Last updated: The future of HR: How the people imperative is changing human resources

The future of HR: How the people imperative is changing human resources


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Work doesn’t look like it did a year ago, or even yesterday. The workforce – and the way people work – is rapidly changing. Just take a look at the latest headlines around employees quitting their jobs to pursue new careers, or revolting and resigning rather than return to the office. Despite all of this change and uncertainty, the future of HR is clear: As leaders, we keep pushing forward.

In April of 2021, over 4 million people quit their jobs – the highest number seen yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This environment is creating a new demand for HR leaders to shift their mindset from a focus on process to a focus on people. Today, talent is key to competitive advantage, meaning every HR leader is thinking differently about their role in elevating the employee experience to improve business results.

The future of HR: Truly putting humans at the center of the employee experience

Want to lose your top talent at record pace? Keep saying, “that’s just how we do things.”

The old ways of business as usual doesn’t hold up in a the modern workforce. If you want to ensure that employees stay motivated to perform at their best, you’ve got to remember that humans are at the heart of what you do – and that’s why human experience management (HXM), is mission-critical. After all, the last year has proven that it’s people who make a business exceptional. When you put employees at the center of everything, you win.

While work clearly could’ve come to a standstill in 2020, the superior flexibility in HR attitudes, processes, tools, and technologies assured that it didn’t – and leaders within human resources hope to maintain some of those gains going forward as the future of HR evolves.

This was just one of the issues recently discussed as part of our LinkedIn Live series, The Rise of HXM. This week, my cohost Lars Schmidt and our special guest Dr. Marcia F. Robinson talked about how HR professionals are finally winning a seat at the table; this makes sense, as nearly every organization is being tested to find creative ways to engage and retain its people. You can watch this week’s replay here.

Re-writing the future of HR playbook: Recognizing the double disruption of automation and customization

Dr. Robinson is founder and CEO of the HBCU Career Center, which was created to support career success in communities served by America’s historically black colleges and universities. She points out the double disruption HR has faced in recent years.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a tight talent market inspired future-thinking HR leaders to look at potential technological transformation – for example, introducing AI into hiring processes.

And during the pandemic, the ongoing push for flexible approaches “found huge support and even had an ally in the public,” says Dr. Robinson, noting that HR found more receptive ears for its ideas to manage employee choices while maintaining productivity. She recognizes that “HR may not like that position in the middle, because we ‘get it’ from both employees and leaders,” but HR proved it can meet challenges as far-reaching as facilitating remote and hybrid work on the fly.

Schmidt, founder and principal of Amplify, explains that “the events of 2020 have completely shifted the expectations of what HR can bring.”

As the world plots its return from enforced isolation, HR experts have a chance to rewrite their playbooks for the future of HR nearly from scratch. One key factor in decision-making will be the importance of HXM in attracting and maintaining top talent in the short term – not to mention helping to ensure basic business survival in the long term.

Never let a good crisis go to waste: Leveraging HR’s new strategic role

I’ve always loved the advice, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” As Dr. Robinson notes, “One of the things the pandemic did for us is that everybody was talking about business continuity, whether you were in HR, operations, sales, or marketing.” So “HR had a chance to flex our business thinking” at a time when executives were less inclined to dismiss employee experience issues.

Also, as part of the response to COVID-19 protocols, HR leaders needed to formulate bigger, multidisciplinary solutions to present in the boardroom, so they worked to dismantle the silos inside their line of business among data, information systems, benefits, and recruiting experts, helping HR repair its reputation for technophobia.

Dr. Robinson, who identifies as “an inclusionist who prefers to screen people in rather than screen people out,” believes that it’s up to HR leaders to bring reluctant team members along on the road to digital transformation.

Dr. Robinson cites hard data to support individual employee choice among personal healthcare, elder care, and childcare as an example of the win-win solutions produced via cooperation across traditional departmental boundaries. And she highlights improvement in a two-way lack of confidence – among HR professionals themselves in the data they’re analyzing and among other leaders in the importance of the people perspective. We are healing, she feels, from both afflictions, but now is not the time to get complacent.

The future of HR: The path is forward, not backward, and requires enlightened HR leadership

Dr. Robinson offers two examples of important enterprise-wide advances that were made during the pandemic:

  1. She says, “I was really struck by the crescendo of empathy that rolled out during the pandemic – seeing organizations become mindful of their employees’ mental health as an important element of their wellness.”
  2. The investments made in employee development, with the evolution of extensive learning opportunities to keep employees engaged and productive in times of severely restricted interpersonal contact.

Emphasizing the importance of building on the progress already being made rather than reverting to old approaches when 2020’s sense of urgency recedes is crucial, according to Dr. Robinson. She sees a cause for optimism in the strength of HR professionals as change managers. “They are well suited – and now securely positioned – to help keep organizations from abandoning customization and reverting to less flexible paradigms as they reopen for business post-COVID-19.”

Schmidt points out the likelihood of considerable churn in organizations with the end of the pandemic and recognizes that “the hiring market is already on fire” for the bevy of HR leaders who have more than proven their worth this past year.

Schmidt tells HR professionals, “If you’re in one of those organizations whose CEO is urging you to revert to February 2020 days, you don’t have to stick around. The path is forward, not backward.”

There’s a local, regional, and global headhunting frenzy underway as organizations wake up and begin the search for qualified CHROs, as the future of HR enters the spotlight among enterprises.

HR, better.
Employees, happier.
Businesses, healthier.
It’s time to modernize the employee experience.

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