The HR function of the future (Part 1 in series)

man sitting on a park bench with a laptop drinking coffee and talking on his cell phone

The urgent call came on a Friday night. Our CHRO client learned the agenda for their company’s executive offsite that Monday had shifted from business as usual to how the organization would transform in light of automation. Each leader must be prepared to answer the question: “How do see your function changing to address the new realities of work?” The CHRO called us for help. Essentially, what follows is the perspective we shared with him.

Emerging workplace realities

Workplace automation is nearly doubling in the next three years, resulting in the need for breakthrough approaches in Human Resources. To keep pace, HR will need to meet the challenges of changing skill requirements and an increasingly diverse workforce, composed of permanent talent as well as contingent and freelance. In other words, HR will be at the center of workforce productivity.

Where HR once partnered with the business on talent and reward plans to engage an employee base that was benchmarked year-over-year, what’s since emerged are agile teams with temporary assignments and personalized rewards. Traditional benchmarks become less important when career paths are evolving into portfolios of broad and nonlinear work experiences.

HR will increasingly need to weigh in on the optimal combinations of human talent and automation, and the implications of these new combinations from a risk, productivity and talent experience perspective if the function hopes to remain relevant and vital to the organization.

What’s clear is the work of HR is changing. Just as work found in other occupations is being transformed, so too will the work of HR shift:

From… To…
Partnering with the business Integrating work and talent experiences
Engaging high labor intensity, low skill premiums Engaging lower labor intensity, high skill premiums
Designing talent and rewards solutions Applying talent science to optimize total rewards
Delivering on the employee value proposition Delivering on the talent value proposition for employees as well as contingent workers
Leveraging HR enterprise platforms with basic workflow Leveraging AI-enabled HR for actionable insights

3 new HR imperatives

This means HR will need to re-think work and talent management, redefine the talent experience, and re-envision HR solutions. It also means HR will be doing less work in terms of broad-based planning around the workforce and instead actively match skills and talent to priority work. Finally, it means
HR will have to delve more deeply into data to draw meaningful insights around talent.

To that end, data analytics has become real talent science, as machine learning can uncover relevant linkages to optimize talent, reward and well-being strategies for workforce segments. For example, one bank applied more than 70 attributes (e.g. performance, skills, attendance, absence, engagement data, demographic and personality data) of its workforce to determine the strongest linkages for success in its sales work. They found the combination of some sales experience, completion of onboarding programs prior to full-field sales activity and candidates without graduate degrees were more successful within their first year in the role.

HR also needs to further focus on change and collaboration with a broader array of stakeholders, including those in risk management, IT and information security to create a savvy cyber IQ in the organization. As automation takes over work deemed dangerous today, HR will be critical in defining how the nature of human work is changing, working closely with the risk management on how the risk profile is shifting and impacting the requisite insurance levels.

Quite frankly, in most organizations, the HR function needs to be overhauled. Why?

In most companies:

  • Change is actually occurring more frequently inside their organizations than outside of it (as shifts from legacy to new and mixed combinations compound the total amount of change)
  • Winning the race for talent is all about speed to the talent, which may include both permanent and non-permanent (such as part-time, contingent, freelance and organization alliances)
  • Jobs as we once knew them will be far more dynamic, with shorter assignments and more or less skills being required for the work
  • Programs must be constantly calibrated and iterated so they are relevant to dynamic circumstances

A new HR model

HR needs a new model, one that’s designed around work and talent — not just jobs. A model that will enable and influence change in the organization, and will integrate a broader array of stakeholders and contributors to the organization.

What will that model look like? We’ll discuss in our next post.


John Jones, director of Talent & Rewards at Willis Towers WatsonCo-author John Jones is the Talent Business Leader, North America, at Willis Towers Watson.

About Tracey Malcolm

Tracey Malcolm is the Global Future of Work Leader in the Human Capital & Benefits practice. She works with l…
Categories: Employee Engagement, Employee rewards, Employee Wellbeing, Future of Work | Tags: , , ,

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