What Is Your Point-of-View About What’s Next for HR?

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When I teach, write, consult, or coach, I am increasingly aware that my primary role in these opportunities is to help others create their point-of-view. I ask, “How can what I know help them further shape what they know, do, and feel?” To help someone develop their point-of-view, I need to be clear (and relatively succinct) about my point-of-view on a topic.

So in the spirit of my lifetime professional pursuit of enabling organizations to create value for others (employees, customers, investors, communities), let me share my point-of-view about “what’s next” for HR and its major evolving trends. I hope colleagues will review my point-of-view in order to better create their point-of-view on this topic.

Context is changing

The context of work is dramatically changing through social expectations, digital technology, economic transitions, political uncertainties, environmental responsibility, and demographics. When the context changes, the content of the business must adapt or become extinct. Someone said, “Content is king, but context is the kingdom.” The HR profession must appreciate, anticipate, and adapt to these changing contexts. Today and going forward, technology and digital HR is center stage, both how HR helps deliver the digital business agenda and how HR enacts the digital HR agenda.

HR is not about HR but about creating value for others

Focusing on HR activities or scorecards is like shooting a gun with your eyes closed. Without a target, the activity is moot. Value is not defined by what HR does but by how it impacts others. I like to ask, “What is the best thing HR gives an employee?” Answers generally include a meaningful job, purpose, colleagueship, fair pay, opportunities to learn and grow, and a good work setting. While I agree, I think the best value HR gives an employee is a company that wins in the marketplace. Without winning, there is no job. The measures of HR success are less about HR activity or insights and more about the impact on business results.

HR stakeholders are broadening

Who are the customers who get value from HR? Traditionally the HR customers were within the organization: employees who are more productive and line managers who design and deliver the right strategy. Increasingly, HR stakeholders are outside the company, including customers who buy products, investors who finance the business, and communities who validate reputation. This is the primary logic of HR outside-in. In action, after any HR practice, add a “so that . . . ” and fill in the blank to broaden the stakeholder of HR.

HR has unique contributions

To serve internal and external stakeholders, HR traditionally contributed talent: the right people, right place, right time, right experience (today’s shiny object). However, in our research, we found that “organization” (culture, capability, workplace) has four times more impact on business results than “individual” (talent, competence, workforce). Leadership bridges individual talent and organization capability. Thus, HR uniquely contributes talent, organization, and leadership to all stakeholders. In any business dialogue, HR partners could continually ask, “Do we have the right talent, organization, and leadership to add value, deliver strategy, serve customers, gain confidence from investors, and build a reputation with communities?” Talent, organization, and leadership are the primary deliverables from HR work, each evolving.

 1- Talent Evolution:

  • Bringing the right resources to do the work through different types of employee contracts (full-time vs. part-time vs. contract) and blending technology (e.g., AI, robots) and people.
  • Moving people through the organization through development, career management, and performance improvement efforts.
  • Helping employees find a sense of personal contribution or experience (believe, become, belong) through participating in the organization.

2- Organization Evolution:

  • Pivoting from seeing the organization as roles and hierarchy to capabilities that deliver value to the marketplace to capabilities in the organization’s ecosystem.
  • Ensuring that the right capabilities (e.g., information, customer centricity, innovation, agility) are embedded not just inside the organization but the ecosystem in which the organization operates.

3- Leadership evolution:

  • Moving from a focus on the individual “hero” leader to a shared leadership capability embedded throughout the organization.
  • Evolving new leadership competencies around navigating paradox and enabling others.

For any business decision that affects key stakeholders, HR could provide unique insight about talent, organization, and leadership to make this happen. HR needs a guidance system to determine how to make progress along each of these three paths.

The HR department should reflect the logic and governance of the business

As businesses build around capabilities of information, customer, innovation, and agility, so should HR departments. Information is the backbone of analytics; customers are the recipients of HR work; innovation comes from constantly exploring new ways to deliver HR value; and agility means changing how HR operates (e.g., using technology to deliver HR practices). The structure of an HR department varies by the structure of the business: more centralized businesses have more centralized HR departments; more decentralized businesses have more decentralized HR departments; more matrix-like businesses have more shared services/centers of expertise HR departments. With ever more digital HR, what was outsourced becomes insourced.

HR practices should solve problems

Hiring, training, paying, organizing teams, sharing information, and other isolated HR activities bundle together to create the right organization capabilities. This requires the use of digital-enabled technology and HR analytics, or what we call an Organization Guidance System.

HR professionals need to reinvent themselves (20 to 30 percent every four to five years) to deliver value

The skills for personal credibility, serving stakeholders and delivering business results vary and evolve over time. HR professionals need to continually reinvent themselves, with an emerging focus on creating capabilities at all organization levels.

Line managers are ultimately accountable for HR

HR professionals are like anthropologists who anticipate what’s next (vs. finance who often reports what has been) and architects who create blueprints for making ideas real. But business leaders are ultimately the “owners” of talent, organization, and leadership choices.  Like a good architect, HR can be very vocal when the organization violates legal standards or social expectations.

There it is, in 1000 words… Circa mid-2019, this is my evolving point-of-view about what’s next for HR and how HR continues to deliver value.

But my challenge is to help others create their point-of-view about HR. So what do you think HR should pay attention to looking forward and not backward?

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Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group. He has published over 30 books and 200 articles/chapters that have shaped the fields of leadership to deliver results, of organizations to build capabilities, and of human resources to create value where he is the known as the “father of modern HR.” He has been named a top management thought leader in Business Week, Fortune, Financial Times, The Economist, and People Management, and is the recipient of many awards, including a Lifetime Achievement award from ASTD (now ATD).

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