CHROs Told to Focus on the Future

By Aliah D. Wright Sep 30, 2013

SAN DIEGO—The evolving role of the chief human resource officer (CHRO) was a critical focus at the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation’s 15th annual Thought Leaders Retreat, held Sept. 29-30, 2013.

“It’s been nearly 60 years since the birth of the term ‘human resources,’ ” SHRM President and CEO Henry “Hank” Jackson, CPA, said in his opening remarks to nearly 150 retreat attendees. “We’re still learning about the practice of people management, about what motivates and engages employees on the job. We’re still learning about making the most of our organizations by getting the best out of our people.”

Those challenges will continue to grow and shift as we move toward the future, according to the event’s speakers.

Ups and Downs

Referencing Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Mathew Burrows, former counselor for the National Intelligence Council and principal author of its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report (NIC, 2012), said it will be “the best of times and the worst of times” for human resource executives by 2030. Chief among the challenges will be:

  • The growth of the middle class around the world.
  • The subsequent diffusion of power worldwide.
  • The rapid extensions of life expectancy globally.
  • The ensuing demand for food, energy and water.

Now the director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council, Burrows is considered one of the world’s leading experts on global trends analysis.

David Humphreys, custom research director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, added that his organization convened peer panels of academics, business executives and other global thought leaders who said:

  • Talent shortages will continue to grow globally over the next five to 10 years, requiring HR to provide human capital analytics to aid strategic business decisions.
  • People will want more flexibility and mobility when it comes to where they work, and companies will need to meet the changing demands of these employees.
  • Cultural integration, clashes and unrest will continue to increase across the world, at both societal and corporate levels, over the next five to 10 years.

Despite this change and upheaval, in the long term, Burrows said, there are some absolute certainties when it comes to the trends corporations can expect over the next two decades.

These include:

Individual empowerment. “A vast majority of the world’s population has always been poor,” Burrows said, but “the majority of people in a majority of countries are going to be middle class, and this is going to have phenomenal repercussions.” Middle-class citizens will want better education for their children and better health care, which will “put an incredible amount of real pressure on governments.”

Diffusion of Power. “In the next 15 to 20 years you’ll see economic power shift from East to West,” he said, adding that China’s economy will be 140 percent larger than Japan’s. Technology. “We’re getting to a point where men and women are not the only ones who have ingenuity and coordination,” he observed. “Machines are getting up to the level of human skills. [Human are not only] facing competition from a much larger workforce, but they’re facing competition from technology. ... We will see where machines really do take away jobs.” In the immediate next decades more jobs will be eliminated than created.

Demography. Life expectancy will increase rapidly worldwide. For example, “Nigeria and Pakistan will see an increase of 30 to 40 percent. How do you take care of that population? In terms of aging, Japan, Germany—those two … are out front. Their median age will be those over 50; the longevity in Japan will be approaching their 90s during this period.”

Increasing demand for energy, water and food. “Some of this has to deal with climate change,” Burrows said, but “a lot of it is demographically driven by population growth and the middle class, who will want a much better diet, both in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.”

Burrows warned that HR must be prepared for these and other critical game-changers, such as governance issues due to the introduction of disruptive technologies, issues surrounding security and bioterrorism, and the perception of America’s reliability as a global superpower.

“The U.S. will not get out of its “economic slump” for a decade or more, he predicted.

Burrows added that discontent will continue to center on inequalities. We will continue to see a world where “some do extremely well and others don’t; this is something to watch, and I believe … businesses will be a target of the frustration.”

Aliah D. Wright, author of the best-selling A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, LinkedIn…and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013), manages the business leadership page for SHRM Online. Tweet with her during the SHRM Strategy Conference @1SHRMScribe.


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