A memo to HR

Expand focus and extend influence

After 10 years of writing about HR, we asked ourselves: Did it make a difference? The answer is yes. Sixty-two percent of South African respondents in our 2020 survey reported that HR has made progress over the past decade. Unpacking the South African results further, respondents reported a gap of 35% between importance and readiness, with 74 percent saying the evolving role of HR was important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 10 percent saying there were very ready to address this trend.

Current drivers

Data collected from South African respondents indicate that 51 percent believe that HR will remain a distinct function over the next five years. 41 percent of the respondents believe that HR will substantially change within the next 12 to 18 months with a notable difference of 16% between HR and non-HR respondents – a substantial change of 53 percent, belonging to HR respondents. 

Change is coming but it needs to be more than transformation or reinvention – it needs to be foundational. In the new world of work, the foundation for HR needs to be one of expanded focus and extended influence.

South African respondents indicated the top 3 changes that HR could make to maximize their impact across the organisation in the next 12-18 months, these include :

  1. Increase in new capabilities. For example: digital fluency and analytics.
  2. Change the organisation design to incorporate more agile and team-based work.
  3. Increase efficiency through which HR activities occur through automation.
  4. Respondents indicated the introduction of new roles as the least impactful change.

The top 3 changes that HR can make to maximise impact, indicates the need to expand on HR’s focus areas and scope. Through this expansion, HR can pivot its focus from employees, to the organisation and broaden its scope of influence to the enterprise and ecosystem as a whole. These shifts by HR beyond the traditional functional lines and from employee to the organisation, ultimately impacts the work and the workforce. This shift is called “exponential HR”.

What does the expansion look like? We start by examining the top areas where South African 2020 survey respondents indicated that HR could make the greatest impact.

When South African respondents identified the biggest changes HR should make to maximise its impact, three areas stood out :

  1. Building 21st century leadership skills (60 percent). HR organisations can do this by exploring new approaches including learning by doing. Take a fresh look at the context in which leaders need to operate today and provide employees with more diverse, developmental assignments; provide leaders with less traditional experience the opportunity to run businesses and initiatives; and honour the ability of employees and leaders at every level, from early to late in their careers, to rethink, challenge and develop the business they’re in. 
  2.  Upskilling the workforce (37 percent). To achieve lifelong learning, it must be embedded into not only the flow of work but the flow of life. HR organisations can do this by creating portfolios of learning and work experiences to support employees working in different disciplines. Technologies like learning experience platforms (LXPs) can be leveraged to offer on-demand learning with learning materials organised in a variety channels based on skills, topics or learning objectives. Employees share and rate content, provide comments and recommendations using social settings. Organisations have a responsibility to reinvent learning so that in integrates into the flow of work – and life. 
  3. Accessing new capabilities/talent (33 percent). HR organisations can do this by adopting a new mindset: Embracing new traits and behaviours that can help allow the enterprise thrive in a digital age.

We are also seeing some signs of what happens when this shift does not occur. At several large companies, the CHRO position has been eliminated and HR teams have been moved under other C-suite or divisional leaders. These examples reinforce that HR is at an important inflection point. While our survey respondents generally agree there is a great opportunity ahead, they also acknowledge that there are doubts about HR’s ability to capitalize on it. 40 percent of our non-HR South African respondents reported that they are not confident in HR’s ability to make the needed changes, and an additional 30 percent said they were only somewhat confident.

In the coming decade, HR has the opportunity to embrace the future, expand its reach and focus, and assume the leading role at the vanguard of work, the workplace, and the workforce on behalf of the enterprise. In this expanded role, HR becomes a vital enabler of an organisation’s ability to thrive in a world where the old rules of work no longer apply, and the new ones are evolving rapidly. Exponential HR, focused on humanising the world of work, is a key source of strength for the future-focused organisation seeking to make the most of human capital in today’s dynamic environment.


Steps South African Companies can take to address the future of HR

South African organisations should consider taking some of the following steps towards expanding focus and extending influence to fully enable an exponential HR for their organisation: 

  1. Assess if the traditional CHRO position still relevant in your organisation.
  2.  Investigate which areas of opportunity and impact exist in your organisation that could potentially have the biggest impact.
  3.  Conceptualise what your HR teams will look like in the next 12 to 18 months. Considerations should be made as to whether your HR teams will remain as is or if they should move and sit under C-suite or divisional leaders.

Deloitte Human Capital Trends SA Report 2020 Download the full report
2020 Global Human Capital Trends Download the full report
Returning to work in the future of work 2020 Download
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