What the Stars Foretell for HR in 2019


As we get towards this time of the year, the ubiquitous lists swamp us- from the hits of the year to the trends that we should be watching out for. That gave me an idea. Why not create our own list of the big trends in HR that we could see in the coming year? Well, am I a clairvoyant or a futurist? Far from it. I can barely predict the Bangalore traffic and can see no further than the bus ahead of me!

But then, we had the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the top CEOs, CHROs, leading thinkers, and a clutch of start-ups who came together at TecHeaRt 2018. And the interactions with the 1000 odd people who attended the learning event and engaged in various discussions. So here is my list on the key trends in HR- based on the insights and borrowed wisdom from this august group!

Tech or Touch

Unlike ‘trick or treat’, this is a trick conundrum! With a lot of technology coming into people processes, there is a perception that we will lose the human touch. And oddly enough, people expect more deeper interactions in some areas. So, is this one versus the other? No, we need to implement technology in the right areas to enable deeper and purposeful human interactions in select areas. The key is to identify the ‘right areas’. Technology enables people to do many things on-the-go, feel empowered, and be connected. But to get the most out of people, we need more purposeful human interactions, conversations, inspiration and coaching- and in this age of rapid change, all the more critical. So we need to reframe the question as ‘what transactions can we enable with technology that will give us more time to enhance our purposeful co-creation in teams?’ 

The Long Shadow of Technology and People’s Aspirations

But there is a creeping, imperceptible impact of technology and social media. Technology, though a social, connected world, is enabling people to express themselves more as individuals, to explore different facets of their personality and share publicly. However, the same technology has a tendency to straight-jacket jobs in organisations. I am not being a Luddite, but we have to be conscious of this long shadow of technology and people’s aspirations. Our job design and organisation design concepts have not kept pace with these changes. Look back 20 years and we had ideas like autonomous groups, quality circles in manufacturing and they have made a difference. I don’t think organisations have cracked this modern day challenge yet. If there is one challenge we have in HR, this could be it. 

Whither Your Digital Roadmap? 

As we saw the host of start-ups here, one thing struck me. They are focused on solving very specific problems. And the insight here is that in our HR digital transformation roadmap, we need to have to have a mix of large-do-it-all systems, as well as these specific bolt-ons. Moreover, while we focus on employee experience, it would be good to also evaluate the digital experience for employees. Thus, the wisdom of the crowds recommends that every HR leader should have a thought through digital transformation roadmap, which factors in the digital experience for employees, and which is flexible, and updated based on needs to take on interesting bolt-ons.

Gig and Gigger

Is gig working growing and here to stay? Lets look at it this way. There are a significant, and growing, number of sectors/companies that predominantly have gig workers. Second, many people want flexibility and autonomy, and see gig-working as an option. Large organisations are still cagey, but are happy to experiment. If good talent prefers gig-working, organisations would need to tap in to that talent pool increasingly. And in some sectors, using gig-workers may be the most viable business model. But there are challenges- how do we make the gig workers feel included, and protect their rights? The wise women have a suggestion for HR leaders- look at the talent more holistically, more like a ‘portfolio of talent’ which includes outsourcing, gig working, permanent flexi time, etc. rather than a traditional lens for talent. 

Wolf, wolf!

While we have been talking of learning and career growth all along for years, most large companies followed a templated, standardized system. My sense is that this is truly changing. The concept of E=1 is fast gaining ground (on the ground too!), and is also being enabled, thanks to technology. Flexible career development options, including fast track careers based on skills/capabilities and performance, and based on interests of employees will see huge traction. Similarly, customized and personalised learning options, and the use of positive psychology nudges to get people to learn continuously will be a game changer in the coming year. 

The Curse of Performance Management

Many companies heaved a relief as they scrapped their performance management and the ratings process, and proclaimed to have freed up time. Managers now have greater empowerment and responsibility, but the cry for fairness is still being heard, as there is a perhaps a loss of transparency in how people are rewarded. And we also hear of new talent management systems being deployed to inform managers and leaders. So this curse of performance management is still hanging over us! Our take- do what it suits you, as long as it is transparent and fair. For instance, forced ranking or bell curves were not seen as fair- so out they go. Each company has a choice- but let’s take it through the twin tests of fairness and transparency. As we move to a greater use of agile development, our performance management will also be more agile. We will see greater use of real-time data, and crowd sourced inputs from the team to make performance management truly agile.

Money, Money, Money to Heath, Well-being and Wealth

In compensation, there will be greater focus on driving more retention – hence focus on key skills, key talent will increase and in modes, greater focus on longer term retention levers like benefits, stock plans will see a renewed thrust. I would see a greater focus from organisations on overall well-being and health of employees. It is clear that any investment in this will have a big impact on the engagement of people. We saw lot of start-ups in this area of micro benefits- salary advance, aggregators of reward gifts, etc. 

HR Folks are Good with Analytics Too (rather, are fast becoming good!

Analytics and AI have been buzz words for long, but the reality is that they have not become mainstream within HR. They are being used, but have not become second nature! The wise (wo)men recommend that we first define what is the business problem we want to solve, and embed analytics as a way to solve and monitor those business issues. Don’t look for nails because you have a hammer! Some applications of analytics will be in the way we engage people, which will also see a change- the annual surveys telling you that you are great employer will lose relevance. We will have sharper focus on identifying levers to better individual performance and retention, through a greater amount of analytics. This will help in redefining the way managers engage with their teams- increasing the human touch through a sharper focus. Similarly, the world of talent acquisition has been using both technology and the newer elements of social media increasingly. This is one area where technology will provide greater impetus for change, using AI and many other newer assessment technologies- we saw a lot of very specific applications from our start-ups. In addition, people have become very conscious of the bias that could be built into these assessment and selection systems- so proactively auditing processes and checking against any bias will be critical. 

Are You Ready for the Challenge?

One thing was clear- the health of HR is in good hands. The HR function in India is up there with the best and is at the cutting edge of many wonderful actions. So a great time to be in HR. And greater and more interesting time beckons. To be on top of our game, we have to sharpen our ability to learn and adapt quickly, be agile and empathetic. Embrace technology, but be conscious of how you will let people to express their whole selves, and realise their potential- be the ‘lightning rod’ that will inspire them. The role of increasing our mindfulness can’t be overemphasised – that will determine how successful we are in future as it helps bring our sub-conscious to help us chart the choppy waters of our current times. 

Well, those are our predictions for the year ahead. Hope you have given it some deep thought? Well, now forget all this ‘wisdom’ and go and do what your gut tells you! (if we are to believe HR behavioural scientists, by now we should have influenced your gut?)

Author – Krish Shankar– Group Head- Human Resources at Infosys, First published on LinkedIn.


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