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Too often, the mere mention of Human Resources generates an expected eye roll or yawn. Unfortunately, the traditional administrative HR function is incapable of engaging company leadership as a trusted business advisor. HR continues to operate as an afterthought, a function focused on the administrative or tactical while at the same time “aligning people strategy with business strategy”. The very idea of having to align “people strategy” and “business strategy” reinforces the mistaken notion they are disparate or unalike – they are not, they are irrevocably interdependent!
In an article recently published by the Society of Human Resources (SHRM), Susan Milligan notes, “The role of the HR professional has changed dramatically along with the workforce and economy, and that evolution will continue as machines and technology replace tasks once performed by humans. But that doesn’t make people―or the HR teams that work with them―any less important. Tomorrow’s HR leaders will need to be bigger, broader thinkers, and they’ll have to be tech-savvy and nimble enough to deal with an increasingly agile and restless workforce.” As the market continues to develop and deploy powerful digital tools, the need for people and talent experts, not compliance and administrative experts, grows increasingly apparent.
The reality for most modern companies is “strategic HR” remains an aspirational buzzword. We have been talking about this evolution for well over a decade. HR as a function is not in need of an evolution, it is in need of radical revolution. Our future business environment demands it. The key to successful people and talent management revolution is twofold: develop strong technology partners that support optimizing the administrative, and double down on investing capital and energy into developing a change-agile, continuously-learning, digitally-savvy workforce.
Automate and Optimize
When looking for examples of digital disruption in human resource management, look no further than payroll, benefits administration and recruiting. According to a Deloitte study published in 2014, 90% of companies already use employee self-service payroll solutions to optimize administration. When it comes to benefits-administration automation, the numbers speak for themselves. A recent CFO.com survey found it costs $109.48 to manually enroll an employee in benefits versus $21.79 when the employee self-enrolls using an online platform. Finally, over 80% of executives believe AI can improve productivity and performance in areas like recruiting and talent pipeline management. It is no wonder that a recent Brookings Institution study found “roughly 70% of administrative tasks were considered routine and predictable, prime targets to be managed by machines.” The future of HR is changing because the present reality of administration has already changed.
Observing and understanding the widespread automation of all things administrative doesn’t require a crystal ball. The same digital disruption driving a growing skills gap in manufacturing, healthcare, professional services and a host of other industries has permanently altered the way we serve and support people. The question isn’t should we digitally enhance our administrative and tactical functions, it is how long can we survive without doing so? As people and talent experts, we have to refocus our energy on strategic talent development. We have to create leaders capable of creating other leaders if we want to remain competitively viable in a market characterized by constant, rapid change and technology-enabled disruptors.
The Future of HR: Strategic Leadership Development
The data are clear when it comes to leadership: if you are not successful at building an effective executive and middle management layer, sustainable change is highly unlikely. Developing a broad base of leadership skills across an organization isn’t a one-time task but a set of ongoing strategic initiatives that require oversight and investment. By building business-savvy people from within we not only address the present leadership gap (less than half of businesses believe leadership is a strength) and ensure better cultural fit, we grow our next generation of leaders.
Millennials are already the largest generation in the workplace and will account for approximately 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent by 2030 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. As the generation straddling the digital divide, millennials have different expectations of employers than lazy stereotypes often suggest. While it is true they prefer flexibility and weigh social responsibility heavily when considering career decisions, they see leadership and professional development as cornerstone to their corporate loyalty. A 2018 Deloitte study found millennials who report satisfaction with development opportunities (mentoring, coaching, training, etc.) are twice as likely to stay with a company compared to those who are unsatisfied.
The future of HR isn’t about process automation, artificial intelligence and big data for the sake of technology. The future of HR is about making the most important things most important. Simply put, if you aren’t prioritizing strategic talent development due to administrative or tactical distractions, you are failing to address the stated preferences of the largest constituency in the talent pool.
The Future is Bright…Should You Accept the Mission
The good news about the future of HR is that the path ahead is promising! Those of us who develop strong partnerships to help tackle the tactical in favor of the strategic have an opportunity to grow our influence and impact. “I think we’re going to see HR positions [develop] in such a way that [they] will probably be one of the most sought-out professions in the enterprise,” says Jill Goldstein, global practice lead for talent and HR operations at management consulting firm Accenture in the Miami area. “I can envision a future where HR professionals are no longer thinking that their job is to stay on top of current HR trends, but to reposition [themselves] to become workforce advisors.” When your leadership team describes you, are you known for dealing with people problems or are you a trusted business advisor?