Human Resources, a very important division of the company, has always been side-lined as a non-core activity. However, every company takes pride in what their HR does to manage their people, be it talent sourcing, talent development or employee engagement. Human Resources, though may be known by several titles, traditionally has three comprehensive key functional aspects – HR Strategy, HR Administration & HR Development. HR Strategy defines policies, strategies, culture and the DNA of the organisation. HR Administration has to do with various transactional aspects like documentation, payrolling, attendance, leaves, etc., while HR Development has to do with talent development, competency development, etc. Traditionally HR division owned these processes with pride.
However, a lot has changed in the last two decades.
Advent of Technology
It is without doubt that technology is revolutionising the way HR processes, like payroll, recruitment, and grievance handling, to talk about a few, are managed. There are a multitude of payroll software available, which can be mass-customised, that process payroll, track attendance and leave, manage statutory benefits and at the same time maintain data privacy with appropriate checks and balances. Companies that have embraced technology have not only simplified their day-to-day HR activities but are also enjoying the convenience, flexibility and cost-efficiency of automation along with data privacy, data back-up and archiving. Infact, with introduction of mobile apps, payroll software has become a thing of the past. Employees can quickly and easily access leaves, holidays, benefits, salary slips and other relevant information anytime, anywhere and from any device instead of chasing down HR personnel or policy documents.
Emergence of Gen Y & Gen Z
With millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z entering the workforce, the very strain of employees and their needs has changed. The patience level, the attachment to workplace, the relationship to other people at work, their needs, their growth patterns, their skill enhancement, all have undergone sea change. No longer do they lean on the organisation for these needs. They manage these needs on their own, if possible through the organisation, if not from elsewhere. Being the largest working population and having entered leadership roles early in their careers, millennials will redefine leadership by prioritising flexibility, inclusion, self-paced and self-motivated work environment. Besides, millennials are more likely to take up work that is meaningful to them. They deliver what they want to as long as they get what they expect. So, HR will have to concentrate on the strategic and transformational aspect of their roles more to attract and retain this talent.
Need for Speed
The computers have time and again proved this. Everything that humans achieved in the world, in the last 10 years, be it growth, development, progress, economy, technology or whatever, is being achieved in less than 3 years, and not just this time, but time after time. Which means the exponential ‘change’ graph is here to stay. And how does HR keep pace with such a change in talent and manpower too? Impossible. And the HR education hasn’t changed one bit to deal with this either.
Do we Baby Boomers remember our parents asking us, if we want to become an engineer or a doctor? And if not, what other options did we have? Over the last two decades, almost a hundred new skills have emerged as viable paths to seek careers, from the earlier about a handful. Several new skill areas, almost unheard of earlier have emerged, thereby bringing their own nuances of how talent inside these skills behave and organise themselves. The traditional 9-5 work scenario, with a corporate culture is no longer visible. Some industries like creative, press, theatre, food, distribution, BPO, just to name a few have their peculiarities. This puts enormous pressure on HR to be broad based in their approach to people, development, engagement and retention, which is increasingly becoming impossible for the ‘traditional HR’.
HR has been synonymous with talent management, custodian of company culture, bearer of rules, statutory laws and compliance, and a hub for identifying and meeting learning and development needs of the organisation.
Given all these changes, there is a huge pressure on HR to deliver under the changing circumstances. Slowly and steadily, HR has adapted itself wilfully relegating some of these tasks strategically to rightful places in the organisation.
The HR Strategy aspect has slipped into the board room. Several companies now have an HR Director, sometimes part of business strategy discussions, who carries out this responsibility through the board. Broadly, policymaking, and strategic decisions like hiring policy, growth policy, culture, etc. are defined here, and often given as instructions to the SBUs and HR team. The HR team is therefore, no longer privy to these discussions.
Then comes the HR Administration. With the advancement of technology, HR process outsourcing, improved relationships, the once indispensable HR is on its way to obsolescence. Technology has penetrated into several functions of HR administration including payroll. Applicant Tracking system is a good example of use of technology in recruitment. Another boon of technology is the advent of social media which is an effective medium to connect to potential hires by looking at their profiles instead of going days at end through heaps and heaps of resumes. Onboarding too has been taken off the back of HR with software specifically developed to do orientations, joining formalities of newly hired.
With most functions of HR being automated or outsourced there is very little left to do for HR personnel. It would completely be the company’s prerogative to eliminate the HR wholly or make it leaner by delegating whatever is left.
The last function, HR Development is best delivered by line managers as they best understand the intricacies of their teams, their progress and the challenges the face. Long gone are the days when HR would decide the programs that employees should undertake to develop their skills and competencies. Managers have realised the importance of this and started taking control and responsibility of their team’s developmental needs. It is primarily a manager’s responsibility, as an employee spends all the time with his/her manager than the HR of the organisation. Issues like conflict resolution, talent development, performance management, competency development are best managed by the line managers.
That would bring us to the question – what about HR. Yes, what exactly about HR. HR will transform to be a pure administrative agency, supporting the business functions, and employees through use of appropriate software and applications. However, the future is unforeseeable and it is yet to be seen…
If HR is on its way to obsolescence or is it just evolving?
Author–Raja Sekhar Reddy is PDGM from IIM Ahmedabad, and B Tech, Computer Science, from IIT Kanpur, and has served in senior roles in several organisations. In his last assignment he founded Innovsource, India’s leading manpower outsourcing company, in 1994 and today it is a Rs.1500 Cr company deploying over 60,000 outsourced staff. He is now on his way to create a start-up incubator along with his partner, which will provide a platform for budding entrepreneurs to give wings to their dreams.