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Guest Blogger

by David Millner

It’s a real pleasure to be involved with the Forward Thinkers initiative and I thought it was an opportune moment, having worked both in and around the HR function for over 30 years, to consider how HR can really make the difference that it should be across a wide range of organisations.  After all the engagement and connection with the workforce has never been more important than it is now, given the ongoing challenges that the pandemic has brought to every organisation across the globe.

The function has an amazing opportunity to influence the way that their organisations operate as the digital world of work continues to grow at a pace and the people implications of the pandemic hopefully become clearer over time. The impact of HR during the pandemic in terms of communication, resourcing and supporting management has played to our historic skills.  However, with change that the crisis has brought us, now is the time to drive new expectations of the people function, and from my research over 10 years, these are driven by six key themes that will create the people function of the future. This is highlighted below.

Let’s explore each of these areas:

Culture and Employee Experience Facilitator

Employee Experience will have significant implications upon the way in which people practices are designed and implemented in the future.  Employee experience relates to the perceptions and feelings of the employees towards their job experience at work whereas employee engagement is about the perceptions and feelings of the employees towards their organisation.  This will only become more important as the implications of a hybrid workforce (remote working, ‘working from here’ and working from the office) unfold.  Wherever the location is based, it’s about providing every employee with those moments that make them feel valued, supported and able to realise their potential.

To ensure that these elements are aligned and suitably prioritised, it requires a culture where leaders and managers alike put themselves in the employees’ shoes.  That means, the HR practitioner will need to:

  • Challenge leaders if existing practices, procedures and methods are constraining performance.
  • Facilitate with their leadership teams, culture-based challenges and changes especially if the hybrid working model is here to stay.
  • Realign current HR offerings to cater for future workforce experience needs, again driven by ‘life after the pandemic’.
  • Facilitate dialogue with and between people so that they can all contribute fully to research, design and delivery methods that need to be adopted to understand what the Employee Experience could look like in their organisation (for example, facilitating Design Thinking type sessions)

Design and Productivity Architect

Low productivity is a persistent global workplace issue.  Whether it is a “productivity gap” or a “productivity puzzle” the issue remains the same, insofar as a measure of productivity is about the efficiency of an employee, a machine, a factory or a business unit or indeed a process-based system that converts inputs into useful outputs.

The opportunity to make an immediate data-based impact on an organisation exists, and as people are the main resources involved here alongside automation, the HR function needs to focus far more time on this business challenge.  That means the HR practitioner will need to:

  • Work with leaders and managers to examine productivity data and understand the issues and challenges that exist.
  • Review education and learning programmes to ensure that employees and managers are able to understand how to identify productivity and process issues before they become a crisis.
  • Ensure that technology improvements truly maximise and enable improved productivity outputs.
  • Undertake organisational and job design methodologies to identify workflow improvement opportunities.
  • Utilise data to help understand how productivity changes in terms of different work settings (office vs. home based) and in terms of different performance trends such as maximizing productivity efficiency timings can drive improved organisational performance.

Data and Analytics Translator

Data and analytics are at the heart of this new digital world of work.  That does not mean that I’m trying to convert every practitioner into a statistical genius; far from it.  What I do promote is that the future HR practitioner needs to be more numerate and be able to explore data and information to elicit insights that might not normally have been identified.  Being more numerate though, is based upon a foundation of having a commercial mindset and thinking like a business leader in terms of ensuring that everything that is done has an impact upon the bottom line or for public sector organisations, impacts upon the purpose and efficiency of the services being provided.

The translator role emerged from McKinsey observations as more organisations explored technology, data and analytics in various large transformational projects and found that the data scientist role, the number cruncher, may not always be the right person to interact with the business.

The analytics translator role is about:

  • Focusing on their domain knowledge (HR, Talent Management, L&D etc.) and using data to help business leaders identify and prioritise their business problems, based upon which will create the highest value and impact when solved.
  • Being comfortable with building and presenting reports and user cases.
  • Collaborating with technical (analytics and statistics-based people) and senior management teams.
  • Managing projects, milestones and dependencies.
  • Being able to translate analysis and conclusions into compelling stories and actionable recommendations for management to take forward.
  • Being comfortable with data, metrics, measurements, analytical processes and prioritisation.

Technology Integrator

HR technology will be a crucial enabler for the people function moving forward, in terms of defining and supporting new technology-based process design. This will support the desired employee experience that is being talked about.  There will be a need to provide a clear focus on efficiency, effectiveness and engagement throughout all the people practices.  This will be increasingly relevant as the continued automation of efficient 24/7 talent and people practices through for example chatbots etc. continues to advance at speed.  Underpinning this will be the change management process as digital based transformations will be ongoing and will require HR practitioners to be able to master these transitions as a part of the change.

As a result of this the HR practitioner needs to:

  • Have a greater understanding about technology; namely what developments are coming HR’s way and the impact they can have upon the workforce’s capability to deliver to their customers.
  • Become more involved in technology and see what it can enable the people function to achieve in terms of business outcomes and data-based insights.
  • Develop their digital related capabilities through pilots or user testing new technologies that will enable them to learn through first-hand experience as to how to use the technology and offer pragmatic feedback.

Talent Practices Enabler

HR needs to continue to attract, retain, develop and maximise the performance of the organisation’s talent at all levels. At the heart of the challenge is the need to obtain and demonstrate “value for money” and it’s important to remember that, the majority of roles in an organisation are undertaken by solid and competent performers not necessarily the organisation’s superstars or high potentials.

The rise of automation is raising expectations about what technology can do to improve and enhance most elements of the employee life cycle.  However, there do seem to be four key fundamental practices which seem to be at the heart of a solid and differentiating talent management strategy, namely:

  1. Recruitment, selection, assessment and feedback:It remains crucial to generate objective insights about an individual’s capability that allows the organisation to both understand the strengths of that employee but also to better differentiate their investment by focusing on those elements that add the greatest value to the organisation and also fully engages the individual in their work.
  2. Performance dialogue:The need to connect with the employee becomes really important as dialogue opportunities become under even more work pressure than ever before with remote working.  The need to improve an individuals’ contribution to the business through mutual goal setting, coaching, feedback and reviews remain a vital part of everyone’s responsibility and drives the workforce’s experience at work, their level of engagement with what they are being asked to do and their commitment to the organisation’s purpose.
  3. Learning, development and coaching:Talk about the employee experience raises the opportunity to improve an individuals’ capabilities and behaviours so that they can increase their performance.  The personalisation of learning, through technology, is vital to ensuring that the employee takes as much responsibility for their development as the organisation does with the provision of personalised solutions such as videos, blogs etc. that are ‘bite sized’ and highly relevant to job performance.
  4. Talent planning:As the speed of disruption increases, the ability to be able to have a clear and focused understanding of the organisation’s talent becomes more crucial.  This is about looking at both future business critical roles, succession planning, and also having a clear appreciation of the resourcing demands of an organisation over a six to twelve-month period through workforce planning.  Both are challenging to execute but with more reliable and relevant data this can change.

As a result of this the HR practitioner needs to:

  • Be able to clearly identify the expected business outcomes of any talent management process.
  • Ensure that these practices are adopted and reviewed critically, with data to ensure that business impact is being realised.
  • Ensure there are clear lines of ownership from the business for the expected business outcomes that the practices should drive. Talent management after all exists to solve business problems.
  • Retain a balance between simplicity and complexity when designing talent practices; it’s all about obtaining leaders and management’s “buy in” and developing their ability to implement the solutions.
  • Ensure there is an expectation to measure the ROI of the talent practice and their role in identifying and collecting data that can subsequently be used to assess the viability of the process.
  • Ensure that the business always focuses on the best rather than just “making do”; the importance of standards is crucial to driving performance from the workforce.

Educator and Coach

If you’re an experienced HR practitioner, you probably think coaching is what you’ve already been doing for years, namely helping managers and leaders deal with people-based issues and requirements.  This support will remain a vital element to help executives, leaders and managers achieve their potential in their organisational leadership-based role.  The ongoing speed of change in the people practices and the advent of more technology means that the coaching role will take on an increased importance; technology will only do so much, it still needs the leaders and managers to communicate with, engage with and support their workforce.

As a result of this the HR practitioner needs to:

  • Ensure that they are commercially credible from a business point of view as well as being up to date in terms of talent management/HR domain knowledge.
  • Be able to address both the people-based issues and opportunities that occur as well as drive a more detailed understanding about how a leader or manager could improve their performance at work.
  • Give continued direction, guidance and support to leaders and managers, most of whom will be more senior and perceived to have more experience than the practitioner.
  • Motivate leaders and managers to take personal action by creating compelling stories and messages that convince them to make changes in the way they operate.

The key to this is for HR to focus on attaining new and more demanding deliverables by creating and shaping a new roadmap. The challenge for HR is to find those business opportunities and turn them into new ways of operating driven by new mind-sets across the profession that focus as much on the commercial elements as much as the people solutions.

There we have it:  the HR function is facing some of the most exciting challenges it has had to face for some time and for the practitioners across the whole of HR, the time to shine is here now.  We collectively have to engage with leaders and the workforce and demonstrate how we as a function can deal with disruptions and emerge stronger than ever before – it’s over to you now!

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