The Future of HR Functions: How HR itself is evolving along with the future of work
In the past year, the future of work has been a hot topic of conversation. There’s an understanding that the very nature of how we work has changed, and continues to change as we move forward. But what exactly does that mean for companies and the workforce at large? At the organisational level, business leaders have been discussing in the practical sense what work will look like in the future. Will it be fully remote? Hybrid? Will meetings become more virtual than in-person? These are all important questions around how we wish to see the working world evolve with the technology available today.
However, when we speak about the future of work, we must not overlook the future of human resources (HR). After all, work and HR are inexorably intertwined. Each one is interdependent on the other. Just as the future of work is in flux, so is the future of HR. As issues such as upskilling, reskilling, purpose, and diversity have also come to the forefront in the conversation around work during the past year, these same issues have taken on the importance to HR practitioners. As technology scales, upskilling and leading with purpose become all the more important to the workforce.
These shifts in perspective have placed an increased focus on the role of HR and its evolution to meet the needs of the modern workforce at an organisational level. In the past, HR was viewed as primarily a transactional discipline, a function rather than essential to the business strategy. Yet, as the nature of work changes and evolves for the 21st century, it impacts the role of HR and its function within the organisation, elevating it to a crucial driver of organisational change and strategy.
HR and its role within the C-Suite
No longer is HR simply a transactional aspect of an organisation’s hiring and talent management process. Today, HR performs an integral part of organisational design. As such, the role of HR has become an essential part of each organisation’s strategic decision making and agenda-setting processes. Strategy is no longer fed into HR; rather, modern HR professionals work alongside senior leadership to help set the direction and strategy of the company.
One individual with a keen eye into the various elements driving change within the HR profession is Enrique Rubio, a global HR influencer and founder of the Hacking HR global learning community and conference. Rubio is a strong champion for HR as a key function of the C-Suite, providing valuable insight around the concept of integrating the HR profession into the decision-making process taking place in the C-Suite. From Rubio’s perspective, it’s imperative that HR professionals make themselves indispensable to senior management in order to add maximum value to the organisation, and today, there exists a great opportunity for HR professionals to be able to do so.
On its face, elevating the status of HR in this way can seem challenging when the transactional functions of the HR role have traditionally occupied a lot of time. However, as HR modernises with technology-led solutions, the transactional tasks now take about only 20-25% of HR professionals’ time, opening up more time to tackle the loftier goals of designing a more positive, inclusive workplace culture.
HR and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
It’s clear that AI is impacting every industry today. From logistics to customer service, many tasks that once required humans to complete are now increasingly being done by forms of AI such as chatbots. This helps boost productivity by freeing up the time spent doing low-level tasks, leaving more time and mental space available for more strategic decision-making.
Given the opportunity to increasingly automate transactional elements of the role, HR practitioners’ time is freed up, allowing them to reallocate their own human capital towards more strategic endeavours, including planning more diverse and equitable work environments.
“Any function that is focused on only transaction and administration won’t survive long into the future,” says Rubio. “When you think about transactions, they are easily automated tasks.”
Indeed, by covering off the transactional elements of the job, the role of the HR professional evolves into one that is less executory and more strategic. Hence, it is clear that technology is helping to facilitate the shift that’s driving HR away from being a transactional discipline, and towards a strategic part of designing the business.
Rubio goes on to explain that delivering a great human experience provides flexibility on how to achieve value for the company. Thanks to AI-driven technology tools, HR has the opportunity to focus on creating wellness and optimising the human experience at work. When HR professionals are enabled to work at a higher level, they have the power to intentionally design and shape the culture of the organisation so that people can work in the way they want to work, whether that’s remote, in-person, or hybrid. In this way, HR helps align the human capital part of the job with the ‘why’ of the organization, not just the ‘how’.
Upskilling and reskilling as a key focus for HR professionals
Data shows that a top concern for HR leaders is upskilling and reskilling. “HR professionals know that jobs are changing very fast, and tasks that will become obsolete,” explains Rubio. “There is pressure for them to upskill in order to remain competitive. In most organisations, the role of learning and development falls under the purview of human resources. So if we want our organisations to remain competitive, we have to understand that the jobs that people are doing today are changing and we need to adapt and change. The workforce needs to gain the new skills needed for the short and long term success of the organisation — it’s imperative, in fact, and a business priority.”
Today’s business leaders are receptive to the notion of upskilling and reskilling as being crucial to the success of the organisation in the big picture. They understand that it is fundamental to reskill and upskill the workforce, yet this is not a standalone strategy. It must be integrated into the business along with technology. In order to prevent skills obsolescence, technology plays a massive role in upskilling and reskilling employees for continued growth, productivity and long-term value to the organisation.
Upskilling presents itself both in terms of how HR professionals approach their own roles (shifting away from the transactional towards strategy setting), as well as towards how they approach sourcing and maintaining talent within the organisation. By looking at skills as an ever-evolving journey that can be built and developed over time, HR plays a critical role in keeping an organisation’s talent pool relevant and competitive.
Moving towards creating value and building a better future
Industries respond to the change of the times. The younger generation of today is no longer content to clock in and out at work without a higher purpose. Young professionals want to work towards something that creates a better world. They are purpose-driven and prefer to work with a mission in mind. Regardless of the role, the well-informed, switched-on young people propelling today’s workforce want to feel that they are part of a greater good. This, of course, is something that HR professionals are aware of and redesigning the approach to talent acquisition around. It also affects the HR industry itself — moving it away from transactions and towards that greater purpose-driven organisational value-add.
Indeed, as the HR discipline navigates the shifts occurring within both in the workplace and within its own function, the most important thing it can focus on is adding that additional value. HR has always been focused on the human element, on improving the human experience at work. In this way, HR has the power to shape the meaning and essence of work and the workplace itself, improving employee wellness whilst maximising productivity.
In addition, HR itself is becoming more experience-driven, and the transactional element of the job fades away (particularly thanks to the tools that help automate that component), it opens the door to designing and delivering a more purpose-led experience. Rubio explains: “This creates a beautiful challenge for HR — how to redesign the corporation from all angles, from leadership to management to culture — for a generation that wants to work for a higher purpose.”
Ultimately, that’s the goal of human resources: to elevate the experience at work to a more purposeful one, and we get there by elevating the role of HR itself. As HR becomes more purposeful and more strategic, it builds better experiences for all — both for the organisation and those working within it. By transforming itself, the HR industry is creating better value for all parties involved and optimising the workplace of tomorrow for a brighter future.
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