The world of work has changed, but is HR changing fast enough? What is the future of HR?
It is all very well saying that HR needs to do things differently as well as different things, but what things? How? Why?
Where has HR come from?
It helps to understand the history of HR a little.
In the UK the CIPD track this on their web site and capture the early journey in this statement:
The CIPD, as we know it today, started life in 1913 as the Welfare Workers’ Association. We’ve been helping people and organisations realise their potential for more than 100 years, and today we’re the voice of a worldwide community of more than 135,000 members.
The movement of workplace welfare started in the US after the second world war. The future of HR as we know it now was started 60-100 years ago. The working environment then was very different. Of course the names and labels have changed, but have attitudes and work styles?
Why is this important?
The future of HR is at a junction.
At this time the vast majority of people employed were in blue collar, low paid jobs of scale. Large employers with thousands or tens of thousands of employees. Typically many, many people would be doing the same job. Often those run by quaker families wanted to be seen to treat their employees with some respect. Thus the movement spread.
Employers wanted to be seen to look after their people. This change was also driven by the union movements representing people, fighting for a fair day pay for a fair days work in a safe environment. The unions changed the way we treated staff.
This was a significant movement that changes the way businesses worked. Personnel or HR as it was called needed to get more professional.
The current work patters do not work for business, nor do they work for employees. Many aspire to the Lego or Google approach to working environments. Long before Lego & Google many will remember BA & ING being at the forefront of innovative working environments. Hot-desking, natural lighting etc.
These approaches will suite some but not all. But we need to do more than just copy them. We have been doing that for 40+ years. It does not work!
The future of HR needs to change We need to INNOVATE WITH our people FOR our [working] ENVIRONMENT.
Boom!… or bust?
After the boom of the 1980s and the following dotcom crash, HR needed to be seen to add value to the business. Over the history of the movement, work was either created by HR or transferred to HR for whatever reason.
The next major shift was back to business led HR. This came about on the back of recommendations by Dave Ulrich in the mid 1990s. The goal was to be less centrally driven and to be closer to the needs of the business. This approach required reskilling, but unfortunately many firms changed their HR structures into business partner models without re-skilling the people. Success of this approach was hit and miss.
Change was creeping around us
At the same time business was changing. Businesses were getting bigger and at the same time smaller. Large firms were merging. Creating economies of scale. HR was often seen as a ‘service’ so outsourced to ‘service centres’ with mixed results. Sure it looked good on the balance sheet, but less so looking at employee engagement.
The secret change which will impact the future of HR
The biggest change was the average size of employers. Look in the UK or the US and there has been a steady trend. More and more small businesses.
The trend in the last few years is clear, the number of very small firms has exploded.
With change comes change
With less larger firms, and more smaller firms, so the role of HR will split. In the larger firms each role is very specialised. In the smaller firms (if the role exists at all) it will be across all of the HR specialisms.
Those new to HR need to know more than those in HR
Often people get their first HR role in a small business. often a part time role. Here is the crazy thing. That person is front line HR for everything. They need to be highly skills in many areas. The longer we have been in HR, often we will be in larger firm,s, specialising more, thus knowing less about the general HR issues!
In addition to these smaller firms, they are often in startup or operate in a lean way. They do not have the time or money to write and maintain large polices and procedures. Equally their culture often discourages it. THIS IS A VERY DIFFERENT TYPE OF HR
We need a new model for HR
As HR is moving away from structured, predictable structured departments, things need to change. We need lean HR functions that no longer rely on rigid formal approaches of HR professionals before them.
Into the future of Work & HR
As firms get smaller, so people will want to work from home.
The problem is with house prices going sky high, there is a sting in the tail. The average UK new property is smaller than ever.
No space for dedicated work space is available in an increasing number of homes. Other countries seem to be preparing for the next major shift in working life balance.
Working from home will add to the challenging working for the future of HR professionals. many of whom see ‘working from home’ as meaning ‘taking a day off!’. That may have been true for some professionals around the turn of the millennium, but that was a lifetime ago, and the workplace has changed. The future of HR professionals required HR to be connected, agile and flexible to the needs of the business and individual.
What is the future for HR?
For many in the medium and larger sized firms life will be broadly the same as now. Of course technology changes are changing the way we recruit and engage our people. HR professionals of the future will need to master social communication tools as well as welcome agility and flexibility.
For those working in smaller firms, they don’t know what they don’t know. They will learn from peers through online communities of like minded people, i.e through sites like LinkedIn CIPD Members group
HR needs to change. New practitioners that hold The future of HR in their hands need to understand that copying the old ways just is not appropriate any more. The old ways do not point to the future of HR techniques and approaches.
A new model and way of working is important
The future of HR in smaller businesses
As businesses get smaller, so does the need for a permanent HR resource. The future of HR is no to be a department or function IN a business. Firms cannot afford to have dedicated internal resources. Equally they cannot afford to have the ‘insurance’ model currently offered by large firms.
What the future smaller work places need is a lean and agile resource to call on when needed. Retainer like contracts if you like. Where the HR professional has a small portfolio of businesses that need just 1/2 day a month after an initial setup and alignment.
- Standard templates will be gone
- Off the shelf forms will be gone
- Employees will be more engaged with the business, so will require less structure than current employment law appears to suggest.
- HR needs to support flexible working, technology and a more open attitude to employment
Unfortunately many in business see HR as the barriers for change, not the enablers for change. Our outdated attitudes to attendance, conformity and distractions from the focus of clients needs to change. We need to be an enabler for our employees and managers.
We need to develop ALL managers. We need to select training and learning solutions which add value and not the cheapest that ticks a box
We need to truly partner with the business. Work to reduce the headcount where there are departments and empower and equip managers to do what they used to do – manage!
The future of HR is bright
The good news is there is one. The the future of HR is bright – but do not look to the past – for larger businesses have more to learn from small firms than small firms from their larger cousins.
When looking back at this piece in 10 years (2025) we will see what we are doing in 2015 as almost stone-aged – who is going to be the first of our species to leave the cave?