What is the future for the ‘people profession’?

Open Plan Modern Office Cartoon Blog Banner By Sarah Prasad

Our working world is changing at speed and becoming increasingly complex in nature. Multi-generational workforces, alternative ways of working and the rate at which technology is advancing, are profoundly impacting the traditional employee/employer relationship. In turn this demands new and different perspectives from the ‘people profession’.

So, what does this mean for the future of the ‘people profession’?

According to the CIPD ‘the people profession must do more than simply respond to these challenges: it has the power to actively drive positive change in the world of work’.

Fortunately, since the aftermath of the 2008 recession, we’ve moved away from a focus on admin/compliance and towards a far more enabling role, with an emphasis on employee experience and how this can leverage business performance.

We candidly discussed this topic at our recent HR Leadership Forum at ScotRail in Glasgow. We acknowledged that whilst there is still a requirement for ‘compliance’ and employment law specialisms within many organisations, there is a drive for more innovative and agile approaches to enable people do their best work.

As Josh Bersin (founder of Bersin by Deloitte) points out, many methods still employed by HR departments, were originally designed for hierarchical, top-down structures. However, we are moving towards smaller, self-empowered teams, with a new generation of leaders who have grown up in a transparent, tech-driven environment, with a far more ‘consumer-like’ experience. So, Bersin suggests that HR needs to be more driven by ‘empowering managers, giving people tools to collaborate with each other and really understand technology and data’

Embracing tech

Whilst our Forum discussions acknowledged that as a profession, we could do better in the digital space, many organisations around the table are successfully using new technologies to enhance every step of the employee experience ‘journey’: from predictive AI during the recruitment process, to AI chatbots to answer basic HR queries, through to high quality alumini networks, powered by social media platforms.

A recent study by KPMG found that technology investment has been highest for cloud and human capital management (HCM) software with 49% of HR executives investing in HCM over the past 2 years and 32% investing in cloud capabilities. In the future these investments are projected to be in areas of AI (47%), predictive analytics (60%) and enhanced process automation (53%).

Nevertheless, whilst the increased use of technology will, undoubtedly help us navigate the changing landscape, increase productivity and free-up time for more ‘high-value’ or strategic work, our discussions in Glasgow recognised that the human dimension will always be key to organisational success.

Coalitions with Marketing and Psychology

According to Lucy Adams (CEO of Disruptive HR agency) in addition to digital skills, those in the ‘people profession’ will need to develop more effective relationships with their Marketing colleagues to strengthen capability in ‘basic techniques of gathering consumer insights, motivating buying behaviours and getting your messages across in an effective way’. What HR team wouldn’t benefit from these skills in their toolkit when developing a new approach to training or self-service?

Adams also advocates developing or bringing in human behavioural science skills, especially within a continuously changing environment. The logic being if you want to make change easier for your organisation you need to understand some basic principles of human psychology. Let’s be honest, many of us have approached change with reasoning and a barrel full of incentives and then wondered why our project doesn’t achieve an actual shift in behaviours.

The people profession in its many guises has come a long way since the days of the ‘personnel’ function. Technology will continue to evolve and there will always be opportunities we can better harness to prepare ourselves for the digital future. At the same time though, (and I’ll take the risk of sounding ‘fluffy’ here) let’s also remember our profession is focused on the inherent value of human beings, so let us not forget the power of the human touch.

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