HR Evolves to Keep Pace with Workplace Changes

Dori Meinert By Dori Meinert November 19, 2018
HR Evolves to Keep Pace with Workplace Changes

​From left, Marc Howze, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Deere & Company, Betty Thompson, chief people officer at Booz Allen Hamilton, and Hollie Delaney, head of people operations at Zappos, join Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and CEO at SHRM, for a discussion on the future of work and HR.

​Three HR executives gave their peers a peek at how their organizations are preparing for the future—and their visions involve significant changes to the HR role as well.

At online retailer Zappos, HR professionals are helping the company shift from a traditional hierarchical organizational design to one where employees have more of a voice.

The HR teams at Deere & Company, which manufactures agriculture equipment, and Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consultancy, might appear to have little in common. But both are finding new ways to keep their employees trained in the latest skills and technology to help their companies compete.

"People say, 'Change has never come about this fast.' In reality, it will never be this slow again, and we're going to have to keep up with that," said Betty Thompson, chief people officer at Booz Allen Hamilton.

The HR executives shared their visions of the future workplace and HR's role in it during a wide-ranging panel discussion at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2018 Volunteer Leaders' Summit at National Harbor, Md.

More than 900 chapter and state council volunteer leaders attended the annual event. About 5,000 remote viewers watched the discussion via livestream. SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, moderated the panel discussion.

Booz Allen Hamilton, based in McLean, Va., offers management and information technology consulting services to federal clients, among others. To keep its own workers up-to-speed in the latest technology, it's relying more on external partners.

"We're finding we can't do it all inside," Thompson said.

The company has expanded its tuition reimbursement program to cover not only university degree programs, but also certifications and conferences. That's because technology changes occur faster than traditional programs can keep up, she said.

It's just as important for HR professionals to stay updated on the latest technologies, said Marc Howze, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Deere & Company, based in Moline, Ill. 

HR professionals must continue to train and get comfortable with data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning so they can support the business.

"That's one of the challenges that HR professionals have right now is how to continue to skill up to support the needs we'll have going forward," Howze said.

Meanwhile, Zappos' HR team is helping to create a marketplace feel within the organization so that departments like HR, which would normally be a cost center, will take a more customer-centric approach and become a profit center for the company, said Hollie Delaney, head of people operations.

Just a year after the #MeToo movement exploded on the national scene, the HR executives on the panel agreed there is lasting change within the corporate world.

"There's definitely been a change in the culture where women are expected to speak up, people are expected to behave and act appropriately. And, organizations are expected to take action and to deal with those things," Thompson said.

As shareholders demand more women board members and more women join leadership teams, "that changes the power dynamics," Howze said.

Asked how HR can gain more respect from business leaders, Thompson said HR professionals must demonstrate unflinching courage.

"They have to be willing to take a stand and advocate for the things that they feel strongly about," and not feel that they're only there to serve business leaders, she said. HR professionals "have to be able to speak truth to power, to take a position and be willing to stand on it. I think it's not something that happens frequently enough in HR."



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