Managing humans, their work behaviour and performance is a relatively new challenge in the history of employment. When people had lesser skill sets and little or no opportunities to work elsewhere, worsened by challenges of geographical mobility, they continued to work for their employer even if they were abused or exploited in the pre-modern era of work. Employers never found a need to ‘manage people better’ as there were similar skills available in abundance and at the same or cheaper cost.
Modern studies and research of the 20th century have attempted to give structure to managing people better and the need of doing so. Throughout the evolution of organisations through various eras from mechanisation to industrialisation to information to digitalisation (industry 4.0) and now the new normal post-COVID, professionals have kept asking prudent questions and been pushed to add different tools to their armory to achieve performance and results.
The impact on people's practices is also an outcome of change in several other areas including social, political, environmental, regulatory, cultural and many more. These determine changes in behavior patterns, needs, and aspirations of people, which in turn impel professionals in HR to adapt, influence, and innovate. Digitisation and now COVID has brought strong acceptance of work from anywhere as an acceptable norm, but this leaves the entire ecosystem to grapple with newer questions and challenges – from layoffs, to hiring freeze in the pandemic, to the Great Resignation, to the talent/compensation war and so on.
Now the question which HR professionals need to ask themselves is, can people practices be evolved ahead of the ecosystem? Can we predict scenarios of the future and hence have solutions ready to take care of them? Is there a way to not only determine people's challenges digitally, but also solve them?
New HR skills will be needed
Organisations in future will be far more digital and large proportions of the workforce will be highly digitally savvy. Digital organisations will be much smaller/leaner in size and many of them will embrace working from anywhere, including their homes or while on vacations. And digital working will create a highly developed need to work with freedom. This desire for freedom will be much more pronounced than even what we hear now.
In such a working world, the need for people to socialise isn’t going anywhere, and there will be increased loneliness. People will have an unspoken need for someone to share their thoughts with and to hear them with care and compassion. This role was manifested well by the employee relations teams of yesteryear, and it will evolve into a new form in the future. To manage the sentiments, moods, aspirations, and conflicts of the digitised workforce, the HR team would need to be trained better on understanding human psychology and people dynamics. There is already an abundance of data and insights available through various channels to analyse; however, human conflicts are always about emotions and less about logic.
More managerial skills will be needed
The managers of the future have a daunting task on their hands. They will be managing smaller teams, younger teams (at times two or more generations younger than themselves), teams that are highly tech enabled, much better connected, much more aware, and able to work on solutions in the blink of an eye. To handle such a working team, managers will need better guidance and training on managing the work conflicts, aspirations and performance of people whom they hardly meet in person. Traditional training may not work and even the much-touted e-learning and gamification solutions may not help in most cases.
Managers will also be challenged by managing their team’s performance. Measuring performance and productivity has undergone a sea change: from no performance incentive to production led incentives, to productivity driven incentives on shop floor, to variable salaries linked to certain objectives/KRAs of the year, to now more conversation based regular performance evaluation and bonuses. Managers will need deeper training on networks, connections, and mentoring to be seen as career coaches by their respective teams. HR would need to keep re-assessing this need to tweak the learning patterns and programs for their managers and leaders.
The essence of company culture must change
The very concept of culture emanates from common shared behaviors manifested at work. The solution may perhaps lie in having team culture and values define the team’s goals, purpose, and role in the organisation, rather than the company’s culture and values. This would bring stronger accountability and interdependence within teams rather than set behavioral norms that are difficult to experience and accept within the new models of working. This would be a sea change in the way HR and leadership has demonstrated the ways of working till now.
To summarise, current models of talent management, performance, employee relations, culture, and people development, may not be applicable in similar ways in the new age of working. HR teams should be better equipped to make sense out of technology, better trained in understanding mindsets, and should be able to bring customised, at times individualised, solutions to the table.