Posted: 11 Jun. 2020 12 min. read

Is there a future for HR?

Massive shifts in technological capabilities are driving change within HR. Even though technology is replacing some traditional HR roles, it is also opening up new possibilities and creating new requirements which HR needs to fill. As part of our Humanising the Future of HR podcast series we spoke to Jill Trafford and Katie Neal about the future of HR.

Setting the scene

The role of HR is bigger than ever, increasing in importance similar to the CFO role in the 2008 financial crisis. HR is now at the centre of the employee experience, in driving the people and purpose agenda (having a purpose driven organisation), strategic workforce planning and the technology needed for this.

Drivers of change

Employee experience is at the heart of HR function, which is very different to how organisations have thought about HR over the last 10-20 years. For example, thinking about how someone joins and is on boarded into an organisation, or how they are developed or managed throughout their career, or even how they leave an organisation - what is the experience people have, how easy is it to access services, information, data etc. This is what we mean by HR and employee experience.

Another driver of change is that the existing HR cloud technology that most organisations have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, it's no longer adequate. This is because employees expect the technologies they use in the workplace to be the same standard as the technologies they use in their personal lives. This links back to employee experience, of an employee not having to go into multiple different technologies for their HR transactions versus their finance transactions, it should be a seamless experience.

It can be a big challenge for organisations to make these kinds of technological decisions as it's a huge landscape for them to navigate, and because they have invested in legacy technologies. Also, most HR functions don’t have the technological capability at the moment to really help organisations capitalise on all the technology that’s being acquired. Reskilling of HR is important to truly capitalise on all the technology, including AI and automation, that’s coming into the function.

Helping organisations improve productivity

Productivity is becoming a focus for HR teams and something they want to start tracking. There are apps that are now being tested in the market around how to measure and track productivity, as well as wellbeing, when you've got a remote workforce. This is part of a bigger transition, from organisations viewing HR as a cost cutting function, to a value adding function that’s driving productivity and growth in an organisation. The other big shift is changing the very make up of what a HR function is and the augmentation of the HR professional. Organisations are looking at a much broader talent ecosystem, rather than relying purely on a permanent headcount. Consultants, contractors, joint ventures, robots etc. This is changing HR’s role in assessing the cost to the business and how they can add value.

How does HR see itself reshaping?

As HR functions adopt some of the new tech that’s out there, it’s important they consider their own workforce from a people perspective, and the skills, capabilities and roles that need to complement this new tech. Where is the human advisory element still required?  Face to face, people interaction will still be needed and technology won’t replace this.

The trend we’re seeing at the moment is of the ‘superjob’. So augmenting roles with tech but understanding human elements of the role still remains i.e. fostering team collaboration, the ability to access talent, strategic workforce planning, a focus on driving work outcomes, productivity as a commodity. The ability to have that business acumen and narrate and tell the story for the organisation, all of these things are going to come out much more strongly in HR roles in the future and will really set people apart.

The impact of remote working

Remote working has been accelerated for now and clients have adapted to this. We will begin to see trends around staggered working patterns, and organisations assessing the areas of work that require more collaboration and which can’t necessarily be supported by technology.

We will also see enhanced collaboration tools and enhanced remote working. HR have got a great role to play in terms of the wellness and resilience of their teams. There are apps being developed to check in on people's wellness and resilience and how they're doing. On the flipside of it, many people have realised that there is value is coming into a shared environment, bouncing ideas around and having that social interaction.

As the role of HR completely changes in organisations, the role of the CHRO role will change as well. Historically, CHROs in some organisations haven't even been a board member. Many organisations are now truly realising the value of that role. CHROs and HR functions need to take advantage of this and start leveraging data and analytics in a far more effective way, especially around driving decisions, creating business cases, and having data behind what they’re trying to drive through the organisation.

The other impact of remote working relates to a concept from the Deloitte 2019 Human Capital Trends report: the rise of the social enterprise. This looks at the role an organisation plays in helping people feel they are connected to a broader community and are giving back. People are looking at their own organisations and leadership to provide this social enterprise element.

A new type of HR professional

Technology and automation is enabling HR to re-think how they organise themselves, it’s allowing them to step away from traditional, siloed set ups. The concept of superjobs, such as the workforce experience architect, this role can work across many different parts of HR, architecting the experience that people are trying to have. They're not aligned to a certain part of the business or a certain functional area of expertise. It's about focusing on the challenge rather than what HR need, and that’s the shift that’s happening at the moment.

We recently worked with a client who was looking to move away from traditional process ownership as they recognised it wasn’t in line with the technology and delivery requirements needed. This enables HR professionals to provide a seamless end to end experience for the organisation, which is very beneficial. This is the pivot that most organisations are working towards or need to start working towards.

So, what does all this mean for the future of HR?

What’s important is positioning HR to lead the people and purpose agenda, and coordinate some of those capabilities and talent needs across the workforce, at an enterprise level. This is where there's a role for HR in the future. This will enable a purpose driven and productivity driven HR organisation, that’s fit for the future and can continue to adapt.

Also, the current environment has really given HR the mandate to operate across the C-Suite in terms of creating a great employee experience, focussing on wellbeing and resilience, and connecting employees through collaboration platforms in a way they've never had that mandate to before. HR need to capitalise on these human elements, enabling them to flourish alongside the explosion in technology.

Finally, we've tried to move HR towards being a strategic advisor for the last 20 years. This was the intent behind creating HR business partners, but either they didn't have the capabilities needed, or the technology in back office to support wasn’t there, which would have allowed them to focus providing strategic advice to the business. I think the technology is now there, but organisations do not view HR in that strategic space a lot of the time, or there isn't the capability in business facing HR roles to enable them to truly step up. It's about bringing the outside perspectives in and starting to shift HR’s capabilities.

For more Future of Work insights, check out our Humanising the Future of Work podcast

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Katie Neal

Katie Neal

Manager

Katie Neal is a Manager specialising in Global HR Transformations with a focus on the Future of Work. She leads the UK Future of HR proposition and has extensive experience leading complex global transformations, predominantly with Private Sector clients, from design through to delivery. She specialises in strategy, target operating model design, service delivery model design, future capabiltiies for the augmented workforce, Shared Service Centre set up and optimisation and deployment.