From automation to unprecedented collaboration, the challenges today’s HR leaders are grappling with aren’t just affecting their day-to-day responsibilities but are also reshaping the future of the HR profession–and work itself. CHROs are finding themselves at the leading edge of change of their organizations, yet must achieve a delicate balance of embracing innovation and remaining rooted in the principles that have long defined HR excellence.
“While technology is solving many of the challenges in our workplaces, so much of what we do every day requires a human touch,” says Lisa Buckingham, executive vice president, and chief people, place and brand officer at Lincoln Financial Group. “There are no manuals or policies for many of the decisions we make, and our gift to our organizations is helping them never lose sight of their greatest assets–the people who come to work with us every day.”
Buckingham was among four HR leaders recently inducted as the 2018 fellows of the National Academy of Human Resources. She was joined by Diane Gherson, senior vice president of HR at IBM Corp.; Angela S. Lalor, senior vice president of HR at Danaher Corp.; and Dermot O’Brien, chief transformation officer at ADP. NAHR also named an Honored Organization: the Riegel & Emory Human Resources Center at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.
The fellows shared their outlook with HRE on the trends impacting the modern HR function, offering insights into how HR leaders can disrupt themselves and their organizations to embrace those changes.
Emerging technologies, namely AI, are clearly top of mind when many HR leaders think about the future of the profession.
Such advancements, Lalor says, “will continue to have a mega impact on HR–both in regard to the type of talent we are tasked to develop and bring into the company and in how we optimize our own tools, processes and approaches to supporting our businesses.” The sheer breadth of the HR-technology market, she adds, speaks to the increasing attention HR leaders need to devote to this area.
While evaluating how to maximize new technologies, HR leaders must also be cognizant of–and mitigate for–the flaws that exist in such solutions, says Gherson. For instance, she says, the HR-related outcomes of AI-powered solutions are well-documented: Such tools can enhance employee experience through personalization or offer decision-making guidance for hiring managers on pay decisions.
“The proviso here, though,” she notes, “is that, as technology becomes more pervasive in our society, there is opportunity for bias. It’s critical that we address this bias in tech by ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to participate in its creation using diverse teams. It matters who creates, designs and deploys these technologies in your organizations.”
As new technologies become more embedded in organizations, O’Brien adds, HR must also ensure that the data they churn out are accurate.
“Access to quality data is an essential part of where the profession is going,” he says. “For example, your talent data must measure reliably the aspects it says it measures.”
Technology is also chief among the factors impacting changing employee expectations, as workers largely anticipate consumer-grade tech that they use in their personal lives to also enhance their work experiences. The previous approach to optimizing HR practices with a “one-size-fits-all approach,” Gherson says, isn’t feasible any longer.
“Employees and candidates have new, consumer-grade expectations being shaped by their everyday, rich, digital experiences outside of work,” she says. “When they come to work, they expect this same type of personalization, transparency and responsiveness.”
Employee expectations also increasingly include flexibility, especially as younger and nontraditional employees–such as remote and contract workers–flood the workforce, Buckingham notes.
It’s important, she adds, for HR leaders to be actively engaged with the needs of their ever-diversifying pool of talent.
“Spend time with millennials but also spend time with the people we have always considered the ‘steady hands,’ ” she says. “It’s your job to know as much as you can so you can make the right decisions to set up our future HR leaders and our organizations for amazing success.”
How HR Leaders Can Disrupt Themselves
Keeping the lines of communication open, many of the fellows agree, is one of the best ways for HR leaders to challenge themselves today in order to be prepared for tomorrow.
“Spend some time in the parts of your organization where the magic happens, and then spend some time with employees who keep the train on the tracks,” Buckingham says. “It’s amazing how many new ideas, perspectives and approaches we hear about when we just take the time to listen.”
Given the current labor market, O’Brien adds, being attuned to employee needs is more important than ever.
“Get out and talk to employees and candidates about what they are looking for from employers,” he says. “The concept of having a solid employer brand is critical, especially with U.S. unemployment at historic lows.”
By immersing themselves in the day-to-day operations of the organization, HR leaders may also be better equipped to drive strategic change.
Lalor notes that HR leaders are often inclined to replicate best practices across their function, which she says may fuel the often-misguided belief that bigger is better.
“HR leaders should have a deep understanding of their business, fine-tune their strategic radar and prioritize the capabilities they can drive in their HR teams to add the most meaningful value to the business,” she says. “The ability to keep HR teams, programs and processes lean and agile so that resources can be redirected fluidly to support the rapidly changing business landscape will be imperative.”
Staying abreast of those changes can also motivate self-disruption, Buckingham notes. Read voraciously–including about tech breakthroughs and coding, she says–and leverage a network of peers, both outside and inside the organization, including board members.
It’s incumbent upon HR, Lalor notes, to design learning that ensures employees are equipped with the skills needed to keep pace with the evolving landscape.
“The ability of HR to find innovative, agile ways of supporting the development of new knowledge and skills across a broad array of functional employees will have an increasing impact on the ability of the organizations to grow,” she says. “We have to support the creation of new types of business models and structures that are capable of cutting more quickly through the clutter, minimizing the drag of bureaucracy and accelerating the pace of innovation and new product and service development.”
Reimagining the Future of Work
While HR leaders are tasked with planning for the realities of the future of work, modern CHROs aren’t just preparing for changes to processes and positions, but rather for the reimagination of the very concept of work.
In particular, O’Brien notes, HR leaders need to readjust everything from hiring to training to allow for the growing prominence of dynamic teams to a company’s success.
“Think of it: Almost all work today gets done outside of org charts,” he says. “Being able to effectively manage and engage workers in this new construct is and will be more and more critical.”
HR should be considered the “talent architect” as companies reimagine how work is accomplished and, he says, “if the best way to engage people is through a team, HR needs to help drive an understanding that frequent, voluntary connections between team leaders and team members is critical to success.”
Gherson agrees that the future of work will be team-based.
“The new way of working is agile, iterative, collaborative and performed by self-directed, empowered teams,” she says. “When we work this way, it allows us to assemble and disassemble quickly to respond in real time.”
To empower the teams of tomorrow, Gherson says, HR leaders can rely on approaches such as design thinking. IBM has hired about 1,600 design professionals, working in multidisciplinary teams, alongside business decision-makers, technologists and clients. “We’ve brought dozens of designers into our HR team, working on visual design, content, front-end development and user experience,” she adds. “It’s helping us reinvent every aspect of the employee experience.”
With HR continuing to be at the helm of organizational reinvention, Buckingham adds, CHROs will need to juggle the roles of business leader, consultant, innovator and change leader–while carrying out their core responsibility of harnessing the organization’s people power.
“A critical component of my platform as a leader, and something that I am very passionate about, is keeping the ‘human’ within human resources, while also truly leveraging technology, data and every innovation that comes our way,” she says. “The evolution of our craft will happen only if we never lose our focus on the people we are here to support.”