Opinion: HR on the edge of a cliff

Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith outlines how HR will be at the heart of business disruption – but it must first reinvent itself

Opinion: HR on the edge of a cliff
Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith outlines how HR will be at the heart of business disruption – but it must first reinvent itself

HR’s future is a cliffhanger.

The traditional work environment is being disrupted as digital transformation sends shock waves across the business landscape. Workplaces are being redefined and reimagined, underscored by a new understanding of productivity and engagement. 

At the heart of the disruption is HR – now seen as the most crucial component in helping businesses navigate through the transformation. Our latest research is unequivocal. HR stands on the precipice of a cliff with two choices: invent a way across the chasm, or disappear into it.

HR has been on its own journey of reinvention over the last few decades, characterised by a lack of urgency, a diluted focus, and a measure of success that is ill-defined. The road ahead requires HR to reinvent itself, use technology as an enabler and apply strategic foresight to navigate future workforce needs.

The industrial-age landscape is disappearing
The start of this year saw 208 unicorn companies with combined valuations of US$761bn, including companies like Uber, Snapchat and Airbnb disrupting industries, markets and the human workforce.

At the same time there’s the polarisation of work, with demand for moderately skilled jobs decreasing and those requiring high or low level skills increasing, creating a gap in the middle. New professions are being created and roles like App Developer and Big Data Architect, that were non-existent 10 years ago, have emerged.

With everything around us occurring at breakneck speeds, when we ‘go to work’ in the future, where exactly will that be? What will it look like? Workplaces today are already being restructured and revolutionised - in some cases there is no defined workplace at all. 

What does it mean for HR?
While many HR functions are scrambling to keep up, HR is perfectly placed to guide the labour force into this new era. Leaders, managers and professionals will need to think and act strategically about the challenges and opportunities that the digital revolution will expose in their business and industry. 

With today’s multi-generational workforce, HR will be tested in its ability to manage the needs and wants of different demographics and balance this with flexible working conditions. HR will need a new mindset and set of skills to survive. Harnessing these three intelligences will be critical for driving an effective and productive workforce in the future: 

Digital intelligence
Organisations will need to build a digital platform that optimises their products and services for the people and technology capabilities aligned to this, and a culture that encourages digital innovation. The role of HR is to support this by rethinking and realigning the processes and measures of their human resources in the digital age. 

Cultural intelligence
In the multi-cultural workplace of the future, assessing factors such as emotional self-awareness and empathy are critical as well as understanding how cultural differences align to the organisation’s values. HR will need to review and consider cultural nuances to maintain productivity and ultimately drive annual profit growth. 

Business intelligence
The ability to align present and future talent with the business goals they were hired to achieve is the ultimate litmus test for HR. Demonstrating business intelligence means having HR actively participate in strategic business planning and be accountable for non-HR business outcomes.

HR on the precipice in the future of work
The greatest HR teams will have a strategy that addresses future business challenges and how its people will help solve them. However, whilst the opportunity for HR to mark its claim as ‘business critical’ is clearly up for the taking, HR continues to apply traditional approaches that fail to deliver. 

HR’s future is a CLIFFHANGER. It’s time to confront the challenges and cross the chasm.

Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith is senior vice president – global research at PageUp and co-author of the book, Cliffhanger: HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work. PageUp will be running a series of Cliffhanger HR Bootcamps around Australia designed to help HR leaders develop practical strategies to navigate their organisation into the digital age. Find more information here

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