Article: Is it time for a HR makeover?

Strategic HR

Is it time for a HR makeover?

How can HR be ‘disruptive’ and win a war in the 21st century against challenges of technology, increasing workforce diversity and macroeconomic shifts? Let’s find out!
Is it time for a HR makeover?

While technology seems to have solved a lot of administrative inefficiencies in HR, it has also exposed a serious imagination deficit in HR professionals


Everywhere I look, I find everyone talking of change. In context of HR and its future, a lot has been speculated and debated – from whether we will need HR at all to how HR function will look like or what kind of value should it bring. I see both the extremes underpinning a common concern – How does HR stay relevant? 

We all possibly know and have debated in countless forums on how the HR-Business marriage can be saved! My fundamental worry with this checklist of ‘Expectations from HR’ is probably not what HR needs to do in future but whether HR itself has the right capabilities in its team to pull it off. We seem to be aiming for future HR impact with lofty goals, roadmaps and fancy HR products in the market, but still have no radical change in the ‘skillsets’ we look to hire today for our own teams from the ones we hired half a decade back! How does HR with all honest intentions expect to be ‘disruptive’ and win a war in the 21st century with bow and arrow shooters?

I essentially see critical implications of this in the way HR must relook at its own talent inventory before drafting its charter. The New Age HR Capability Model must have a core of building HR functional expertise but the real propellers and game changers are going to be five other new HR Avatars.

The New Age HR Capability Model

The New Age HR Capability Model

HR: The Indispensable Expert

I have sadly heard so many times for HR than any other function – “Anyone can do HR’s job” to “If I can take interviews and deliver mentoring sessions for my team members, do I really need HRBP?? Maybe only to maintain scale rather than quality.” With over simplification of HR discipline where any fresh MBA/grad can possibly run your company’s interviews or training sessions, HR as a practice often struggles to be seen as indispensable as finance, marketing or IT – in fact it is often perceived as most liquid and tradable in case of a business exigency. Building an HR specialist talent in form of Tech HR Champs (HRIS, LMS, ATS, Mobile) Social Recruiters, Psychometric Docs, Competency Gurus, Comp and Ben Analysts, Instructional Designers, OD Specialists, Regulatory Experts) is the most basic value HR can bring to the business.

HR: The New Business Blog

A lot has been heard and deliberated in countless HR seminars and panels about how HR should or can be more aligned and productive for the business and truly be a ‘business partner’. In this context, it is painfully ironic to observe a baffling sense of aversion amongst HR professionals with basic company P&L and a thorough understanding of core business metrics! Try asking your last quarter’s revenue and YoY growth from your HR team and in most cases you are oncourse for an unpleasant surprise. HR often shoots itself in its foot when it fails to understand the basics of the business it strives to partner.In a VUCA world, where mass hiring, mass layoffs, cost cuts, acquisitions and geographical expansions are a frequent business reality, HR professionals must be on top of their business to effectively deliver and manage the people side of these realities. They must be capable to add personal value to conversations about markets, new products, customers, competition, financials and operations of the business. Without this basic business and financial literacy, HR professionals cannot even imagine shaping a business-centric people and organization agenda and are likely to be restricted to a transactional or administrative value.

HR: The King of UX

Gamification, HR ERP, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), immersive learning etc. are no longer alien concepts in HR. There is no reason why an organization or employees designing swanky mobile app for its customers should or will settle for anything lesser for its HR mobile product. Highly immersive induction games, cartoonified policy booklets, a cool mobile app to apply for leaves/record your claims/submit performance review, interview blogs with CEO, creative buzz building campaigns – design thinking and creative writing are two critical skillsets needed in HR teams to deliver an exceptional ‘user experience’ for Gen Ys. I strongly believe that while technology seems to have solved a lot of HR administrative inefficiencies, it has also exposed a serious imagination deficit in HR professionals and left a welcome space for UX talent and seasoned content writing skills in HR teams.

Whether it’s a new HR ERP implementation or a new LMS, it’s the design imagination and creative usability ideas from the partnering HR team which can make a decisive difference in employee experience once the rubber hits the road. It’s time to see HR champions sensitised with UX basics push the ERP vendor not only for accuracy of an employee’s leave data on the new portal but insist a need for a neater tab design, to reduce a couple of clicks for an employee and strive for a superior employee experience.

With organizations cutting through borders and standard work timings, e-mail communications are the most critical and potent engagement mediums and there is a dire need for HR professionals who are seasoned, agile and creative writers. Announcing good or bad news, drafting a launch mail for a new HR initiative, writing an engaging write-up on internal social blog, it is not unusual to see young HR talent either playing too safe and go traditional and plain Jane (which understandably land into junk mails) or take an eternity for the hallowed draft to be ready. You simply can’t force people to read emails – may be it's time to don the adman hat and give your product a makeover. Doordarshan can be an inspiration. Written communication lies at the heart of HR communication and sadly is one the least nurtured skillsets in HR professionals – no surprise why even a sizable number of CHROs today would prefer to outsource or delegate their critical organization level communication emails, sadly losing a high impact connect opportunity.

HR: The Mean Marketer

Over the last decade, the Big Data and Social Media have virtually revolutionized the way world thinks and communicates. In context of HR, the disruptive effects of these call for ‘social media specialists’ and ‘mini data scientists’ powering the HR camp. 

Having a company Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn page is far from being an established and engaging employer brand on social media. Our employer brand strategy makers as well as executors need to thoroughly understand the intricacies of digital and social media marketing – a skill level no less than a professional social marketing talent in our marketing team.Having an in-house designer talent with mastery in design and authoring tools like Photoshop, Articulate etc., HR must be self-sufficient and have its own mini-design-factory – significantly reducing painful dependencies on local marketing/design teams for even basic HR communication.

The same is true for data. With high-end HR ERP, LMS’s, Social Job Networks, Compensation Benchmarks at our disposal, the amount of relevant talent data accessible to HR is staggering. What is missing is talent intelligence – an in-house skill for an incisive data analytics powering crucial talent decisions in hunting, evaluating and rewarding top talent. At the moment, HR analytics is largely ’reconciling’  in nature (basic HR dashboard with joiners, exits, budgets etc.) while the business need is to have HR graduate to a more predictive as well as prescriptive analysis role and connect the dots for vital people insights like expected retention, performance, engagement, fitment, employee’s preferences etc. 

Given the potential of social media to attract and engage today’s talent and the amount of data HR has access to, I would seriously consider to trade off one generalist/recruiter/trainer for a professional social media expert or a data analyst in my HR team for a diverse team composition. 

HR: The Culture Activist

Does your HR team and leaders represent your organization’s DNA? HR unarguably is and must be the custodian of the organization’s culture and conscience. It’s a must to revisit the ethical and culture index of each HR team member as a lot of times rule makers very often survive breaking them, leading to rather embarrassing role models in HR, invoking a poor internal credibility and trust for the function.

Evangelists of culture must also be powerful communicators – confident and well poised public speakers who have the ability to engage, story tell and influence their audience. I have observed plenty of HR careers stalling just by spending way too much time behind laptops rather than people! Just like the written communication, enthusing oratory skill is crucial for HR practitioners to build relationships, and gain trust of employees and key stakeholders. If we want HR to lead and sell critical change initiatives, we ought to have talent who can communicate, reason, mentor and inspire the community around them.

HR: The Ultimate Finisher

One common image issue with HR is often around limited execution ability in sync with dynamic business needs. Initiatives either take too long or lose steam midway after a big bang start. This is somewhere related to an evident skill scarcity around managing high expectations and more importantly long-term projects with moving targets. Just like our cricket captain MS Dhoni, business needs a finisher in HR who can clinically plan and deliver a far-fetched goal even in unpredictable business conditions, learning to live with greys, thrive in ambiguities with a relentless focus on end result. This finishing edge also requires skillsets of a master negotiator – for getting that C-level recruitment handshake, driving change implementation, moderating the super-heated talent pool debates or employee forums and of course,winning the compensation budgets from CFO!

Change is difficult but not changing is fatal!

The writing on the wall is for a change and every function including HR is reengineering its fabric to suit to the exciting but unpredictable weather ahead. As they say, the best change happens from within. Is your HR team ready with the right skillsets and ammunition to deliver in the face of disruptive business models as well as technology, increasing workforce diversity and macroeconomic shifts? There cannot be a better time for HR Leaders to objectively evaluate and decisively challenge the talent composition of their teams vis a vis the dynamic businesses they are partnering and capabilities they are expected to deliver. And remember, to me these new talent compositions are only the ‘new qualifiers’ for the race. In the coming decade, this eventful interplay of economies between the new age business models, employee demographics, technological shifts, and actual skillsets in the market may  give birth to new formalized HR disciplines with exciting roles and careers of what HR may not even be a suitable title! 

To sum it up, HR today doesn’t need a boost, its due for a metamorphosis. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, HR Technology, #HR Ready

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