Future of HR: It's time to rewrite the rulebook

Leading 'CHRO for hire' gives her take on the future of the HR industry

Future of HR: It's time to rewrite the rulebook

A leading ‘CHRO for hire’ believes the global pandemic has fundamentally shifted the nature of traditional HR, forcing a positive move from rigid problem solving to designing the workplaces of the future.

HRD spoke to Peta Karunaratne, founder of The Karuna Collective, who set out on her own consulting journey in February last year after seeing a need to offer more disruptive, forward-thinking people strategies in the wake of the pandemic. Now as a ‘CHRO for hire’, Karunaratne helps organisations take a more strategic HR approach to grapple with the increasingly complex issues facing people leaders.

“I'm a sort of ‘try before you buy’,” she said. “I come in and work alongside CEOs and board members to develop a strong strategic people identity which will drive their transformation. Then, I build up the capability of the people team and determine how much strategic capability they require.”

Karunaratne said in the current climate, it’s vital for organisations and HR leaders to rewrite the rulebook around what their job really means. Traditionally, fixed frameworks and ways of working have Pidgeon-holed HR leaders into a reactionary, problem solving role. But she says the shift to remote working has opened up a new world of possibility and if embraced, HR leaders now have the opportunity to become workplace designers, rather than firefighters.

“More and more HR leaders are being used for their design skills and that’s really one of the capabilities of the future,” she said. “It’s about saying yes, we have a problem, but how do we design a solution that not only works for now but potentially helps us create the new future?

“I think the HR professionals that I've seen really succeed have accelerated their business’s capacity to both respond to challenges but also proactively pursue opportunity because of these challenges. They’ve seen this as an opportunity to redesign the frameworks and support around their people, rather than just respond to the requests of the organisation’s leader.”

Read more: The future of HR: A collaboration of ideas

Where previously HR strived for an equitable employee experience, with things like standardised office set-up and a traditional 9-5, five-day-a-week structure, the pandemic has upended those rules. For organisations where employees can – and want to - work from home, it has forced managers to rethink how they carry out their role in a virtual manner.

But Karunaratne said instead of forcing workers back into the fixed structure they were used to pre-pandemic, leaders need to understand how to embrace and accept the feeling of uncertainty. The way people work has changed shape, and if leaders fight against that shift, they miss a once-in-a-lifetime chance to grow and become a truly agile workplace.

“We haven't fully harnessed everything we've learned from the pandemic about ourselves and our organisations so it's really hard to then decide the answer about what is coming next,” she said.

“There is still this middle space where we have to really sit in the discomfort and ask what is making us uncomfortable?”

One of the key responses to this question comes down to trust, Karunaratne said. Even though research has shown global productivity levels rose while people were working from home, there is still an ingrained hesitancy around the idea that employees can be fully trusted to work from home.

Read more: This ‘Australian-first’ VR training is the future of HR

While leadership traditionally goes hand-in-hand with power, for dispersed teams who are now getting to decide when or where they work, managers may feel some of that power is slipping away. As a result, Karunaratne said managers should use this challenge as an opportunity to question their role.

“When I start talking to people about what leadership is, the conversation transitions from the idea of power to creating development opportunities through the work,” she said. “It becomes identifying opportunities for stretch growth, technical growth, personal and professional growth, coaching, problem solving, all that kind of stuff.

“For workplaces of the future, it probably means we will require less managers but we need them to be incredibly capable.”

As businesses in Australia navigate out of the pandemic, conversations around the future of workplaces and the future of HR are taking centre stage. In July, a host of leading HR professionals will come together to share their experiences and insight into the challenges of the past 12 months, as well as those up ahead. To view the full speaker list for this year’s HR Summit Melbourne and register for your place, visit the event website here.

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