Dealing with the HR identity crisis

With HR on the brink of some major historical changes, is there a clear vision for the future or are HR professionals still trying to find the right path?

Is the future of HR a bleak one? Is the role itself due to be wiped out in an upcoming corporate revolution? The question of whether HR will be around in the future has seemed to create somewhat of an identity crisis for those in the profession.
Ben Whitter, leader of organisation and people development at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, chatted with HRD about what this situation means for those in HR.
“This debate is not new within HR,” he said. “It seems like one epic battle between those on one side and those on another, while the observers in the middle are simply waiting for a seminal moment or announcement on who won.”
The split between HR advocates and opponents can be seen across the world with some firms elevating HR to have a seat at the table while others have relegated HR as a mere administrative role.
“The range of titles, services and functions vary, but it is all chipping away at the same challenge.”
Whitter pointed out that much of the debate has stemmed from those within the profession.
“Does this suggest an identity crisis within HR?” he asked. “Perhaps. But perhaps the field is also getting restless as our many practitioners and colleagues know they are ready to play more instrumental roles within organisations.”
He said that the best HR leaders he had ever known were once termed ‘mavericks’ as they either challenged the status quo, built something against the norm, or worked beyond the perceived limits of the HR function.
Whitter said he was optimistic that HR is indeed on the verge of a major historical change. This change is already starting, he added. For example, Airbnb recently transformed HR into “employee experience” – a role that covers recruiting, talent development, marketing, facilities, social responsibilities and much more.
“This move quite visibly positions the employee experience as critical to the business, not HR,” he said. “This is absolutely right, in my view, and gives practitioners the confidence and belief to know that HR is no longer a support function within the business.”
Changes like this will continue to have deep repercussions in how HR professionals are developed, trained and accredited, he said.
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