This is not to say, however, that HR leaders have not had a strategic role to play. For many years, HR Directors have acted as coaches to senior executives, becoming personal advisors and influencing organisational activity and decision-making. However, this role usually takes place behind the scenes and the broader HR team has not always been given the visibility and recognition that it deserves.
But things are beginning to change, particularly with ‘millennials’ entering the workforce, which is having a huge impact on how organisations are run. For example, attracting and retaining talent is now a key strategic imperative, developing leadership skills is paramount and employee engagement is once again high on the executive agenda. In light of this, senior leaders are in need of strategic advice on how their businesses can change to meet the challenges of this new environment, and this wide scale change is helping HR to evolve a more proactive role.
It is, therefore, alarming that a recent study from Oracle reveals that only three percent of employees think their HR team has a positive impact on how engaged they feel at work. Furthermore, a significant proportion say HR does a poor job in terms of such practices as ensuring rewards and pay for performance.
If HR is to successfully carve out an influential role in helping organisations respond to the challenges of a changing workplace and a dynamic workforce, it needs to have employees onside.
This is a hugely important finding. If HR is to successfully carve out an influential role in helping organisations respond to the challenges of a changing workplace and a dynamic workforce, it needs to have employees onside.
HR professionals are being offered a considerable opportunity here, with a clear requirement for a strategic advisor to the business that can ‘own’ the areas of company culture, employee engagement and the working environment – three elements that will feature prominently in the workplaces of the future. So how can HR take control of these key business issues?
Communication will clearly play a part. Within many organisations, communication is poor and HR has an opportunity to champion improved employee engagement and the smarter sharing of information. This goes hand-in-hand with cultural changes such as devolving responsibility for decision-making and increasing individual operating flexibility and autonomy.
Collaboration will become increasingly important. ‘Social’ tools are now pervasive in our leisure time and will become increasing powerful within the domain of work. The ability to readily facilitate conversations and discussions among small, empowered teams is likely to improve organisational innovation dramatically in the years to come.
While performance management is never far from the agenda, current trends suggest that significant changes might be underway in this area. Most notably, there is a movement towards informal feedback systems and regular workplace ‘check-ins’, moving away from the traditional annual appraisals. This is not to say that the development of staff through reviews is not important; far from it, talent management is critical to the health of organisations. However, existing ways of working are now being challenged.
Last but by no means least, technology has a role to play. Smartphones are now ubiquitous and for many individuals the channel of choice to meet a wide range of needs. There is an implied expectation, especially amongst ‘millenials’, that employers should be able to offer the same kind of user experience to employees at work as they already receive at home – for example, enabling staff to learn through YouTube style tutorials. Such services will be crucial in winning the war for talent.
However, for all this to happen, HR must first put its own house in order. HR is a vital function but it needs to challenge the perception of being company gatekeepers and establish itself as the beating heart of the business. To do this, HR must get the fundamentals right and implement lean yet productive processes; ones that deliver a better quality of service to the business. Once achieved, it can look to tackle board level business issues that will help it to improve its standing further.
HR needs to create a single, shareable view of the workforce which provides instant insights into concerns and issues, and can deliver measurable analysis of the success of new initiatives, training and retention measures. For example, HR must be able to show credible data relating to factors such as sick-leave, in addition to the success of measures to reduce it and the relative costs to the business of both. Such data – and the smart use of it – will give HR credibility within the organisation.
In a world where change is accelerating, the time is right for HR to seize the opportunity and become the architect and champion of transformation.
In a world where change is accelerating, the time is right for HR to seize the opportunity and become the architect and champion of transformation. Creating a culture and working environment that will engage employees today and well into the future is the starting point. The outcome should be improved organisational agility, enhanced innovation and ultimately, better business productivity and performance.
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