Major Shift in HR’s Role Predicted

Profession must pick up ‘glacial’ pace and move with the times, researcher says

By Dori Meinert September 15, 2015

Major changes in the world of work will occur over the next decade that will require a tectonic shift in the concept of HR as a profession, a group of high-level HR professionals, academicians and other thought leaders are predicting.

Progress within HR has occurred at a “glacial” pace and isn’t keeping up with the rapid acceleration of change in the world as a whole, said John Boudreau, research director at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

“There is this tipping point. This profession is in danger of simply not being relevant to the demands that are going to be there for it and the opportunities that are going to be there for it,” said Boudreau, who presented the findings of a two-year inquiry involving 40chief human resource officers and other thought leaders to senior leaders at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Sept. 11, 2015.

The group interviewed 22 CEOs who said HR professionals aren’t meeting business leaders’ expectations, especially in the areas of analytics, business acumen, risk management, executive business strategy, change management, talent management, organizational and culture shaping, and leadership architecting.

The group also identified five forces of change that are transforming the workplace:

  • Technological breakthroughs are creating exponential disruptions on markets and business.
  • The increased democratization of work is shifting businesses away from hierarchy and toward more power-balanced organizations and communities wherein relationships are less employment-based and more project-based.
  • The increasing connectedness through mobile devices is empowering jobs to be done from anywhere by a network of freelancers.
  • New corporate and social policies are enabling work to be distributed around the globe with 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operations.
  • Advances in analytics, algorithms and automation continue to improve productivity and decision-making. Smarter computing is increasingly automating and abolishing mundane tasks previously performed by humans.

Successful businesses will respond to these changes by using flexible, distributed and transient workforces that adapt to rapid cycles of business reinvention, the group predicted. They’ll use diverse employment models which will include part-time, full-time and freelance individuals along with outsourced functions. Organizations will also shift tasks from people to machines or robots by mastering big data.

To ensure success for their organizations in the future, business leaders will need to adjust their focus to: trend forecasting and change leadership, talent sourcing and community building, organization and performance architecture, culture and community activism, and operational excellence.

HR roles in the future might include titles such as: organizational engineer, virtual cultural architect, data talent and technology integrator, global talent scout, convener and coach, and social policy and community activist, they predict. But the individuals who fill these roles won’t necessarily be from HR, Boudreau said.

SHRM, through its affiliate HR People + Strategy, plans to help disseminate the research and encourage discussions of what changes HR professionals need to make to meet the needs of the future workplace, said Jeff Pon, SHRM’s chief human resources and strategy officer.

The research was funded by SHRM, the National Academy of Human Resources and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In addition to Pon and Boudreau, the core team on the research project included Ian Ziskin, president of EXec EXcel Group LLP; Debra Engel, director and advisor to several Silicon Valley organizations; Scott Pitasky, executive vice president and chief partner resources officer for Starbucks Coffee; Jill Smart, president of the National Academy of Human Resources; and Richard Antoine, past president of the academy and formerly the global human resources officer at Procter & Gamble.


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