The 5 future trends that HR needs to embrace

Technology is getting smaller

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I know all about BIG technology. Seriously, guys these days don’t know they’re born. I had to wear a back pack for the batteries to support my first Walkman (yeah, I know…..what’s one of those?) and that’s before I talk about my first mobile phone…..which was great. As long as you were within three minutes of a charger.  Not forgetting that it used to take a small army to return the TV to Radio Rentals when you wanted to upgrade to push button technology.

But here is the thing. Whilst hardware has got smaller, so has software. Smaller and a hell of a lot more powerful. There is a platform or solution for almost every single thing you do within the HR department. Hell, thinking about it there is probably even an app that mopes about having a seat at the table too. We should be engaging with this new small technology, seeing where it fits into our business, deploying it effortlessly and through it creating a better employee experience.

Employees are getting pickier

Which brings me on to the next point. Things are picking up out there and people are starting to think about whether they really want to spend another five, ten years dealing with the same rubbish that they’ve had to put up with since 2008. Just being big is no longer going to cut it, just being the market leader is cute, but doesn’t get you a cigar. What is it that you have that makes it a different experience for employees?

You can’t guarantee a job for life, or a gold-plated pension scheme. You probably can’t even promise decent career progression because you’ve been so busy flattening your organisational structures to take out management layers and cost. So what do you have to offer? What is it that makes you REALLY different? Why on earth should anyone work for you?

Talent is getting broader

Fortunately for you, talent pools are getting bigger. You just haven’t worked it out yet. But that’s ok, that’s what I’m here for. You can thank me later. So here’s the thing, the “war for talent” has never really been about talent, that’s just the label they put on it to scare your CEO. It was a war for qualifications and in some way skills. But that’s all about to change, because qualifications are going to become more or less obsolete.

Why? Because the things that you learn at school, at college, at university are great, but they’re going to be irrelevant to the workplace almost as soon as you graduate. Instead what you need to be looking for are the adaptable, self-learning, flexible, curious people who won’t come in to your business expecting everything to be like it was at business school. Because they never went. And these people, are everywhere, you just need to open your eyes and look differently.

Culture is becoming realer

Which brings us on to culture, or, “how things happen around here”. Because you know what? It really makes a difference. I’m not talking about trying to be Zappos or Google. You’ve got more chance of waking up alongside your secret crush of choice. Which is exactly the point. We’re all different, we like different things, we have different looks and we want different outcomes. And so do our organisations.

Being real and open about who you are as a business, accepting your lumps, bumps and blemishes, but being proud of your good bits (no matter how soft a focus is needed) is going to deliver a better performance.  Identifying who you are, getting your senior team comfortable with that and dropping the pretence of being something you’re not. Enough of the authentic leadership babble, we need to start talking about authentic business.

Reward is getting harder

Well, there had to be something that was a bit of a suck in the top five. And this is it. Because the way in which we pay individuals has been pretty static for the last fifty years. The way in which we structure reward is archaic and no longer fit for purpose. I’m not just talking about the cash that you take home to pay the bills and buy the monthly takeaway, I’m talking about the entire reward and compensation framework.

When you look at new entrants to your market, they’re offering entirely different compensation terms. And if you want to compete with these guys for the best people, then you’re going to have to think about how you pay and reward. People aren’t interested in a job for life, the benefits that you offer were drawn up by a 50-year-old white guy, some time in the 80s because they frankly just don’t cut it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the “what we offer” of most corporate websites and then tell me how inspired you are. Then think about change.

The focus of HR isn’t to be commercial: Day three of #cipd2012

A time for some final conclusions from the CIPD conference, before I jump on the train and head back to the world of work, emails and slightly irate family members wondering why I’ve been living it up in Manchester. Living it up is probably too grandiose a term, but from the time of some of the text messages I received last night/this morning, there was a party going on…..somewhere.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the matter in hand. Or the matter that should be in hand, but strangely isn’t. And by that I mean, the standard of our profession.

It seems almost a lifetime ago now that I was watching Gary Hamel on stage as the opening keynote to the conference. Gary was inspirational he was challenging. he built on the opening address from Peter Cheese. They both talked of setting a high bar for the profession, of re-engineering our purpose for the future world of work. It was heady stuff and long overdue.

But so much of what I’ve seen and experienced since then has reminded me how far we have to go. Slipping back into our comfort zone of process and procedure, of task and activity, of compliance and control. I attended a session yesterday entitled, “Commercially focused HR Business Partners” partly because I wanted a laugh and partly because I’m kind of curious about why we are still having this particular conversation. I wrote about “Commercial HR” a while back for the kind people at XpertHR. You can find that series of posts here. I also had a great conversation with FlipChartRick about this and his experience of another session, “How can HR improve its influence with the Board” and he has written a post about it here.

The thing that strikes me most is this; we should be bringing something unique to our organisations, something that other departments can’t bring and which outsourcing can’t do more cheaply. At the session on Commercial HR, I asked a question of the speakers – whether the debate about commercial HR wasn’t actually defunct and redundant and shouldn’t we talk about values led and culture led HR instead? The general consensus was that yes it was….and then they went back to discussing “commercial HR”. You see, I don’t understand how anyone can get any joy out of work without being interested in the operation of their organisation, the purpose, intent and performance. It would be like driving a car without looking out of either the windscreen or in the mirrors. In order to be of any sort of use, you need to be commercially aware, but that isn’t the same as being commercially focussed.

As Rick points out in his post, “you don’t need to do the CFO’s job but you at least need to learn his language”. Correct. You don’t need to try to outdo the experts in the room, but you do need to understand the conversations that are going on and be able to contribute. However, our focus should not be commercial. It should be something else that brings something new to the table. Can you imagine how things might have been different in some of the companies that have recently encountered “credibility” issues if they had experienced a strong voice talking about the importance of values, culture, integrity and sustainability? What is they had experienced someone working with the senior team and coaching them on tackling their challenges in a different way? Both because they understood the business, the challenges but also because they brought a different angle, a different approach to solving them?

I don’t buy this constant banging on about being commercial. I’ve never been anything else and nor have the people who I’ve recruited into my team and have worked with. I get that there are HR professionals out there that aren’t and they will never be successful, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be the focus of our profession – it is a pre-requisite to being a good business person. Our higher purpose, our contribution should be something else. Our focus should be on performance through people and the culture, values and leadership of our organisations. Really, it should. Trust me.