HR Expertise: HR as Prophet as Well as Practitioner

By Tracy Layney December 1, 2015

HR Magazine December 2015In today’s competitive talent marketplace, strong HR practices and expertise are critical. As HR practitioners, we must respond to the challenges of today with creative and innovative solutions that provide a competitive advantage.

At Shutterfly, for instance, we compete for technology talent in the highly competitive Silicon Valley. How do we compete for talent against Google and Facebook? We do this by showcasing our compelling culture and our strong employment brand—“Making the world a better place by helping people share life’s joy.” We then try to make day-to-day decisions that support our brand and culture. This is our unique, competitive advantage in the war for talent, and we apply our HR expertise to fighting this battle every day.

This past year, more companies have revamped their traditional annual performance reviews to try to appeal to Millennials who desire more-immediate and more-frequent feedback. Other organizations are developing state-of-the-art learning and development strategies that use tools like gamification to keep employees up-to-date in this rapidly changing environment.

While these changes are necessary, this type of HR expertise is no longer sufficient. As HR leaders, we also must become the prophets of our organizations, looking out on the horizon to anticipate the trends and challenges that will be coming our way.

I recently had the privilege of working with a group of senior HR leaders on a project to envision what work will look like in the future and the implications for the HR profession. This group, CHREATE, which can be found at, identified “trend forecasting” as a primary role of HR going forward. HR expertise will no longer just be about responding to the needs of today. It also must include the ability to identify future trends and analyze diverse sets of data to develop insights and recommendations in advance of a trend’s potential impact. In a world of rapid change, if we focus on today at the exclusion of tomorrow, we may win the battle, but we will surely lose the war.

In many ways, this has been the perennial challenge for HR—responding to the business needs of today while anticipating and planning for the imperatives of tomorrow. So, how do we do this? Futurist Mary O’Hara-Devereaux uses a framework that I believe is instructive as we navigate this brave new world:

  • Scout. HR professionals must seek out experience and expertise beyond the walls of their organizations. We must look for opportunities to invest in our own development and expand our thinking so that we are primed to spot trends as they begin to emerge.
  • Scan. We should be constantly scanning the headlines, looking for data and other signs of new innovations and potential disruptors not only within our industry and the regions where we operate but also throughout the talent marketplace in general.
  • Steer. It is then imperative that we design and implement a clear people strategy for our business, taking into account our company objectives as well as the trends that our external scan has illuminated.

If we do this effectively, we will become prophets as well as practitioners—helping our organizations navigate the uncertainties of tomorrow as well as the demands of today.

Tracy Layney is senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Shutterfly Inc.



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