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Thought Thursdays
The next generation of HR

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There is no doubt that HR is moving into a new era. This era is defined by disruption – in society and in the market place. 

This disruption is largely accelerated by technology, which is changing the nature of business models and the entire work environment. 

Furthermore, the nature of organisations is changing from traditional designs defined by hierarchies and stable positions on an organogram to combinations of networks.

Future successful organisations will largely be defined by the following:
  • Networks of teams will exist that are fluid and are formed and disbanded according to the needs at any one time.
  • There will be a focus on collaboration that is transdisciplinary and hence reduces the dysfunctional behaviour associated with organisational silos.
  • Teams will be cross-functional, cross-divisional and cross-geographical.
  • The culture will need to be entrepreneurial to take rapid advantage of new opportunities or to respond to threats.
  • Innovation in terms of products, and services and new business models that are disruptive in a market will be essential.
  • Agility to respond to disruption will result in the elimination of unnecessary rules and regulations and promote a culture of rapid change.
This emerging nature of organisations will also impact on the nature of effective leadership.

Leadership will need to shape such organisations and will be characterised by the following:
  • Collaboration between internal and external stakeholders will define leadership in the modern organisation. 
  • This means that silos that are common in most organisations will need to be eliminated with the focus on the ‘greater good’ of the organisation rather than on the needs of specific teams and departments. (Think of an Exco team competing for resources at budget time to understand the changes that will be needed.)
  • A networked, fluid organisation will be aligned by a strong sense of purpose and culture in place of rigid regulation and over-control.
  • The use of social and collaborative software will facilitate a culture of collaboration, information sharing and knowledge generation.
The impact on HR

What does all this mean for HR?

The key elements of the HR function are likely to remain – but they will be defined and will need to behave very differently.

HR operations

Most large organisations have created shared service functions and some of them work.

Future successful HR operations are going to be defined by technology and by customer service.

New technologies are replacing the traditional HR information systems and are characterised by the following:
  • They are on the cloud.
  • They are integrated.
  • They are user-friendly.
  • They are accessible through multiple devices anywhere, anytime.
  • They are interactive.
  • They are able to provide deep analytics. 
  • They are flexible and collaborative.
Similarly, the shared service centre of the future is likely to be defined very differently:
  • The name HR will disappear. Typically the ‘system’ or service will be couched in terms such as “My ABC Company” or “XYZ Company for me” or even “Client or My Zone”, to use a few examples. 
  • HR will possibly be part of a larger operations system covering a variety of transactional services, such as finance, procurement and others.
  • HR will resemble the customer services operations provided to the public by companies such as Multi-Choice, Discovery, Outsurance and other similar service-centred organisations. It will be run by leaders and customer service consultants who typically have operated such centres with no HR experience required.
  • 'Customers’ of such a service operation will have access to services through multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets, anytime, anywhere (and maybe in any language).
HR specialists

There is no doubt that specialists will continue to be required for the design and implementation of people-related strategies. Currently specialists generally fulfil the following roles:
  • They develop the ‘architecture’ for their speciality, such as talent management, remuneration and IR for the entire organisation. This would include policies, systems and standards, among other things. 
  • They ensure that the organisation has access to cutting-edge thinking about their area of expertise.
  • They drive organisation-wide programmes in their area of specialisation.
  • They evaluate compliance to policies and systems.
  • Their focus is on ensuring effective processes.
While these roles will remain important, the next generation specialists will be largely defined by the following:
  • There will be a shift from designing and implementing processes to providing solutions to business problems. 
  • There will be a focus on improving organisational effectiveness as a whole, and not simply within the specialists’ own area of expertise.
  • This means that specialists will make the greatest contribution to the organisation as a part of a number of multidisciplinary teams that focus on business strategy execution and solution development.
  • The specialists that should be available to provide solutions to people-related issues should not be confined to HR. For example, expertise in marketing would be essential to the development of an effective employer brand and for ensuring that the organisation’s culture is an internal reflection of the organisation’s external brand. 
  • This suggests that the specialisations required may be very different and certainly broader in scope than those currently found in most HR functions. They may be accessed through other internal functions or through external specialists.
The critical difference reflected by next generation specialists is that they are networked and solutions focused. This is in stark contrast to many current HR specialist functions that operate in silos within HR and are focused on ‘best practice’ processes rather than on multifunctional solutions to business strategies and problems.

HR business partners

The role of HR business partners (HRBPs) has been debated at length in the profession with only some degree of resolution.

Generally HRBPs are generalists, with specific client departments in the organisation.

As this role evolves, the following will define the HRBP role in a very different way:
  • HRBPs will take on the typical role of key account managers in which they are responsible for facilitating organisational effectiveness for their clients.
  • A key feature of this role will be networking to access and combine the resources required for the execution of the client business strategy.
  • Their focus will be on combining a variety of specialist skills to form ad hoc, collaborative teams to provide client solutions and to improve organisational effectiveness.
  • Through advanced problem-solving skills they will fulfil the role of performance consultants for their clients using the specialist resources at their disposal. 
  • They will continue to ensure the execution of human capital strategies.
These roles require a different set of skills and mental models relative to the current HRBP roles as generally found in organisations.

Next generation skill sets

The points made above do not negate the skills that HR specialists and HRBPs have currently.

They do strongly suggest, however, that there are a few key priority skill sets that are less common among HR professionals at present. They include:
  • Advanced consulting skills with strong diagnostic capability to proactively identify problems and opportunities to improve organisational effectiveness. Specialists require these to ensure that their specialist skills are applied in a way that is relevant to the organisation rather than to their own specialist processes.
  • Strong strategic problem-solving skills such as systems thinking, design thinking and other thinking processes for the purpose mentioned above.
  • A mental model that strongly values collaboration and cross-disciplinary problem solving. The ability to work in ad hoc teams with a variety of disciplines to resolve business problems and enhance organisational effectiveness is key to both roles.
  • A holistic understanding of organisational design and effectiveness which extends beyond simply the traditional ‘people’ issues. 
  • All of the above suggest that a broad understanding of business is essential.
The Executive Human Resources Programme​ run by USB-ED largely address The skill sets HR leaders need to be honed for the emerging role of HR as it shifts from managing HR processes to providing business solutions for the organisation. The programme focuses strongly on HR leaders need training to help them to helping participants view their organisations through a business lens rather than an HR lens and to provide them with strategic problem-solving and consulting skills to come up with business solutions to business problems.

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Terry Meyer is a strategy and leadership consultant. He is a part-time faculty member of USB-ED where he is responsible for the HR Executive Programme. Further areas of expertise include organisational design, and talent and human capital strategy. 

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