Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 7: 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. How does HR pivot in order to achieve this? Our speakers discuss all things around the future of HR...

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Jill Trafford
HR and Technology Advisory Lead at Deloitte

Jill has over 20 years of HR industry and consulting experience working with and for many global leading organizations spanning multiple sectors and geographies.

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Katie Neal
Future of HR proposition lead

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.

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Host: Daniel Hind, Manager within the Human Capital practice, Deloitte

Speakers: Jill Trafford, Director and HR and Technology Advisory Lead at Deloitte and Katie Neal, Manager and Future of HR proposition lead.

DH: Is there a future for HR and why is this a key question now? In an age of digital transformation, with new operating models taking advantage of intelligent automation, new talent models, and ultimately creating new ways of working, how can HR place itself as a driving force to shape the future of work? I'm your host, Daniel Hind. Today I'm joined by two colleagues from our HR Transformation practice, Jill Trafford and Katie Neal. Jill, would you like to introduce yourself?

JT: Hi. Thanks, Dan. I lead our HR and Technology Advisory practice for the UK. I work predominantly on global HR transformation programmes, helping HR functions become more effective and efficient through new strategies, new technologies, and new operating models. Katie?

KN: Hey, Jill, and, hi, Daniel. My name is Katie Neal. I'm part of our HR Transformation team in the UK. I lead our Future of HR proposition. I'm extremely passionate about helping our clients navigate the challenges they're seeing at the moment in terms of technology, workforce, employee experience, and being able to transform their HR function and inject that adaptability that they're need to be resilient for the future.

DH: Thank you. My opening question is, is there a future for HR? HR in general is always under the microscope of different areas of the business, but what's the challenge for HR now in particular and how do you see that affecting the future of HR in an organisation?

KN: We asked ourselves that question when we first started off thinking about the impacts of the Future of Work and what the future of HR is. Fortunately for us we see the role of HR is bigger than it's ever been. We know that there are the drivers around people and purpose and having that purpose driven organisation. Looking at recent events, the role of the CHRO is increasingly important as the CFOs role was in the 2008 financial crisis. We certainly see that there's a really key role there for HR to have a seat at that CEO table, and that they're going to be fundamentally orchestrating that workforce and what's needed for the business through the technology, the strategic workforce planning, driving that purpose throughout the organisation and really addressing the trends around the social enterprise that people are expecting to see.

DH: Jill, anything to that?

JT: The piece that I would add is the shift that we’re seeing in HR functions now is, how HR puts themselves at the centre of the employee experience. So what is the experience of every colleague and every employee, as they navigate their own career through an organisation, and what is the essential role that HR play in that? Whether that’s from 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.

You have a real mix of different types of employees, whether it's office based, people who are mobile and not coming into an office every day, and how does the HR function help all those different groups of people access the services they need. We're seeing the employee experience being at the heart now of HR function and how it's structured and how it's been set up, which is very different to how organisations have thought about HR over the last 10, 20 years.

DH: Are we seeing a shift in any other drivers, a technological shift from HR that’s making it more relevant to the organisations, to the needs, so that colleague experience, employee experience piece that you just touched on then?

JT: Yes, the existing HR cloud technology that most organisations have put in, or are going through the process of putting in at the moment, it's no longer enough just to have that one technology. They have to layer on top of that the different experience platforms to really give employees the experience that we're trying to create for people.

KN: Just building on that, the expectations that we have in our personal life around the technologies that we use are driving what we then expect in the workplace as well. If I can sit on a bus and do my mortgage application and take a scan of my passport photo as evidence, I don’t want have to then go to work and do my expenses in a plastic bag. So those expectations, and then also thinking around that employee experience lens of an employee not having to go into multiple different technologies for their HR transactions versus their finance transactions.

And what that on stop shop is, it means that I get a seamless experience as an employee. All of those factors are really driving the different technologies that are in the marketplace. Gamification and VR front boarding is, as Jill said, absolutely exploding, and for a lot of clients the challenge is how one earth do I start to choose what technology decisions I make. I've already invested in legacy technologies, and that now is opened up to all these different plug-ins and it's a huge landscape for them to navigate.

JT: The other thing to remember, just following on from what Katie said, is most HR functions don’t have the technology capability at the moment to really help organisations capitalise on all the technology that’s being acquired. They're having to reskill themselves to make themselves relevant in that market. If 65% of organisations report that technology is inadequate, despite the billions being spent on it in the HR market over the last 5 years, so coupled with this needs to be that reskilling of HR to truly capitalise on all the automation, AI, technology that’s coming into the function.

DH: We spoke a lot about those transactional pieces of processes that can be picked up by new technologies, but what about the shift of productivity that’s really putting HR in the driving seat of helping an organisation improve its productivity? Are we seeing a shift there and you have an experience from working with clients that we can talk about?

KN: Yes, there's much more clients that are now moving away from the traditional measures that we saw around time to fill a role, for instance, as an HR measure, and are now looking instead at time to productivity as something they want to be able to track and see in the workforce. We're seeing apps now being tested in the market around how to measure and track productivity and wellbeing when you've got a remote workforce, so there's sort of enablers coming through. We're working with clients to start thinking around what those new measures are, and to start helping HR transition in the wider organisation’s view from not being seen as a cost cutting function, but as a value adding function that’s driving that productivity and driving growth for an organisation.

JT: The other big shift is changing the very make up of what an HR function is and the augmentation of the HR professional. You're starting to see organisations looking at a much broader talent ecosystem to support organisations, rather than relying purely on a quite heavy permanent headcount. You're looking at consultants, contractors, joint ventures, robots, etcetera, and it's changing how HR are, what the cost is to the business and how we’re adding that value.

DH: Given the rise of automation and all these new technologies that are out there, how does HR see itself reshaping, in your experience, to still be relevant in the future so technology is not going to make HR obsolete?

KN: What we’re seeing more with clients is around what's that augmented workforce view look like.

If you're taking and adopting the technology options that are out there, then rethinking your workforce, from a people perspective, and what are the skills and capabilities and roles that you need to complement that and where you still need the human advisory element and the moments that matter, where you do need that face to face people interaction and technology isn't going to support. You will see now within operating models, absolutely people that are dedicated from HR perspective around employee experience and people experience and driving that as an agenda. But equally you're probably going to see roles in that operating model around workforce experience architecture or solutions architecture that works at an enterprise level, bringing together those technologies and capabilities across the organisation.

What we're talking about at the moment, the trend is the super job. So it's taking almost a discreet component, parts of the roles that are still remaining, that need that human element, and starting to create those super jobs. But also there are key themes that run throughout all of them, so fostering team collaboration, the ability to access talent, strategic workforce planning, and a real focus on driving work outcomes, productivity as a commodity. The ability to have that business acumen and narrate and tell the story for the business, all of those things are going to come out much more strongly in HR roles in the future and really set people apart. We talk about exponential HR and those are the sorts of capabilities we’ll see in that area.

JT: One of our clients recently has changed the roles in their HR shared service centre and they’ve started to appoint experienced advisors. So going back to what we were talking about earlier around the employee experience, although there is a great focus on technology and automation, ultimately, driving a great experience also needs to be coupled with those critical touchpoints in the moments that matter. Clients are now putting in roles such as the experienced advisors to make sure we've got enough focus on some of these critical moments.

DH: Obviously under the current climate, by the very nature of us finding very quickly a new way to do this podcast, so using a virtual tool as opposed to having the joy of sitting in our lovely Deloitte studio. But how do we see HR, or what is HRs role in helping organisations deal with maybe a global crisis, or in contingency planning, or helping an organisation very quickly change ways of working so they can meet whatever the demand is of the environment?

KN: Facing into a crisis is going to provide challenges and opportunities across the board and it's going to vary by industry. If you take the consumer industry, for instance, the grocery industry at the moment is going to be trying to massively deal with the increased demand, versus the retail industry has suddenly lost the majority of its revenue growth. But HR is at the front of all of this because it’s impacting the way we work, it's impacting our people, it's impacting our ability to have those face to face interactions that we're so used to.

HRs role around how organisations can respond, recover and thrive to these sorts of global crisis is absolutely crucial. Look at how we can prep and manage that community and how we can then emerge stronger on the other side of a crisis. Key things around that, such as the talent strategy, you’ve got to think how to get people back to work and how they're going to feel safe when we're out the other side of this. At the moment wellbeing is going to be at the top of everyone’s mind because it's an anxious and uncertain time. How you can have that employee engagement and drive that wellbeing is something that HR is going to be playing a fundamental role for, as well as just having the workforce that you need during the crisis, and on the other side of it, to deliver what you do as a business.

DH: An observation from my side is that I can't help but see that organisations or even sectors or industries’ digital transformation agenda has been fast forwarded overnight. The very nature of looking at a doctor’s surgery, it's been talked about can that be done virtually, as opposed to going down to a surgery for an appointment. Now we're finding that doctors are having to be able to meet demand, do virtual appointments, for example. Is there anything else that you believe is an advantage for HR with this current crisis, where they can help organisations move forward?

KN: Remote working and having the tools in place, such as video conferencing. We've been testing with clients the ability to run workshops virtually. They got very excited seeing their avatars running around a remote meeting room, so the tools and technologies that we can help organisations put in place to support their own remote working, absolutely. The other lens, as well as being able to do the work, is how you have that connectivity. There's technology such as Remesh, where we can help to capture how employees are feeling and use that to drive our different responses and our clients can do that as well.

DH: Obviously one of the things, as we come out of the current situation, is that we are very much social creatures and the need for face to face interaction, but will that look very differently? We had a podcast recently on the future of the workplace and about the importance of collaboration spaces. I wonder if there's going to be a shift towards, as opposed to just having a desk space to sit and come into an office to type away and do some emails, actually, will it change the shape of organisational workspaces so we have more collaborations and people will do more remote working to type up the outcomes of that? Do we have a view on how HR could help organisations in shaping this?

KN: There was a client conversation last week where they were saying remote working has been accelerated for the now, they’ve had to adapt to that with the technologies and ways to manage that. Absolutely, now they're thinking about in the future do they need to have the same amount of real estate space, the type of work environment as they have had to date, which is traditionally quite a high cost for an organisation.

We will come out the other side of this and see trends around staggered working patterns and looking much more at the parts of your work that you do need to come together in a collaborative nature that is face to face versus about being able to be supported by a technology.

JT: Just to play devil’s advocate on that though, I do think we will 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. We've seen apps being developed to check in on people's wellness and resilience and how they're doing. On the flipside of it, human beings are ultimately sociable creatures, and many people have realised through enforced social distancing and working remotely, that what they do value is coming into a shared environment, bouncing ideas around with people, and having that social interaction. The other trend we will probably see is a shift in how workspace is set up, how workspace is organised, to enable people to connect better at work and connect better outside of work.

As the role of HR completely changes in organisations, Dan, the role of the CHRO role will change as well. Historically, CHROs in some organisations haven't even been a board member and have reported through an operation lead. Many organisations are now truly realising the value of that role rather than just paying lip service to it. CHROs and HR functions need to take advantage of that and start to use things like data and analytics in a far more effective way in terms of driving decisions, creating business cases, and having robust arguments and data behind some of the decisions that we’re trying to drive through an organisation. I don't think historically HR were good at that.

The other shift is probably the concept we talked about in our 2019 HC trends, the rise of the social enterprise, and what role does an organisation play in helping people feel that they are connected to the broader community, the broader environment, and giving back. Because that level of trust in government and in big institutions is dropping and people are looking at their own organisations and leadership to provide that social enterprise element.

DH: The challenge that I've always seen in HR and from my time working in industry is that the value that we bring, the value that HR brings, and going back to the introduction through Ulrich, of the business partner, that transactional versus strategic discussion. The capabilities for this new world of HR, where we’re needing a lot more technical skills within the HR environment, are we seeing any other shift on that more to develop that business acumen? Are we seeing a different kind of business partner or a different kind of business leader within HR?

JT: For me, Dan, the concept of the Ulrich model is dead and has been dead for a number of years. The tragedy is most organisations have been trying to shoehorn themselves into the David Ulrich model, no offence Mr Ulrich, for the last 20 years.

Now people are trying to unpick it because they’ve never seen the benefit that that model always promised, that the interface between HR operations, centres of excellence, and HR business partners, has always created more problems that it's solved. The technology and the level of automation now allows us to truly step way from that model and really think what are the roles that we need to create in HR. And to Katie’s point earlier, the concept of these super jobs, such as the workforce experience architect, that 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 focus on the colleague rather than what HR need, and that’s the shift that’s happening at the moment.

DH: Have you got an example that could bring that to life, so an example where we’re seeing that shift from, this is an HR process, as opposed to, this is the experience we want this process to deliver?

KN: We worked with a client last year where they were looking at moving away from that traditional process ownership and global process ownership, that was siloed away from the technology needs and the delivery needs, to thinking end to end, what does that feel like for an employee or a candidate. Equally, what does it feel like for HR delivering or providing that service, and getting that seamless end to end experience across technology, and the interactions and what the hand offs and complexities are, will start to deliver the employee experience. That’s the pivot that most organisations are working towards or need to start working towards.

DH: As a practice we will send a lot of time talking with CHROs, so that C-suite level member. But if an operational manager or another C-suite member was to ask our opening question is, what is the future of HR if we're investing in all of this technology, what you would you to them and how would you introduce the future of HR to them?

KN: It might be a frustratingly clichéd consultant answer, but it really does depend on the organisation and where they are on that journey and where they want to get to. But it is about positioning HR to lead in that people and purpose agenda, and coordinating at enterprise level some of those capabilities and talent needs across the workforce, that’s where there's a role for HR in the future. Positioning at the C-suite level in that way is going to be the enabler to getting to a purpose driven and productivity driven HR organisation that’s fit for the future and can continue to adapt.

JT: The other thing to think about, Dan, is 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 that they've never had that mandate before. They need to capitalise on those elements that are truly the human elements still of any organisation that will lead to run alongside the explosion in technology.

DH: Are we seeing a change in the type of question that we're being asked by our clients about the future of HR?

KN: The main trend or the new question that I keep getting from clients is very much focussed around the capability piece. How, when I've now got an augmented workforce and my workforce delivery is changing, what does that mean from a capability perspective and the model that I need in the future, and that’s also really angled around the expectations changing of the workforce as well. Not only do you need new capabilities in terms of what you're delivering, but the expectations from employees are changing in terms of what they want from a career progression. We see the trend of people coming in and out of the organisation, and so having the career journeys and the capability models to support that sort of career journey throughout the life cycle of an employee is going to be fundamental and certainly something that clients are now asking us to help them with.

JT: The thing that I'm talking to clients mostly about is around employee experience and what HRs role is in that. How do they reorganise themselves to deliver a great experience, what's their role versus the businesses role. And also organisations trying to get their heads around the future of work, and all the things that we're sharing with them and other organisations are sharing with them and what that means to them in terms of the way they have to operate. There is a question that HR need to ask themselves.

We've tried to move HR towards being a strategic advisor for the last 20 years. The role of the HR business partner, that was the whole intent behind HR business partners, and what happened was HR business partners either didn't have the capabilities, or there was not the technology in the back office to support a shift in moving activities away from them to enable them to focus on the strategic advice to the business. I genuinely 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 that capability as Katie said.

DH: That brings us to the end of this podcast, this episode today. I would like to thank both for your time and we look forward to speaking to you again soon in the future. Thanks. That’s it for this week. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.

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