Put Down Your Pencils: A Message to Global HR Professionals

The world is changing. The same global forces changing the very nature of work affect the HR profession. In this age of disruption, we have a shared responsibility: to our organizations as they navigate turbulent futures & to ourselves, as we redefine the purpose of our chosen profession.

Ask the average employee what they believe HR is responsible for. You’ll hear: ‘hiring’, ‘payroll’ & ‘training’. So what’s the problem?

The tasks listed above are disappearing. Manual, repetitive, administrative tasks are being automated.

To best secure strong futures for our organizations & our profession, it’s important that we look forward. First from a ‘department’ lens – what will organizations need / expect from HR? Then from a 'practitioner’s' lens – what skills will we need to support those goals?

This isn’t an article about technology, though it could be. It’s true that technology holds the key to solving many of our existing challenges – talent/skills shortages, higher attrition, stretched budgets. It’s also true that the HR professional’s ability to leverage technology within their practice will become increasingly important.

However, technology is not a panacea. Blindly pairing technology with a problem, in and of itself, does not solve anything. It’s in that spirit that we’ll discuss the required future skill-sets for HR practitioners.

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The Department Lens

The HR department of the future will be comprised of two core pillars: administrative & knowledge-based. The first, administrative, comprises core transactional HR functions (payroll, scheduling, records management, etc.). These tasks will largely be automated. A single resource will administer multiple programs to identify & resolve exceptions, analyze trends & produce reports. The predictable, repetitive nature of these tasks, coupled with the sensitive nature of the information, means it will be solved for in one of two ways: centralized & owned by a small number of trusted, salaried resources. Or, along with the risk & liability, the activities will be completely outsourced.

The inverse will be true for the second core pillar: knowledge-based functions. Learning design, employment branding & data science are three examples of specialized tasks that will fragment & niche out. HR Leaders who think about talent strategy differently will develop & leverage a network of knowledge-based freelancers, tasking their supervision to a single scrum master, who will ensure timeline, budget & quality metrics are met.

There’s an existing business case for this design with medium & large organizations today. Consider the following example: an industry-expert compensation consultant is benchmarking key technical roles against the local market & in tandem with an employment branding consultant, developing a talent acquisition strategy to identify & advertise to between 3 & 5 global cities with an abundance of undervalued (inexpensive) qualified candidates.

This is possible today. It requires a change in our mindset.

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The Practitioner's Lens

What does this all mean for the individual HR professional?

When I started in the HR profession 15 years ago, data was the hot-button issue. HR departments buoyed by the latest HR technologies with reporting functions began assembling beautiful scorecards to rival other corporate departments. There was a prevailing belief that we would use data to inform future organizational strategy & simultaneously demonstrate our value. We’d finally gain that ever-elusive ‘seat-at-the-table’.

Today we have the inverse problem. We don’t have an absence of data; most HR departments are drowning in it. It’s hard to know where to start.

To avoid a future dominated by the production & distribution of lagging, reactive scorecards, HR professionals must be able to quickly identify & highlight what’s really important. What are the organizations key objectives? What are its biggest risks? What does your data tell you about these two questions? Tell me a story.

We’ll need HR practitioners who can ‘flip-the-model’, synthesize, curate & translate historical data to create predictive models & share compelling stories. Both pieces are equally important: poor analysis paired with good storytelling is fluff; great analysis with poor storytelling sits in someone’s desk drawer collecting dust.

When we can consistently & proactively illuminate potential risks & solve them before they become issues, we transform our relationship with the business. We evolve from a rules-based, reactive ‘firefighting’ function – a design that allows leaders to abdicate ownership of their people – to a function that provides informed, timely, relevant counsel.

That’s how you become a trusted advisor. This is how you remain relevant in a changing landscape.

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The Final Word

The world is changing. As HR leaders & practitioners, we must get informed, have a perspective & put forward a vision for change.

How? You must make time in your routine for education. Read 1-2 articles a week on the future of our profession. Learn about new HR technologies, data & how we can more adeptly blend the qualitative & the quantitative.

Develop opinions. Like me, do you believe Applicant Tracking Systems have become too impersonal? How can we make it better today?

Our organizations & the employees who bring it to life, are counting on us to speak for them. Let’s not miss that chance.