The vicissitudes of the new-age HR role
Suddenly the HR manager feels more and more like Alice in Wonderland! It seems like in the blink of an eye, the terminologies used in HR forums and seminars have changed. Last she remembers, the concerns centered around whether the Bell Curve had a future? What competencies are required for an HR team in the coming years? How to keep operating through the turmoil of the VUCA world? What is the criticality of the role of a CHRO especially in a company’s board? Not anymore!
Invariably, every other HR conference or seminar is about technology in HR. The new age lingo in HR is technology-infused and about automated recruitment, Cloud-based HR, gig economy, artificial intelligence, machine learning, HR analytics, chatbots, virtual learning centers — and this is just the top-of-mind recall. Suddenly, there is more technology happening in HR than anywhere else in the company, and the rate of change is dizzying. Before the existing technology trends find acceptance in a company, HR is being pushed to up the ante and adopt the next level of technology automation. The speed at which technology is permeating HR seems like an interstellar journey from the big-bang to black hole all within a short span!
The HR manager is already expected to be a maverick juggler with an inexhaustible talent of juggling infinite balls that represent employee management, engagement, career planning, succession planning, performance enhancement & compensation, L&D, and employee emotion management, in addition to corporate strategy and top-line focus. And if this was not enough, technology has added another set of juggling balls, not as a replacement but in addition to the existing ones. So while the first set is already in the air, the HR manager has to juggle the new set simultaneously with each ball having an equal-weighted KRA linked to it. Drop one ball and there goes a part of the performance-linked variable pay!
But how does the HR manager get to enhance these juggling skills? There is no masterclass or coaching for this since HR, it seems, is always work-in-progress and the speed of change is governed by factors outside the control of HR in the realm of business exigencies. They all originate in HRs Circle of Concern and with a blink of an eye, shift through the Circle of Influence to the Circle of Control. And lo and behold, HR suddenly becomes the custodian of new processes and systems that encompass employees, businesses, cities, countries, and continents!
As if the speed and span of change were not enough, HR is now being told that technology is fine but not enough too. The questions being asked are: how is HR measuring the increase in productivity as a consequence of technology? What tools have we in place to measure the impact of technology on productivity? What has the HR planned to upskill employees on new technology and keep them ready to take up even higher levels of tech adoption?
While HR technology is keeping pace with the global trends, HR governance is still steeped in age-old legal binds. The changes in labor laws in the last few decades have been cosmetic with no fundamental shift in the compliances regarding employees and workforce. Out of the 44 Labour Laws, just a handful, like Provident Fund, have had moderate automation. This is just a drop in the big-bad ocean where the noose is tightening for non-compliance but virtually no technical support in easing adherence to compliance. The multiplicity of agencies, authorities, definitions, timelines, forms, and returns, can sway the bravest of HR manager. But the formalities are ever increasing and never liberating.
As a practicing HR professional, I have witnessed the march of an HR manager from within and outside. What was once a congruous and cohesive personnel department where workmen management intertwined with labor law compliance, HR has today become a multi-faced hydra with super specialty verticals within it. Today, the innocuous HR Head is addressed by innumerable nomenclatures – Chief People Officer, Chief HR Officer, Chief Talent Officer, Chief Happiness Officer, Chief People Business Officer, Chief Mentor, and Chief Talent Specialist. This is just a reflection of the change in the management desires in the role that the HR plays within the company and the employee brand it plans to build for the potential candidates.
Irrespective of the name assigned, the role of the HR Head is as much that of a risk manager as an employee enabler. While on one hand, the HR Head has to ensure that the company is risk-free from all statutory compliances and commitments; on the other hand, it has to be a benevolent mentor who guides and leads the company from one growth trajectory to the next. And facilitating profitability targets of the company is always the final performance parameter for HR. In the best of times, this is ensured by hiring the best talent to lead the emerging business opportunities; and in trying times, it has to be effortlessly changed to make the teams lean and effective despite downsizing.
Although it is expected that the HR Head has the CEO and Board’s ear, it is also expected that the HR Head has his/her own ears to the ground and sense employee expectations. While the HR head’s role is of a conscience keeper of the top management, it is also of a coach and a counselor to the teams below... As it pushes the company to the realms of new technology and ease of doing business, it is still to ensure that all paperwork is recorded and all documents sealed for audit. But the ultimate role is to ensure that the HR contributes to the company’s top line, while the bottom line targets are achieved year-on-year, and employee expectations are met.
Today’s HR manager’s role is that of a maverick artist who has his feet rooted in technology. As the world of work and personal lives blend for employees, super exciting days await the HR ahead. It is not long before the HR manager becomes the God-mother to the employee’s children, a career counselor to the young professionals, and a comfort-giver to the senior team leaders. All this while ensuring that the green bucks keep flying in, and the performance numbers keep hitting the jackpot.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the HR crown!