The future of HR: are you on the right side of history?
In many organisations, big or small, HR is considered to be a function. In some cases, it’s seen to be “just another” part of a company, with no major role to play in its direction or long-term success. In other cases, it’s even seen as overly moralistic or obstructionist – getting in the way of the far more “important” organisational processes. But it isn’t, even if it sometimes plays the part.
Slowly, by degrees, some of the world’s largest and most powerful organisations are coming to realise that HR is business-critical, and that the success and sustainability of a company can depend on the HR department’s ability to function correctly and efficiently. It’s up to HR professionals to drive this change by turning their department into something that is value-driven and proactive. The HR department must be a well-oiled machine that is connected to all areas of the business. In this way, the department becomes the custodian and defender of the culture: vigilant to toxic behaviour or negative business practices; fearless and willing to hold the CEO to account if the company is at risk; an optimiser of employee activity and a guarantor that that collective activity is directed towards the right goals.
We’ve seen only in the past few months what happens when the HR department fails to exert itself or fulfill its proper potential. Only investor pressure felled Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, after a raft of scandals that should have sent alarm bells ringing in the HR department years before. And even in organisations that we can safely assume invest heavily in improving diversity, such as the BBC, we see massive gender and race inequality that it is the duty of HR to recognise and address.
We’re likely to see more outsourcing in the industry in the next few years, and with this, like all things, comes advantages and disadvantages. By outsourcing talented HR individuals, you gain the benefit of securing the cool, detached perspective of somebody free from bias and bad habits. Sometimes it is those most deeply rooted in an organisation who are the most blind to what is going on around them, especially if the workings of the company have changed slowly over a long period of time. On the flip side, the rise of artificial intelligence and robots has prompted more and more interest in their usage as a tool for HR. Already, a quarter of senior HR professionals claim to use robotics to some degree in their HR or talent acquisition function. While this is cost-effective in the short term, it isn’t necessarily beneficial in the long run. Human Resources by definition (the clue is in the name) requires individuals with a developed sense of empathy and a knack for connecting people and connecting with people. It’s something that robots, for now at least, can’t do.
What’s become clear is that the future of human resources is not on the sidelines, perhaps making itself heard but never affecting the run of play. It is in the thick of things, dealing with employees and senior-executives and directing everyone towards worthy strategic goals. Sooner or later, it will realise its full potential. Human resources emerged out of the human relations movement at the start of the 20th century. There were those who thought it was unnecessary at the time. Now, at the start of the 21st century, we are seeing another human relations revolution in business. It’s up to you to make sure you’re on the right side of history.
About the Author
Rita Trehan is a multi-award-winning HR expert and corporate strategic advisor, who counts the CEO and MD of Australia’s largest energy company among her clients. At global companies including Honeywell and AES Corporation, both as a senior executive and CHRO, Rita led major organisational and business change to strengthen values, increase profit and encourage innovation. Over her 30-year career, she has developed a distinctive approach and business philosophy that she outlines in her first book, Unleashing Capacity: The Hidden Human Resources.
Rita is a Fellow of the RSA and Founder and Chair of the HR Original Thinkers awards, which honours young, forward-thinking talent in the industry. She is also an advisor to the Board of EveryLayer, which brings affordable broadband to emerging markets in Africa.