How to … future-proof your HR

by 18 Mar 2008

Why is this important?

People issues lie at the heart of most strategy execution problems, but in the kind of world we are moving into, strategies will only get more sticky, complex, paradoxical, and people-centric. If we don’t manage our own destiny, either events or aspiring competitors will manage it for us.

Think of some of the ‘isations’ being thrown at us (globalisation, corporatisation, localisation, etc) and ask, what trajectory is each following? Some, for now, are linear, but others may change direction. Some are at the mercy of tipping points, beyond which new rules of the game see HR issues suddenly fall off or jump onto the agenda.

Future-proofing requires HR to educate its people to know how to deliver business performance, through different business models, managing each ‘isation’.

Beyond HR

There are plenty of risks in the wider economy that HR should be aware of.

If private and commercial data is exposed as it is transferred across an outsourced, multi-party, multi-geography HR service arrangement, this might turn public opinion away from an otherwise economically sensible trend to outsource.

Unrest in the financial markets has the potential to dramatically change the way we reward people. Climactic events could force staff to reconsider how central work is to their lives. In short, plan for evolution in HR, but expect to manage revolution.

Look at the complete set of business models that might affect your sector. Analyse which models require HR investments now as an insurance premium. Consider what capabilities you need to get your chief executive into each business model, and then get them out of it.

Get up to speed

Look at projects that bring HR people together with colleagues in information systems, marketing, corporate communications, procurement and operations. Note the hybrid skills and tools emerging and make sure HR employs them. The people ‘doing’ HR inside organisations in the future need not be HR professionals, but they must be people-savvy.

At the top of the tree, many will drop the title HR. Expect funny names such as ‘chief innovation officer’, ‘chief productivity officer’, or ‘people mission officer’. Like industry regulators, they will oversee all those parties and partners involved in the business model regulate internal and external HR systems and ensure they perform in line with the overall goals of the organisation.

Get people involved in partnering with outside bodies now, and assess potential partner capability. HR will need to demonstrate how intangibles (human, customer, social, intellectual and structural capital) deliver hard project issues (money and speed).

Future skills

Don’t assume internal HR departments will employ all the skills HR needs. Most will be developed with outside organisations specialising in, and combining:

• General consultancy around generic people-handling processes, and new ones such as employer and employee branding, market mapping and predictive manpower planning

• Specialist service providers offering value-added but discretionary services, for example, people data analysis and modelling

• More global HR service providers, advancing up the value chain by offering modular levels of employee-intelligence through integrated HR, information systems and finance systems.

The top issue will always be talent, but HR will trade-off investments – on a global basis – between building organisational capability within operations, engineering mindsets to deliver the business model, and creating hybrid professional skills and careers.

Second opinion on future-proofing your HR

Individuals skilled in people processes have great careers ahead, but won't all report to the HR director. Skills and even job titles with an 'ing' suffix (changing, legalising, protecting, structuring, branding, communicating, resourcing, rewarding, engaging, benchmarking) will develop as we work across different departments. Determining what should be commoditised or customised will continue to be important in HR.

Specialist houses will develop skills in risk mitigation and smart ways of analysing, detecting patterns in, predicting, integrating and modelling the relationship between the competitive environment, business and people data.

What will the key issues for HR professionals be in 20 years' time?

Talent management will be subsumed within the bigger problem of managing an organisation's capability and dealing with transition. Talent pipelines will require HR to work with national agencies, partners and competitors, and HR will need to provide individualised services to manage and broker many people's careers across firms and projects.

What would be your top three tips for future-proofing HR?

Most HR skills and careers will be external. Get talented people into your future service offering by investing today in external networks that can be exploited in 10 years' time.

Don't equate internal centres of excellence to existing HR processes. Initiate internal centres, think-tanks and networks to manage the proprietary HR expertise necessary for long-term performance-driving processes - strategic competence, innovation, consumer insight, productivity, and partnership learning.

Build social capital with all stakeholders (governments, CEOs, business functions, individual talent, unions). The power of each will wax and wane but each may dethrone HR.

Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.