The Future of work will shape the future of HR


The HR community today is abuzz with discussions on what the future holds for HR. There are diverse viewpoints including how there will be no HR professionals in the future and only business leaders who practice HR. There are predictions on how data & technology will reshape HR whilst others believe that all of this will need us to ‘re-humanize’ HR. 

So I have also been reflecting on what the future has in store for us and whether the HR function as we know it will perish. In my own career; I have seen HR change as a function. Outsourcing of transactional HR activities like payroll followed by recruitment process outsourcing; building a digital employment brand; recruitment through social media and apps for engaging employees were not practices or tools that existed when I started my career. As a function, we have proven our ability to evolve. There can of course be a debate on whether the quantum and the pace of change has been adequate.

But there is one thing I am sure about – we are HeRe to stay. And the reason for that is because I believe that as HR our fundamental role is to deliver organizational performance, success and relevance – today, tomorrow and beyond. As we move forward as well, HR as a function will need to continue to adapt to the future of work. 

HR roles as they exist today will get reconfigured or new roles that didn’t exist in the past will get created. And both of these will need us as HR professionals to develop new skills.

What do I mean by future of work? There are changes all around us. Let’s take the example of work getting democratized & workers empowered –many companies now use ‘gig workers’ or assignment based talent as I prefer to call them; we have access to global & virtual talent through tech; we also have a multi-generational and a more diverse workforce. As we move forward; this will mean that companies don’t own employees.

How does the above phenomenon impact us in the way we currently deliver HR programs/ practices?

  • To begin with, as an organization; the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) which is typically “one size fits all’’ will become highly segmented for this workforce and we will need to deliver personalized offerings in terms of policies, practices, pay.
  • As business partners; we will look to deliver work outcomes with a workforce mix that is not all FTEs. As talent acquisition specialists; we will be looking to hire global talent that might want to work on a project basis and need to establish high value relationships with in – demand talent.
  • As reward professionals, we will need to be thinking about how to pay this assignment based talent where work is rewarded for value and this would necessitate greater transparency in the reward systems.
  • As performance & talent practitioners; we will need to design career paths that cater to diverse employee expectations and also redefine the way we have looked at talent pools and high potentials; Goals will definitely need to be defined differently.
  • As L&D practitioners; we will be thinking about how we will equip our leaders and managers to work with these diverse workforces. Also given the way this workforce learns; how do we deliver learning in the flow of work?

In this context; we can definitely upgrade our repertoire of skills as HR professionals and here are some that are top of my mind

Marketing Skills

HR has a lot to learn from the way marketing professionals work with a target audience of one and are able to mass customize their offerings. Creating digital brands and measuring their effectiveness on different media is another skill that is useful. Engaging with customers with insight and understanding our Net Promoter Score as a function/ employer.

Design Thinking

These skills can help us solve problems creatively vs. applying the tried and tested methods. A great example of their use would be when we design employee journeys/ episodes when we move from defining processes to creating experiences by putting the user as the center point so as to maximize satisfaction, productivity and collaboration.

Understanding of Social Media, Technology and Data: 

As HR professionals we don’t just need comfort with tech but the ability to drive tech and shaping a digital culture in our organizations. The ability to mine employee data to understand different segments / preferences and thereby designing relevant offerings; using forward looking analytics to predict retention or making personalized career recommendations on he lines of what we get on e-commerce sites are all significant uses of data in HR.

‘Outside in’ Perspective and Collaboration

Business acumen is table stakes but understanding the trends impacting & shaping your industry is critical. As Dave Ulrich says “HR stakeholders have evolved from internal (employees, line managers, organization) to external (customers, investors, community).”. And equally collaboration; there is a heightened need to work with employees to co – create products/ offerings and crowd source inputs as well collaborating with the external word to source talent/ services.

Over and above these; agility, flexibility and curiosity are attributes that will differentiate high performing HR professionals.  

There are also new roles that are already getting created in HR and will continue to get created. I read in an article that IBM has a role for Vice-President, Data, AI & Offering Strategy, HR and Kraft Heinz a role for Senior Vice-President, Global HR, Performance and IT. Accenture talks of a role of a ‘social integrator’: someone who does an environment scan of Intranet circles, blog comments, hallway conversations; gathers employee feedback and organization insights about leavers to management; is the D&I Champion and initiates & runs resource groups as well as drives mentor/buddy programs. The other role it envisions is that of a ‘talent intelligence advocate’ – a role that equipped with powerful analytics tools, scans and tracks talent movements across geographies, industries, workforce types; collaborates with external partners e.g. LinkedIn, Glassdoor.

I visualize two roles as well though I am still debating what they would be called.

Organizational Capability Architect

The role would focus on understanding what capabilities will make the business successful; acquiring and building those capabilities (internally or externally). These would also include capabilities like the ability of our leaders to navigate paradoxes; of our workforce to respond with agility. And will also include aspects such as engineering collaboration/ coordination/ innovation as well as removing any other barriers to performance.

Work & Talent Engineer

This role would focus on deconstructing work into jobs; redesigning jobs so that we can harness the potential of the augmented workforce of human and machine. Much like the erstwhile ‘scheduling’ function of the ITES industry; it will identify networks to tap into, look at deploying global/ virtual/ assignment based talent in & out of projects. It will also focus on reskilling people and forecasting trends.

What can we do as HR professionals to prepare ourselves?

  • We need to be seriously thinking about the work that we perform today and how it will be performed in the future. Where will technology eliminate some of the transactional work we do as a function and where can it actually help us being more strategic?
  • Digital, tech and data literacy is mandatory – it is no longer optional. Upskill yourself. Today.
  • Another advice though not new by any means – get exposure in a role outside of HR; you will come back as a much more effective HR professional/ leader. Or allocate a certain percentage of your time to cross – functional work.
  • Don’t grow in your career as a pure generalist; learn new & specialized skills. Depending on the maturity of the HR function in your organization; the HR Business Partner roles can often be that of client managers vs. creating business outcomes.

Actually I can’t think of a better time to be in HR if we are willing to challenge ourselves, unlearn and reinvent ourselves!

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Shilpa Vaid, Ex-Chief Human Resources Officer, Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited. Shilpa is an HR leader with over 19 years of local & international experience spanning across all functional areas of HR. She started her career in HR consulting with Ernst & Young/ Arthur Andersen and thereafter worked with Aviva Life Insurance and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. She then worked with MetLife as the Country Head of Human Resources wherein she led the HR function for the India business of the global insurance giant. Her last assignment with MetLife was as the Talent Management lead for Asia. Thereafter, Shilpa served as the Chief HR and Corporate Responsibility Officer for Bharti AXA General Insurance wherein she had overall responsibility for the Human Resources, Corporate Responsibility and Internal Communications functions.


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