The People Profession - On the verge of change

By: Jo Barrett

I will begin this blog by confessing that I have become a little obsessed about the discussions surrounding the Future of Work and HR's role in this brave new world. There are a wealth of articles and a growing platform for thought leadership on this fascinating subject. Regrettably however, there remains a significant number of articles advising of where we've been "going wrong" all these years.

This I am afraid is not a new phenomenon and "HR Bashing" as I like to call it, has been happening for many years. Admittedly, this poor reputation is sometimes well earned – and there are also times where HR is the fall guy, unfairly blamed for the ills of a company, and low employee engagement.

But the nature of what we do, and who we work with – people – is often difficult, unpredictable, and sometimes even emotional. These last years have seen a growing number of People Professionals not only willing to understand that this is the case, but also working hard to eliminate this very tarnished and outdated "easy to blame" image of our field that we see above.

I have to say that to be able to perform our craft well, so we exceed and delight our clients – the board and team members included – takes great skill and competence, as well as the ability to juggle varying priorities.

To the non-HR readers, this is not as simple as it looks, believe me. We are still expected to "do our day job" and look after not only the employee lifecycle and all the operational and transactional tasks that come with that, but also to lead the people strategy – perhaps the most crucial part. I often use the analogy of the swan when I refer to what we do: No one sees (or needs to see) the swan's feet paddling like crazy under the waterline, it just seems to effortlessly move along the water. This how great HR operations should be delivered.

The environment in which we work is ever changing, and I do believe that HR can evolve too, to meet the demands of the future. We are, after all, supposed to be change managers.

We have moved from solely personnel, to partnering with the Business, to Chief People Officers and I believe that we are best placed to become the People leaders who will help drive businesses into this new wonderfully exciting future world of work.

So how do we do this and embrace the new world order, if we haven't started our transformation journey already? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Step back for a moment and take time to reflect on our current baseline in HR; where are we now and where would we like to be.
  • Ask ourselves if the organisation and its culture is ready to embrace this change. HR will never be able to realise its full potential unless the business in which we work wants this as much as we do, and believes that this is the right thing to do.
  • Please stop reading negative articles about HR. Click on the "Hide this article" if you read anything on 'LinkedIn' or any other medium. Why? Constructive feedback is helpful and makes us grow and perform better, but negativity just for its own sake is simply unhelpful and can have an impact on the way we view ourselves as well as the way we are viewed by others.
  • Speak to our Management Teams and our employees and ask them what they want from us (I am all about having honest conversations, even if we don't like to hear the answers sometimes).
  • Establish and drive a deep appreciation of the Employee Experience within our organisations.
  • Understand how our businesses work (from the commercials, operations, people and culture). We must never find ourselves in the position whereby the business tells us that we do not understand what they do. As leaders of the future, this disconnect will be untenable.
  • Think about calling ourselves 'People', which is actually what we do.
  • Learn as much as we can about the impact of digital transformation so that we can become competent in helping to lead the business and understand the impact that AI/technology will have on our businesses.
  • Take time to audit our HR current processes and see whether efficiencies can be made and where automation makes sense. In this way, we will still be able to support the core transactional activities. Saving time, cost and injecting efficiency will help us to transition from some of these necessary, but non-value add activities. We can then focus on the important things which is where I believe we are best placed.
  • And perhaps the most difficult of all (please forgive me)...I think that we should honestly assess our own capabilities/skills against what our businesses will need in the future. The People function is changing and will continue to do so, and I do not believe this will change. We must ask ourselves if we have this "Future Ready People Toolkit" and whether we possess the required level of determination, passion and drive to perform against the new requirements. Can we easily acquire those skills? And perhaps the most frightening question to ask of all, are we the right people to lead this change or do we need to re-think where our skills are better placed?
  • The future presents HR with a huge opportunity. So don't be afraid to Dream Big.

I know that the above can be a little bewildering, but increasing digitalisation in every aspect of our lives and in the workplace in particular, is providing a wonderful opportunity for the People Profession to seize the day and completely reinvent what we do, how we do it and more importantly how we are viewed by those we work with and for. Some of us have already started on this wonderful journey and I will be excited to see where HR Re-imagined will take us.

If you'd like to chat to me more about the direction I believe HR should go, then feel free to contact me on my LinkedIn page.


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