Sep 13, 2010

Thoughts on the future of Human Resources

hire young peopleImage by Will Lion via Flickr[Originally written 4 years ago ]

Some years ago I was talking to a HR regional manager who works in the non-alcoholic beverage industry. He was bemoaning the fact that finding great sales people was becoming more and more difficult at the fronline level. It was tough to imagine that, as most sales organizations had been on an expansion spree. It seemed like he would have more of a talent pool to hire people from. He disagreed, saying "Sales folks who have worked in the consumer facing industry which is cyclical, is what I am looking for. These kinds of people are tough to find!". Talk about specialization.

As the HR and Recruiting function evolves and complexity creeps in, HR professionals struggle to make sense of this new age, and though they welcome it , find themselves awfully short. The old assumptions hold true and yet, the contexts seem to have changed. The skills that they have built up over the last few decades as Personnel became HR , seem to have lost their potency.

HR will need to open up its silos and soak in skills from other functions, specially those skills of Sales and Marketing functions. This will be a natural corollary of viewing employees and senior management. This will also mean that to succeed Recruiters and other HR people will need to change their mindset.

An "internal service provider" mindset will only reinforce the current perspective of the function. A "partner" approach however, also needs inernal strength to sometimes say "no" to a client, or to specify what one wants from them, to be successful. A lot of us have made successful transitions to that state, however, more as individuals than by any process.

Why is there such a need and challenge on HR and recruitment ?

The people who are their raison d'etre, prospective employees as well as hiring managers, are getting more demanding. They demand more in less time. They demand better service and without the frills. Faster turn-around times.

Organizations and senior management want them to contain costs, track metrics regarding employee productivity, morale and come to conclusions as to what they need to change/ do better so that they can control not just the bottom-line but also increase the top-line. They want better people to do the jobs recruited at less 'total cost of hiring', they want their best people to stay put and the bottom ones to leave with a minimum of fuss.

And increasingly, the organization's customers want to know about HR policies and how they impact quality of work, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to choose vendors.
What does HR in such a scenario [and these are getting more and more complex and demanding everyday] do? What path must it tread, what roles must it play, what skills must it gather to excel all these demands and satisfy them?

HR needs to structure itself differently, to move from the current functional silos of recruitment, compensation and performance management, training, employee and employee relations to a new paradigm of focusing on projects which are purposes. HR people no longer can make choices about whether they will be 'generalists' or 'specialists' in organizations. They have to be both.

HR's learning curve has to take into account not just today but tomorrow while keeping an eye on what yesterday has left behind. It has to focus on processes, customers, employees and discontinuous change. The question they constantly need to ask themselves is "what if all the knowledge and skills I hold becomes redundant tomorrow? What then?" and build a mindset in their organization where everybody asks this question about themselves.

HR has already been an reluctant adopter of technology and now it has to show how to leverage that technology, not just save time and money.

HR careers will soon become specialized and super specialized. HR vendors will need to offer services like "How to make an FMCG company which is focused on female products a learning organization"
Internally also Recruiting and HR will keep on specializing according to industry based knowledge.
Specialized HR people will work within organizations and yet will be part-free agents advising competition too, as they find a balance between what the job demands and what satisfies their inner strengths.

HR departments will lose many of the administrative work, as employees will take it into their hands and the corporate intranet rids them of standardized processes. They will soon be able to draft their own salary heads, leave structure and keep abreast of legal trends [all the work that HR does today!]

It's going to be an age of change and lots of HR professionals would themselves find the chasm a difficult one to cross.
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