CHRO Lee Watts on navigating the future of work in HR


Lee Watts, chief human resources officer at Kurtosys, delves into his journey into the field of HR, the evolving role of CHROs in response to automation, remote work, and the gig economy, and the leading trends shaping HR in 2024.

Lee Watts, CHRO at Kurtosys believes HR leaders must manage an increasingly complex technology portfolio amid a continued need from HR and business leaders for greater agility and flexibility.

Lee, who boasts 15 years in the HR space, leads the people agenda at the fintech company that provides SaaS solutions to the investment management sector, and has a footprint in South Africa, the UK, the US and Luxembourg.

He adds that the continued adoption of technology, specifically AI, has become a non-negotiable for HR leaders.

“The velocity will be exponential and those HR teams that don’t start adopting now, are guaranteed to get left behind. With many options to choose from, HR leaders will need an evaluation framework to assess which HR technology to adopt. We are likely to see an eclectic mix in the skill sets HR professionals acquire as a result.”

HR leaders, adds Lee, are now more than ever at the forefront of strategic decision-making, navigating through complex dynamics.

“For a long time there has been a narrative of a future-fit HR offering needing to be at the top table, and in recent times, we are really starting to see why. At the core of this evolution is a proactive, deliberate approach necessitating an understanding of the skills crucial for the future workforce. As a collective HR community, it’s important that we don’t perceive our roles solely as reactive; instead, adopt a visionary stance.”

He notes that the process to adopting a visionary stance involves meticulous planning for reskilling initiatives as well as strategically using technology as an ally to elevate talent management practices across diverse industries. “However, it is crucial to emphasise that it transcends mere identification; the focus is on ensuring a seamless transition for team members undergoing transformative changes.”

Leading trends shaping HR

In his opinion, there are quite a few trends that will shape the HR landscape for 2024, “Remote work, the gig economy, and technological advancements are some of the things that have been part of the professional landscape for some time, and there is a noticeable shift where HR leaders, as a united force, are shaping progressive policies.”

A gig economy is an economic system where temporary or freelance jobs, often referred to as ‘gigs’, are common, and individuals tend to work on a short-term basis, often for multiple employers or clients, rather than working for a single employer on a permanent basis.

The gig economy, he notes, is fairly benign but is undeniable, marked by a significant adoption of skilled employees. “It’s evident now, more than ever, that organisations are integrating this facet into their overarching strategy, and typically it is the HR team leading this initiative, carefully sculpting policies to align gig workers with shared organisational ethos and goals.”

The other trend, remote work, has been a part of the professional landscape for some time, and there is a noticeable shift where HR leaders, as a united force, are shaping progressive policies, he says.

“These policies extend beyond logistical considerations, encompassing a comprehensive approach to employee wellbeing, engagement, and the cultivation of organisational culture within the predominantly virtual space.”

Agility and technological advancements emerge as the linchpins for all HR professionals navigating this dynamic landscape, emphasises Lee. He says by embracing agile HR practices, nimbleness, and shifting the focus from traditional productivity metrics to outcomes that genuinely resonate, they become key aspects in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment.

Fostering collaboration for future success

Lee emphasises the role of HR as the hinge connecting the organisation and its people and most recent technology adaptation.

Access to technology is a big driver, he says, and HR should advocate for and facilitate access to affordable and user-friendly technology.

By collaborating with executive teams, IT departments, and cross-functional teams, HR also ensures a holistic approach to navigating challenges and leveraging opportunities presented by the future of work.

“We have implemented an engagement tool which allows feedback through employee surveys under the cover of anonymity. This allows us to address concerns whilst communicating changes, ensuring psychological safety for all, increasing the probability of smooth transitions. A comprehensive well-being programme that supports employees in navigating the challenges of the future workplace is no longer a benefit, it is an essentia. So too, are diversity and inclusion initiatives that help ensure that the future of work is shaped by a diverse range of perspectives, creating an inclusive workplace culture.”

“In my experience, the fostering of collaboration across these departments ensures a well-rounded effort which enhances organisational agility, adaptability, and overall effectiveness.”

Not all work and no play

Lee is no stranger to the HR industry, he traces his journey into HR from the tumultuous times of the 2008 financial crisis. His experience, spanning more than 15 years, has seen him evolve from roles in talent acquisition to a deep dive into the realm of people analytics.

“In 2008, the global financial crisis hit, leading to widespread layoffs. I found myself seeking new opportunities and connected with a UK-based recruitment firm. Initially, I thought they were representing me to their clients, but it turned out they were interviewing me for a role in talent acquisition and consulting. I eventually received an offer and relocated to England, marking the beginning of my journey into human resources and talent management.

Over the next 15 years, I delved into various HR roles, encompassing everything from recruitment and onboarding to payroll and separation processes. During this time, the emergence of people analytics caught my attention, and I developed a keen interest in using data to predict behaviour intelligently. This path has since become a real HR passion, guiding me forward in my career trajectory.”

A wholesome family man

Inspired by his family and the resilience of the human spirit, Lee has cultivated a disciplined daily routine and a mantra: “Make today a masterpiece.” This ethos guides him in striving for continuous improvement and delivering outcomes that originate from a meaningful place.

“It seems so clichéd but I am truly inspired by my family. They drive me to want to be better today than I was yesterday, and better tomorrow than I was today. Sharing meals around the table isn’t just about fuelling the body for me; it’s become a cherished tradition that bonds our family and friends and creates lasting memories. Celebrating food is a favourite, for sure!”

He also enjoys travelling – something he considers more than just a pastime. “It’s a lifelong pursuit fuelled by curiosity and a desire to explore new horizons, creating invaluable experiences, an investment in memories which continues to grow in value along the way.”


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