Let's begin with an existential question for the Human Resources Department before we talk about its evolution over the years.
Why does the Human Resources function exist? Do we really need it?
These are arguably the most hard-hitting questions for the HR fraternity. Sadly, such questions may actually become inevitable if we continue to work with our doctrinal beliefs. The new workplace and the future talent groups will command HR to operate far creatively from how we work today.
Before we see what's next, let us reminisce over what has gone by and how we, the HR people, have grown and kept such ungrateful questions at bay.
Decades ago, the workplaces had christened HR as a Personnel Management department that merely carried out administrative tasks. It then grew into a Policy-Making position that kept employees' welfare, psychological needs, and loyalty at the center of all its decisions.
Today, HR has metamorphosed further. It now invests significant time in attracting the right talent and managing employee engagement and development, and, strengthening the overall organizational culture in this hyper-competitive talent market. We can sum up this progression from being a task-focused function to a 'people' function.
But the change is not over yet. The future predicts an even more massive tectonic shift for us - courtesy, the volatile and uncertain business environment caused by fiercer competition, growing global scales, and resultant complex demographics. There's an intense need to innovate quickly, provide low-cost solutions, and accentuate a good customer experience. This business scenario has a corresponding effect on HR, where attracting outstanding talent, engaging, and retaining them is becoming more and more challenging.
The question now seems to emerge a little unusually!
The "do we need HR?" has now been substituted by "what should we do with HR?"
We have to develop notably to continue to command our place in the new businesses. So far, we have well-played the roles defined in two quadrants of Dave Ulrich's model - the Administrative Expert and the Employee Champion. It's time we now grow into a Strategic Business partner and a Change Agent.
Moving in this direction will require HR to focus on:
The war for talent is real today. If human capital is a big differentiator for companies, the game has to be played differently. The business houses expect HR to reduce hiring costs and bring the best people on board in no time. We cannot just be the recruiters - we will have to market our workplace, brand our policies, and promote employee stories to show (and not tell) what our organizations offer. We will have to think like a marketeer and excel in storytelling. And our stories will have to "show" what sets our organizations apart!
With the businesses going global, HR has to play an indispensable role in embracing diversity and promoting an inclusive culture that adopts the differences this global scale brings along.
Data and analytics can bring about real, deep insights into what makes a company and its people tick. It can draw connections between various organizational dimensions, shape new practices, and make better talent decisions that finally affect the business outcomes. HR will thus have to transition quickly from just using the traditional HRMS and leverage technology and Data Analytics.
Raising the bar from Employee Engagement to Employee Experience
While employee engagement will continue to be a focus area, there is scope to improve employee experience at various touchpoints in the employee life cycle. Today, the one-size-fits-all solution no longer holds true. Most things are getting personalized - including learning. HR can leverage the combination of technology and behavioral sciences expertise to realize a customized employee experience.
Nurture an ecosystem and culture that drives performance in uncertain environments
HR may have to review the way organizations are structured today. They have to encourage a flat structure and create an ecosystem that empowers teams, designs agile processes, and speeds up decision-making. Rigid employment and work models with time and space constraints may be limiting. We will have to challenge them in the new world. HR will have to facilitate flexibility and build a culture that trusts employees to give their best. The rise of hybrid work models/gig workforce will provide access to a broader range of talent, greater flexibility, and improved productivity.
Embracing a Unlearn-Learn-relearn culture
With the fast-changing external environment HR will have to play a critical role in creating a robust learning ecosystem and a culture where employees can keep pace with the skills and capabilities needed to succeed.
It hasn't been more dramatic and exciting than this for the HR function.
Only those who will strategically partner with businesses and drive change will sustain and gradually shine!