that will have much more damaging effects, as mentioned before. With free movement of labour, the discussion on how to balance free market will be even more important in the future. To have politicians with integrity, and who are able to see and understand that sub-optimalization – at company as well as national level – in fact is a recipe for failure, will be a part of this.

What are the most important aspects of attracting, developing and retaining talent? 

Jobs on the rise, are those who combine soft skills with classical “STEM” ones (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths). You need both, in combination. So called ambidextrous profiles, psychology AND engineering, leadership AND analytics, are what many look for. Not to forget in combination with creativity, which tops a lot of “skills rankings” out there. Be curious, always and stay resilient. That is by itself a golden combination.

What is your advice on developing your personal brand and striving for a successful career?

Perform where you are, grasp opportunities and stay hungry, Show positive attitude and be the kind of employee you would like, if you were the leader. At the same time, take care of yourself. You need to live sustainable, good lives. Work is a long time investment, same is life.

Building a broad platform, with various competencies already at an early career stage, might be more beneficial and robust in the long run than sticking to the kind of roles and building on the same competencies than you already master. That might from time to time imply conflict of interest with your leader, who too often is happy with keeping you as top performer where you are.

And remember that a specialist career is a really good alternative to becoming a mediocre leader. “Not every upward, vertical paths lead to heaven”, a priest once said to me. With a smile.