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What will the role of HR look like in the future?

HR practices have changed drastically over the last few years, what with the need to manage Generation Z, the rise of remote work and the home office, “quiet quitting”, and the accelerating digital transformation. Given all these changes, it’s hardly surprising that HR is now a strategic consideration for businesses, high on the executive team’s agenda.

Talent management

Over the last few years, HR teams have had to deal with contradictory demands — simultaneously managing voluntary and/or compulsory redundancy plans while trying to build loyalty among their remaining employees and attract new talent.

Today, in a competitive recruitment market where skills are rarer, companies need to treat their employees like customers and the applicants that they are looking to attract like prospective customers. With the dynamics between a business and its employees more than ever like a commercial relationship, HR departments increasingly have to provide services to employees, and deliver them to a high level of quality.

To achieve their objectives, there are two avenues HR teams can take: the first is to radically refocus on their core function of managing people, and the second is to adopt an HR marketing approach.

People are central to the transformation

It is possible for the HR department to pass whole sections of its current role (payroll, administration, training purchases, etc.) on to external service providers or internal specialists (legal, finance, purchasing, etc.). This means applying an outsourcing decision model to the HR function, and transferring technical tasks to experts so that the HR team can concentrate on their core role.

This is important because, with remote working having become mainstream since the pandemic, some staff are finding their work less meaningful and may even have become disengaged. Consequently, it’s vital to share information and data to maintain employees’ connection to the business and ensure that teamwork remains a core value.

Another very important thing that the HR department must do is listen to employee voices. To offset the physical distance and take the temperature within the business, it is vital to give staff the opportunity to make their views known directly, whether that be through scheduled group discussions or regular surveys.

This issue extends to modes of work and team management processes — previously underpinned by direct, permanent channels of communication that disappeared overnight. Traditional managerial practices have been replaced by something different: the notion of trust.

HR marketing

The second avenue is to borrow tools from marketing. To take an HR marketing approach, we start by identifying the “target market” (staff, managers, the executive team, applicants, etc.). This target market is then segmented into subsets, by asking people about their expectations and perceptions, and ensuring their feedback is taken into account. Through this process, the HR marketing approach enables HR departments to provide a tailored range of services.

This provides an opportunity not only to reinforce links with employees, but also to enhance their employer brand and therefore the business’s attractiveness. Just like any other kind of marketing, this approach rests first and foremost on a detailed understanding of the target market: who are the company’s employees and what do they want?

To find out, a detailed analysis is called for. This exercise is complicated by the fact that several different generations are represented within the organisation, each with differing expectations, needs, values and behaviours.

Once a framework has been established, the next task is to develop a targeted response, in the form of an “HR promise” based on a clear value proposition. Then it’s time to envision and build an HR offering that is in line with the company’s strategic priorities.

This approach will see HR directors make a greater contribution to the organisation’s overall strategy, positioning themselves as business partners and developing their departments in a way that supports the organisation’s attractiveness and talent retention.

The accelerating digital transformation

The HR function will also need to keep up with technological change by accelerating its digital transformation. This will come through HRISs and cloud-based solutions tailored to the new challenges, and more generally through the use of new modes of communication that will improve the quality of service provided to both staff and the executive team, on one hand, and service providers and applicants, on the other.

HR directors will also need to rethink work environments, to make physical spaces more conducive to communication, teamwork and creativity, while capitalising on digital workplaces. The time has come for them to redefine the contours and practices of the different workplaces used by their business, with staff on site, at home offices and working from other locations, to produce an agile and productive model for the future.

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