Robots. Machines. Men. Women. Siri. Google Assistant. Alexa!
The HR of tomorrow would not just be dealing with humans anymore. The members and components of the world of work of tomorrow are going to be dynamically different from today. The future, how much ever we try to predict it and put in a box, is going to surprise us all.
What can HR leaders do? Or rather, how will HR fit into this equation?
“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” Peter Drucker.
The questions that need to be framed and answered for HR to tackle the next curve of the world of work is to glimpse into the dynamics of the relationship between employers and employees of the future. And how does HR fit into this larger fabric of work, people, and economy?
Back in the day
During the 80s, before the world went digital and global, the workplace was transactional. The relationship between work and workers was different. And, so were the dynamics between the employer and the workers. The relationship between employers and employees was viewed as a simple exchange of work and money.
Even today, there are workplaces and organizations that are still stuck in that era. In this scenario, the role of HR is to bring about large scale standardization and leverage low cost technological solutions to automate the HR’s tasks.
Today, the world of people and work is different. The relationship between work and workers has turned into something more. It is purpose-driven rather than task-oriented. People choose to be with a company because they feel that they are a part of a larger purpose.
Irrespective of the day and age that we operate in, there are going to be employer realities that business leaders are going to be answerable to. On the other hand, there are employee preferences which are also at the other end of the spectrum. To that end, bridging this gap between employer realities and employee expectations is going to be the key challenge facing the future HR professional.
In order to get an understanding about the opportunities and risks involved at an early stage while business leaders are still preparing for the future of work, it is crucial to first understand the imperatives of HR in the future.
The world is talking about Industry 4.0. How does HR fit into this scenario?
It is time for HR to also enter its HR 4.0 version and shift its focus towards investing in recruiting and retaining the best talent. That’s why, the employee experience matters.
The quality of the employee-employer relationships emerged as a point of critical uncertainty. There are two plausible scenarios for the way these relationships can go--either these relationships can turn into meaningful, long-lasting, symbiotic relations wherein the employer is someone who is vested in the employee’s career development. Or, on the other hand, given the rising uncertainty in the job market, the nature of jobs, these relationships can become less stable and more fragile.
Drivers such as the level of employee loyalty, work-life balance, supply and demand of work, expectation of autonomy within the framework of working for an employer, variety of daily jobs and tasks, all culminate into a certain level of expectations from the HR departments.
Last but not the least, a certain level of transparency in the processes is essential to remain relevant and future-ready.
This will be greatly defined by the role that technology is going to play in the world of HR. Rise of automation and machine-controlled workflows can disrupt existing HR departments that are not agile and proactive enough.
Machine learning and AI are set to replace many of the traditional repetitive tasks that are directly associated with the HR department. At the same time, technologies such as cloud storage can yield more flexibility thus enabling the HR department to concentrate on investing in relationship building with the employees.
The bottom-line is that organizations will fall on a spectrum or rather a quadrant wherein the quality of employer-employee relationship and the level of automation will determine how the HR function would look in the future.
On the one end, the company can be viewed as a personal career partner while on the other end of the spectrum the organization is just viewed as one of the many workplace providers. At the same time, the level of automation can be on the lowest end or it can be on the highest side.
The organizations that will be drivers of change in the future of work would be the ones that are able to strike a balance and land up somewhere in the middle.
HR 4.0 in Industry 4.0
This scenario is defined by a high level of automation and the company as a personal career partner.
In such a situation, AI and VR are leveraged to build long-lasting relationships with employees. The touch-points between the HR and the employee are high in number. Services such as compensation and benefits, training and development, etc. are perfectly customized and tailored to suit the employees’ needs. These are low cost because of automation of HR solutions and employees are open and willing to share sensitive data with the employee because there is heightened sense of awareness about security of data.
When one looks at different scenarios that are likely to emerge and pan out over the next decade in the world of HR, it is clear that the direction that the HR fraternity takes will have a long-lasting impact on not only the workforce but also on the societal and business sphere.
Two major drivers of HR’s transformation are going to be technological change and the evolution of the employee-employer relationship.
The research titled, “The future of Human Resources: A glimpse into the future” outlines different scenarios in the world of work and the landscape of the future of HR. Some of these scenarios include:
Only humanity matters: This is a scenario wherein companies and HR leaders are personal career advancement partners of their employees. It is a worldview where data regulations of the previous era are still prevalent and employees return to a system of old values. Human interaction is still key in the HR processes in this scenario.
HR 4.0: This is a scenario of the future of work wherein the traditional HR processes have technology solutions HR as a function has entered the time of high automation. Employers are increasingly getting laser-focused on recruiting and retaining the best talent. Customized offerings and a thriving relationship between employers and employees.
Old school in a new sharing world: When this scenario plays out in the office, it is the school of thought where employers are interchangeable. Stagnating economic development and difficulty in automating regular yet redundant HR processes have led to employers being unwilling to invest in their workforce.
According to the Future of HR 2020: Which path are you taking? report, about three in five HR leaders believe if the HR function does not focus on modernizing its way of working, it will soon become irrelevant as a function.
Understanding the future of work in 2030
About 71 percent of pathfinding HR professionals said that they “strongly agree” that their HR function is playing a vital role in establishing the right culture, compared to only 15 percent of their counterparts.
“While the business must own defining the organizational culture they want, HR is the key driver and influencer in making culture stick,” said Kate Holt, Partner, People Consulting, KPMG in the UK.
How can HR ensure that their organization is spot-on with their culture that will last them through the future of work?
Technologies may come and go. But, the culture of an organization can stay on forever. Unless, the HR leaders take it upon themselves to initiate a mindset shift.
Culture is a living, breathing organism that needs to be fed with healthy nutrients consistently. If not cared for properly, it will die. That’s why, it is crucial that putting in place the right team that cares and understands both the business and people vision of the company. The initial wave of culture change can be counted as the one that will have a long-lasting impact on the organization’s future-readiness. A sustainable culture is essential.
The chosen team must also be objective enough to understand the gaps that exist and credible enough to have a grasp of business objectives and the correlation between the right culture and business performance.
Redefining the workforce
About 56 percent of the respondents to a KPMG survey cited that preparing the workforce of tomorrow for an era of AI and other related technologies would prove to be the biggest challenge faced by the HR function as a whole. While 87 percent of the HR leaders are channeling their efforts in identifying how the workforce of tomorrow might look, the exact makeup of the future workforce is still unknown.
From tackling a workforce that used to be homogenous for the longest time, HR has had to shift towards a workforce where the leaders have to worry about people issues but also about managing and driving people in the context of automation, AI, robotics, etc.
“Workforce shaping is not a case of doing traditional workforce planning harder and faster,” said Paul Lipinski, Principal and Head of Human Capital Advisory, KPMG, US. “In fact, workforce planning still has a role to play in many organizations. But from discussions with clients who are at the forefront of digital disruption, we find that workforce shaping should generally come first. It frames the more operational decisions and creates the context for action. It is, many clients argue, a new discipline for HR.”
Those organizations that have been successful in shaping the workforce of the future have some unique characteristics and strategies in place that set themselves up for success when making the composition of their workforce future-ready.
First of all, these pathfinding HR leaders invest heavily in the discipline of shaping the workforce. Moreover, they visualize the final goal first and then strategize in order to work towards it. The major focus is to upskill the workforce not for the demands of today, but recognizing the capability gaps early on and putting a plan in place to bridge those.
If the HR has to survive and thrive in the future, leaders are going to have to actively take the C-suite buy-in and establish regular mechanisms of revising the future outlook and be agile enough to be a part of this ever-evolving process.
As we look into the future of HR, it is crucial to take a step back and look at the big picture of how HR has evolved through the ages. Only then would business and HR leaders be able to align themselves to identify the gaps that need to be bridged in order to meet the needs of the future of work. Apart from technological changes driving the transformation of HR, employee experience will emerge as the central theme of all things work and people.