HR Leaders Must Become Disruptors

It’s time to throw away old ways of thinking about the workplace.

By Henry G. Jackson Jan 27, 2017
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Henry G. Jackson

Throughout its history, HR has steadily evolved, and now the pace of change is escalating at speeds never seen before. Our modest personnel administration origins have matured into directing the very future of work. Moreover, our success is defined entirely by results, not process. 

We change because workplaces change, and workplaces change because business changes. Employees today want more than a paycheck—they want balance. They need flexibility in a world where they can work from a device they hold in their hand—or even wear on their wrist. They prioritize fairness and genuine engagement. They want to learn and to grow. Employers that can deliver this experience will succeed in the war for talent. 

These greater expectations have created a breakthrough moment for our profession. HR is now poised to be the newest disruptor of business, driving bottom-line benefits through new approaches to finding and keeping the best people.

How does disruption differ from innovation? All disruptors are innovators, but disruption goes further. It challenges everything we think we know and all we do. To be innovative, we think outside the box. To be disruptive, we may lose the box altogether. You will see examples throughout the pages of this month’s issue of HR Magazine

In our cover story on "9 HR Tech Trends for 2017," talent and tech guru Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte writes about nine technology trends that are upending old processes and boosting HR performance into high gear—from advanced people analytics tools to the use of artificial intelligence for talent development. Now a $2 billion a year business, HR technology is one tool we have to disrupt business.

However, disruption doesn’t always require technology. It can be as simple as rethinking traditional workplace paradigms, such as the 9-to-5 norm for the workday. In “Is It Time to Kill the 40-Hour Workweek,” you’ll learn how some companies are shattering 100 years of conventional wisdom, challenging the long-held notion that longer work hours mean more productivity. 

Workforce diversity and inclusion programs can also be disruptive. We know that companies with gender and ethnic diversity outperform others by up to 35 percent. But today it takes more than asking questions and eyeing candidates to build a diverse workforce. That’s why we profile five leaders who are pioneering methods and approaches that often seem counterintuitive, such as hiding identifying information about job applicants (“blind hiring”) and using artificial intelligence to uncover human bias in job descriptions. 

To succeed in the 21st century workplace, companies must do more than adapt to the new ways people want to work. They need to create fresh approaches that emphasize innovation, competitiveness and fairness. HR must be ready to innovate—and often disrupt—with solutions that transform today’s businesses and people. “HR as disruptor” may well be the next stage in the evolution of our profession.

 Henry G. Jackson is the CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. 

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