by Ben Whitter
The revolution is on. The wave of disruption and change continues. Traditional HR models begin to look very outdated and out of place in the new economy. This is an economy in which robots and automation are entering the workplace taking over jobs and processes. If the craze of outsourcing didn't unsettle the HR function then there's plenty more to come. Not only is the workplace evolving, but visibility, expectations and perceptions of the workplace are all heightened in today’s fast-paced, digital age, and employees, especially talented ones, have more choice and expect something more from the workplace experience.
HR is part of this changing world on a scale it has never experienced before with employees either advocating or actively critiquing current and former employers at growing rates through apps and online platforms such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Bottom-line, there has never, at any time in history, been as much information available about employers and the quality of them.
For some, this is very worrying. For others, they are proactively taking control of this trend and are riding it all the way to the talent bank through the delivery of superior employee experiences, and therefore, superior employer brands. Attracting the best people remains a priority as does making sure organisations get the best performance from them. In that sense, employee engagement retains its status as a key trend this year and through it HR holds a strategically significant role, which is of interest to top teams the world over. Let’s take a look at some of the hot moves happening in HR this year:
One: Employee experience has certainly captured the popular imagination within HR globally, which confidently moves HR to a key position within organisations as the architects of aligned and connected workplaces. Employee experience is blind to departmental boundaries too so roles and responsibilities continue to change at employers even if the actual design of structured employee experience roles varies. Generally speaking, the broader strategic mandate is being hoovered up quite nicely by employee experience in roles that cover both traditional and non-traditional functions within the HR mandate- all of which impact on the employee experience- so facilities, communications, marketing, estates, CSR and other areas have come into play to connect up experiences within the workplace to really get the right engagement and performance outcomes- with one role to unite and lead them all. It's already in operation at companies like these:
Two: The technology-powered consumer experience, where the flow of information and services has quickened, is also affecting internal workplaces with multi-generational employees working, being led, and communicating in different ways, and at very different paces! This is leading organisations to question established HR norms with a view to redesigning them to be more closely connected to driving strategy and facilitating the creation of purposeful companies….for everyone.
Three: There is no question that people analytics, digital approaches and data help deliver outstanding employee experiences, which are engineered to almost guarantee business results. This is now shaping the work and objectives of HR teams like never before. From apps to cloud-based HR solutions, the modern workplace offers incredible possibilities for HR to make the most of in 2016, or subject to your view, HR teams still only focused on simply trying to add value through efficient administration and driving compliance may have a difficult future unless they start to solve more strategic organisational challenges that tie directly to business performance. Better be quick, the robots are coming!
Four: Employee engagement in an uncertain, volatile, and fast-changing world then remains high on the agenda. Companies such as Sky and Orange will agree with that statement as they attempt to utilize the approach to unlock engagement in a way that no other approach has been able to within organisations yet. Gallup surveys taken around the globe are evidence of the work required in this regard with organisations looking at (and paying a hefty price for) a holistic approach connected through and by a concerted effort to improve and enhance the employee experience to deliver better business returns. The obvious question is a provocative one perhaps; in the age of employee experience, has HR’s time come and should CEO’s be looking closer to home to solve engagement challenges internally?
Engagement, most certainly, is delivered through experience
Five: Developing leaders into the delivery of progressive people practices that are aligned to delivering mission-based strategies is in focus and takes their role a step further than some of the usual people management tasks reassigned by HR through various systems in the past couple of decades. Why? That’s easy; we know that the number one facilitator of a quality employee experience is the leader of an organisation and the immediate line manager of an employee. No change there then.
Six: Performance management, given the scale, scope, and pace of change in this area, is a very hot topic. Given all of the above, a once-a-year appraisal is no longer adequate to deliver a highly engaged and high performing organization as part of the workplace experience. It’s been thrown out of Microsoft, Accenture, and Adobe who have been leading lights on this, but I would say small business is the real pioneer on this one! We’ve gone full circle with large companies embracing small business practices; continuous and personalized real-time feedback with regular coaching is the new recipe for success within performance management.
Bonus Point: Many of us, not all of us (yet), would like to see HR finally move far away from being viewed (and practiced) as an administration only function and become the consultancy of choice within a business based ever more on a solid expertise and deep understanding of how to connect a business inside and out to deliver excellent performance through meaningful work. This would also see a strengthened career path for people to develop high level skills within the field and also attract a wider number of people wishing to join HR to become business leaders and eventual CEO’s. There’s ambition, right there.
Summary Bit: HR isn’t going anywhere just yet, but the future of the function remains up for grabs. It used to be about managing people as resources, delivering economies of scale through shared service models, and business partnering to achieve better people outcomes, and now we see movement towards centres of expertise where organisations can place key and highly skilled teams to connect up and align people practices with interventions that demonstrably hit the bottom-line within the business.
But let’s not miss the point again. In business, keep the employee experience firmly in mind, fuel it with evidence-based, data-driven approaches and help ensure that the next phase of HR’s evolution will be on solid footing.
The truth, if I can control my natural bias in favour of HR, is that nowhere in the organisational landscape is better placed to drive real change and transformation within the workplace and the way in which people work. I, like many other colleagues, am playing my part in the employee experience movement and, if the opportunity is taken, the future of HR is looking very good indeed.
Read more of Ben's work & the Bye, Bye series:
Is it time to say Bye, Bye HR? Over 600,000 people across platforms and publications have viewed this article on the future of HR and organisations.
Is it time to say Bye, Bye Boring Workplace? The LinkedIn employee experience shows the way.