Future of HR (Discussion)


The other day I had to move a friend’s car, which was blocking mine. He was staying over for the weekend. It was early and the whole house was still asleep so I crept quietly out with his keys.

Except they weren’t keys as such, it was more of a USB stick. And it wasn’t a car as such. It was a Toyota Prius. Suffice it to say it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to start and reverse the thing. At one point I seriously considered waking up my 11-year-old son to help.

The Prius is not like any normal car I have ever been in and I know I am late to this party but my point is that this is part of what the future looks like.

I’ll give you another example that happened in a lift on Monday. A gang of three men got in and spoke in what appeared to be animated code for the duration of the decent. It was a conversation about online programming. A conversation that simply couldn’t have happened just five years ago.

In the next 10 years the working landscape will alter dramatically and this will mean the role of HR will take on new and sometime different priorities.

Ed Hoskin, Senior Director, International HR at Gilead Sciences Europe Ltd used to work for the Dixon’s Group and told me that today, 10 years after he left, some of the technology available then is just coming into shops now. Not because it wasn’t ready but because we, the customers, weren’t.

So one of the key roles HR will play in the future is managing and preparing the business for change. It is – or at least it should be – what we do now, but this will form a larger percentage of what we do.

And in the next three years or so I think this change will be centred on talent and flexible working.

The demands of generation Y and Z to follow, the removal of the default retirement age, rising unemployment and the economic and social climate all point to the need to embrace greater forms of flexible working for all.

More working from home can not only boost productivity but can save companies large sums of money on office space and protect the business in the event of business interruption (think snow, ash, swine flu etc).

But lets think bigger. What if we reduced hours but increased our workforces? That would help reduce unemployment without costing us as employers very much more. Greater well-being, more talent and greater diversity would be just some of the benefits.

And diversity is another item on the HR agenda for the future. Without diversity there is no innovation, no creativity, no point of difference. We have to keep pushing diversity on the board agenda and cascading it down to the line. If we don’t it could cost us dearly.

Technology will be a major factor not just in how we work but in how we communicate. Apparently email is dead – instant messaging, texting and video calling will take their place. You know that old Dick Tracy watch we thought was so cool and so improbable? It’s here and it’s already looking bulky.

Facebook is already causing us issues in the business conduct arena. As unedited communication grows so too will the challenges for HR.

And what about the war for talent? (You know whenever I say that I really have to check myself not to say the war on talent).

Vance Kearney has suggested recruitment should be the remit of the line, but for now and for the next few years, I think it needs to be led by HR.

As globalisation continues and talent becomes more scarce we need to make sure we are attractive. It will be much more of a mutual commitment where we – as employers – have to work much harder. Not only do we need to identify key talent, but we also need to know what to do with it – how o inspire and reward out best people.

Think of any relationship you’ve been in – we are going to have to up our game, buy flowers more often and remember our anniversary.

What I mean is that we need to get a bit more personal – to really take an interest in the wellbeing of our teams. We have already seen the benefit to providing staff with more financial information and to ensuring the benefits we offer are competitive. At IPC we offer an occupational health service which is growing and which I think will become even more important. We also need to provide people with a sense of where they are going and how much we value them.

We also need to be clear about what we stand for – an EVP if you like. Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2 believes companies must play a bigger role in society and that, for O2, sustainability is crucial. Not just from an environmental perspective but also in terms of their business model customers and corporate social responsibility.

Reward is another issue ripe for change. My favourite quote so far this year has come from Vance when he said there is only one thing worse than an idiot and that is an engaged idiot. He’s right. I don’t want to engage idiots; I want to reward talent.

So back to the question do we give pay rises to keep up with inflation or to reward talent?

HR will be strategic rather than transactional – which will mean smaller teams – and may very well be virtual, that is to say, not in the office.

Really, though, who knows what the future will bring? What I am pretty confident in saying is that the role of HR should form an integral part of the business, helping to inspire people to inspire your customers.

On a lighter note I am also pretty confident that lots of things in HR will continue  just as before:

We will continue to worry unnecessarily about our ROI.

We will rediscover forgotten models of engagement.

We will adopt new metrics.

Thank you



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