HR Leaders: Your Future Is Whatever You Make It


A little over 100 years ago, in the wake of a bitter labor strike, it is believed that the National Cash Register Company created the first human resources department. Its focus was on compliance, wages, resolution of employee issues and, of particular importance at the time, workplace safety.

If we’re being honest, those focus areas for human resource management didn’t change all that much in the decades that followed. Here’s a quick recap of where we’ve been:

• Early 1900s: The focus for HR was on creating efficiencies to capitalize on the skills of each employee and to create a more profitable company.

• Late 1900s: Significant societal shifts were underway, including increased expectations of workplace safety and equality (the Equal Pay Act, the establishment of OSHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act).

• Recent years: Worker expectations have evolved — it’s about more than safety, protective regulation and compensation. Workers in particular expect genuine recognition and valued rewards in exchange for their loyalty to a company. While companies today fundamentally understand and support this shift, the rapid rate of change creates fear, decreased motivation and culture erosion.

While the human resource management (HRM) function didn’t change significantly, the working world sure did. And don’t expect it to get any simpler in the future. Top-performing organizations are rising to the top by facilitating exceptional HRM performance. But the spectrum of performance is wide. At this point, we see four distinct types of HR leaders emerging:

• Tactical: This is an operationally focused individual. Employees are evaluated as costs and decisions are made with a local mindset. Programs are often reactive or even disconnected from the needs of the business.

• Developing: This type of leader is beginning to take a broader view of talent with regard to the organization as a whole and sees employees as resources versus costs. They leverage a greater degree of insight to develop programs rather than sticking to the status quo.

• Strategic: This business-focused leader is capable of interpreting organizational performance and needs from a global perspective. He or she likely has a seat at the table with the C-suite and not only develops a strategy with organizational objectives in mind but also helps to drive those objectives.

• Evolved: Employees are valued by this forward-looking, innovative leader. He or she understands the critical shift under way in the workforce and looks to emerging trends to create differentiating employee value propositions.

As organizations struggle to keep pace with the war for talent, we’re seeing a chasm form between those organizations working up the spectrum toward evolved status and those attempting to recruit and retain talent using the tactical leadership style. Simply put, the evolved organizations are winning the war.

So, how do you accelerate your pace of evolution? Here are my predictions on where HR should focus in the coming years.

• Strong culture: Culture is more than a buzzword; it’s becoming an accepted fact that companies with stronger cultures enjoy benefits like increased employee retention and engagement, customer satisfaction, safety and profitability, just to name a few. As an HR leader, you’re the keeper of culture and the owner of communicating the organizational vision to each employee. Work to understand every touchpoint in the employee journey from recruitment through offboarding to ensure a positive, consistent experience.

• People analytics: Defined by a Harvard Business Review article as “the use of data about human behavior, relationships and traits to make business decisions,” data-driven decisions should be your new best friend. Don’t expect to be taken at your word when recommending significant business strategies for your organizations, leverage data to make your case for you.

• Digital transformation: According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study, HR isn’t just a support system — they’re now being asked to help lead digital transformation within organizations worldwide. Specifically, organizations will invest more in modern communications tools and bring the same sense of experimentation and innovation that the tech-focused branches of their companies utilize. This includes embracing the looming opportunities related to automation and artificial intelligence.

• Talent development: According to Mercer’s 2018 Talent Trends report, employees today must continue to learn to remain relevant. This is a byproduct of the trend toward business agility and is not anticipated to slow up any time soon. But we all know reskilling and turnover is coming, too. To weather these challenges effectively, a concerted effort needs to be made to hire for broad ability and culture fit versus tactical skills to cultivate a workplace capable of evolving with time. The good news? Employees are generally excited about this — PwC research found that 74% of surveyed employees are ready to learn new skills to remain employable.

It’s an overwhelming time to be in HR, but in the 25 years I’ve been in the business, it’s never been a more exciting time. Trends are pushing organizations to be increasingly agile and more creative. Build buy-in and develop supportive cultures by staying on top of these emerging trends and challenging your entire organization to embrace the power of strategic HRM.


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