The following is an interview I conducted with Carol Morrison of i4cp on the future of HR. A very compelling conversation we had.
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst. She has been with i4cp for eight years, researching and writing about the talent, strategy, and leadership issues that directly affect organizational performance. In addition, Carol has authored articles for Talent Management Magazine, Chief Learning Officer, HRPS Journal, Human Resource Executive, and other publications.
I’ve heard for some years that HR professionals desire a role that makes them more of a partner in the business enterprise. Is this desire becoming a reality? Are they moving the needle?
You’re absolutely right. This has been – and continues to be – an evolution for HR and the business partner role. i4cp’s interviews with CHROs and other top HR and business leaders confirm that many are shifting their HR functions toward greater efficiency in handling the transactional and administrative duties typically associated with HR. Technology is helping to enable that transition.
In turn, greater efficiency affords HR professionals more time to focus on the value they can provide to the business by helping to identify issues that impede productivity, by uncovering potential opportunities, and in working with business leaders to better leverage the contributions of the workforce. As i4cp’s recent study, The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor, underscores, the HR professional’s role is all about driving organizational performance and that’s unfolding in more companies today.
What traits/strengths should the HR professional of tomorrow possess?
Exploring competencies that the future HR professional will need is one of the core aspects of the i4cp study. Certainly, keen business savvy is the starting point for a business partner who can be a trusted and credible advisor to business leaders. It’s more than an understanding of basic financial statements and business models. It’s in-depth business acumen, along with such competencies as strategic thinking, the ability to develop and execute strategy, a strong sense of ethics, organizational design skills, comprehension of metrics and analytics, decision-making capabilities, and an understanding of technologies and information systems.
CHROs with whom we spoke told i4cp that HR performance advisors need to know how to ask the right questions to get at the issues important to the business. They need courage to speak up when it’s important to question the status quo, and the emotional intelligence that enables them to effectively function in volatile situations and to serve as confidantes when business leaders need reliable counsel.
How will the HR function stay relevant in the next 10 years?
By contributing those competencies just described. As long as organizations employ workforces, HR will be not only relevant, but crucial. Human capital generally represents an organization’s greatest investment and its greatest asset. If you are a leader who believes that employees and their contributions are key elements that drive innovation, differentiation, and competitive advantage, then there’s an important place in your organization for HR professionals who can help you optimize performance by ensuring that your workforce is appropriately trained, motivated, and deployed to execute your business strategies.
In some ways, HR is exploring the last frontier that holds promise for truly affecting business performance. The economic challenges of recent years have sharpened leaders’ abilities to cut costs, streamline processes, and wring all they can from tangible organizational assets. There is tremendous power in the intangibles that employees bring: discretionary effort, creativity, tenacity, wide-ranging talents, and the desire to excel – to name just a few. HR is the integral link in the performance chain – the force for uncovering and developing that human capital potential.On the whole, do most HR professionals understand the challenges ahead within the world of work?
Yes – certainly as well as any of us can understand the challenges within our volatile business environment. HR professionals see the work world’s issues reflected in the faces of the employees and managers they serve every day. So long as HR professionals – and those involved in every other business discipline – remain curious, eager to learn, and engaged in moving their organizations ahead, they’ll rise to the challenges that come their way.
In fact, HR already may be ahead of the curve. HR professionals often are intimately involved in organizational change initiatives. Leading the way for change and helping employees and leaders, alike, adjust to it has afforded HR professionals years of opportunities to develop the agility and resilience to meet even unanticipated circumstances with solid skills and resolve.
In addition, the HR leaders who shared their views with i4cp made clear their investment in providing their promising talent with unprecedented development options. Often, these involve stretch assignments, job rotations, and specialized training that extends far beyond the boundaries of HR. That means HR professionals are learning about operations, finance, marketing, and other business functions, along with the challenges they face. They return to HR with expanded networks that cross functional lines and with a deeper understanding of the issues challenging employees and managers organization-wide.
How can entrepreneurs, who are building organizations, include HR in the vision and execution of business strategy?
By doing just that – including them at the top level from the outset. Savvy executives know that HR leaders are valuable members of teams charged with developing business strategy. Leaving human capital considerations out of strategy formulation is an ill-informed approach that seriously jeopardizes execution. You wouldn’t leave out budget considerations when planning new business objectives. Nor would you ignore the technologies or equipment you’d need to accomplish your desired ends. Employees and their skills are an equally vital element. Strategies require execution, and that falls to managers and employees. In many companies, carefully crafted plans fail because leaders leave human capital considerations out of the strategy mix.
When i4cp researchers interviewed Larry Myers, SVP of HR at T-Mobile, he observed that “companies that understand the impact that sophisticated, top-quality HR organizations and professionals can have, automatically gain strategic and business advantage. Their executive teams would not think of making a step strategically without involving HR.”
Successful entrepreneurs understand that ideas, resources, technologies, processes and people must be deftly melded in order to bring business goals to fruition. They include HR leaders in developing strategies to ensure that they’ve addressed all the elements necessary to capably executing those strategies.