The Future of HR: Where We Need to Look NOW


By Jennifer Gerves-Keen

According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) report, “The Future of HR,” managing complexity, ambiguity and technology are the biggest trends for HR as we head toward the year 2022. Unsurprisingly, resource scarcity, climate change and shifting economic power are also on the list.

Complexity and Customization
These trends were reiterated at the 2014 NeuroLeadership conference in San Francisco—where global HR leaders spoke about dealing with increased complexity, and also increased customization. Many employees are now demanding choice around many things (the “Uber” model) including how, when and where they work. Conversations revolved around organizations that had started creating individual, personalized intranet home pages for each employee—wherein their own dashboard was visible, and where they could be ‘serviced’ as they desired.

Agility, Awareness and New Science
Organizations across the globe are recognizing the need to become more agile, more aware and more willing to experiment with processes, systems and tools that may not work the first time around.

One of the key discussions focused on moving from individual psychology as a foundation for HR programs and policies, to using ‘new’ sciences such as neuroscience, along with data and research, to create more effective and more engaging work environments. How could this have an impact, and what could our future hold?

It would shift organizations from the old (and current) model of giving feedback (passive, reactive and management controlled) as the basis of our performance management systems to actually asking for feedback (proactive, empowering and employee controlled). Added to that, nurturing desired ethics and behaviours would require a complete overhaul of what and how we currently measure performance.
It would continue to decentralize HR-related skills by training and coaching all managers/leaders to increase individual accountability, and identify and develop leaders at every level of the organization.

We need to use big data and new tech in an intelligent way—by customizing it to our needs—in order to create agile, intelligent workplaces that respond to individual employee needs in a way that actually supports the individual and the organization. For example, using wearable technology. Imagine a day when a leader is stressed and having difficulty making well-thought out decisions, their cortisol level increases, and the device that they are wearing sends a message to their executive coach to signal that their help might be needed. It may feel like Orwell’s “big brother” but with some thought and the right design, it would allow us to offer our employees the right service, at the right time, and have it highly customized to the employee’s immediate needs.

We could use our incredible data reach to truly transform our talent marketplace to a global level; some organizations have started recruiting internationally but many have not.  Given Canada’s precarious demographic position, we should be way further along with this; why are foreign credentials still such an obstacle? We need to create true career globalization with the recognition of education and experience from all over the world.

We could immediately implement different development products and programs; this has been discussed for years, but many organizations are still offering development products such as full-day workshops, which usually result in low engagement and low information retention. We need to educate in sound-bites, and make our development practices more neuro-friendly by working with our brains, not against them. We often don’t need to learn the whole book, just the chapter we need, at the time we need it.

We need to accept and deal with the fact that frequent turnover among our employees is and will be a norm; how do we make it work for our organizations rather than against? How can we manage knowledge transfer in a way that makes sense to both the people leaving, the people staying, and the organization overall? We haven’t even started to explore where the new sciences and technologies can help us in this area.

Neuroscience is helping us understand where we need to improve. Numbers around disengaged and unhappy workforces are not going away; whatever we have been doing for the past decade does not appear to be working for many employees. We need to focus more on social connection, optimal mental health, fuelling intrinsic motivation, offering skill mastery—and having fun. This will not only increase retention levels—which are becoming so important in our talent search—it will create positive ambassadors for our employer brand which is so vital in our connected world

Ethics, Privacy and CSR
Without a doubt, we need to discuss and debate the complex ethical, moral, and privacy issues that will continue to be in the forefront over the next decade, particularly with the continuing strides in technology.

Are we equipped to deal with those issues? One of the major challenges facing HR professionals in the next few years will be how to respect the line between personal space and performance monitoring (which may include health information in the future.)

On that note, corporate responsibility is becoming more than a nice to have – it’s becoming a business imperative, particularly in the world of social media. In the same PwC report cited above, 65 per cent of people around the world who were surveyed “want to work for an organization with a powerful social conscience”.

How is HR working this into their employer brand and recruitment tactics? Are they putting pressure on the rest of the organization’s leadership to move towards a socially responsible operational model, wherever possible? This movement, along with the added pressure of very public social media campaigns, could be a real catalyst for change within our organizations.

Opening Up to Portfolio Careers
We need to accept and embrace that we are moving quickly towards a model where our careers resemble much more a series of projects than a straight line in the upward direction; this is supported by the increasing trend of contract employment. This may lead to a type of online rating system for freelancers so organizations can choose the best individual suited for the task based on their expertise and experience, and provide ratings by former clients. This “portfolio career” can be highly attractive to those individuals looking for autonomy and flexibility in their work, and it would help organizations fill those hard-to-find temporary or highly specific roles.

According to the PwC report, 77 per cent of the HR professionals surveyed said that their organization was focused on the short or medium-term challenges, with only 23 per cent stating that they had their eye on the long-term vision, not only of their organization, but of the world around them.

We have directly in front of us an amazing and exciting opportunity to drastically improve our current systems. By educating ourselves and creating new systems and processes that actually work for individuals, leaders and organizations, and would also increase overall productivity and contribute to local, national and global economies. We need to get out of our comfort zone and start seeing what’s really possible. If we can embrace these opportunities, even in incremental ways, we can all thrive within change and lead the way, not only in our organizations but in society as whole.

Jennifer Gerves-Keen, MA, PCC is a coach and consultant focused on collaborating with her clients to develop people in effective ways that actually make sense.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2015)

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