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Don't Just Adapt to Change—Lead It

The real winners in business today are those who thrive during times of transformation.

A man in a suit and tie posing for a photo.
​Henry G. Jackson

​What a difference a decade makes. If you want insight into how the world of work has changed in the past 10 years, you’ll enjoy the feature in this month’s issue, “6 Trends That Changed HR over the Past Decade,” that explores the trends that have altered our profession most dramatically since 2007.

Back then, succession planning and leadership development were the most pressing issues for HR. Today, organizations struggle just to bring skilled talent through the front door—never mind positioning them on the leadership bench. 

In 2007, social media was viewed by management as a threat to productivity, not the essential business tool it is today. HR analytics was in its infancy, and we were still feeling our way through the metrics. Annual reviews were the norm, as opposed to the constant feedback employees expect today. 

But between then and now, the Great Recession intervened. Organizations—and HR departments—were decimated by staffing cuts and budget reductions. By the time I stepped into the CEO role at SHRM in 2010, unemployment was still close to 10 percent, even though companies were struggling to fill highly skilled jobs in all industries.

Everyone was trying to do more with less, and there was a lot of fear and pulling back. It would have been understandable for HR professionals to hunker down and accept lower expectations. And we could have successfully adjusted to diminished circumstances. But that wasn’t good enough for us.

You see, those who simply try to weather the storm can end up being washed away by it. Think about Sears Roebuck and Eastman Kodak. Despite dominating their respective markets for more than 100 years, they missed the big opportunity to become leaders in the new digital world. 

The real winners today—individuals and businesses—don’t simply adapt to change. They get ahead of it and shape it. They lead it.

[View SHRM members' only webcast: Managing Through Change.]

Years ago, SHRM chose to prepare, purposefully and intentionally, for an indeterminate future. We knew the time was coming when organizations would need the direction and expertise of HR as never before. We could see on the horizon that workforce issues were positioning HR professionals to be leaders in business. 

So SHRM went to work, laying the strongest foundation possible so we could steadily shape the workplace of the future and cultivate a profession of leaders. We developed the SHRM Competency Model and launched new and sought-after professional certifications, the SHRM-CP and the SHRM-SCP. We expanded our resources and research, created key global partnerships, dramatically expanded membership, and launched national campaigns advocating for our profession.

Now, a decade later, we face some of the most uncertain times we’ve known. But because of our willingness to lead and grow, HR is ready. We have become influencers and trailblazers. We have helped leaders understand that people—and therefore HR—are the bridge between mission and results.

It is always enlightening to look back, but it is vital to look forward. As we prepare for the next round of challenges together, let’s make sure we do more than adapt. We must lead.

Henry G. Jackson is the president and CEO of SHRM.

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