HR’s capabilities are shifting – are you prepared?


The pandemic made HR an organisation’s most important asset, says this HR expert. So what’s next for the people function?

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for HRM about the Critical HR skills that all leaders and managers should have. To my surprise, I was inundated with feedback from all over the world, from HR and business leaders alike, sharing the view that HR skills are now a must-have for the modern-day leader.

Many people would argue that the HR function has become an organisation’s most important asset, and although I may be biased, I completely subscribe to this view and believe the best is yet to come.

For a long time, we have been working for ‘a seat at the table’ and the pandemic has secured us the seat and the table, all in one.

We know that HR is about people – who, over the years, have been referred to as an organisation’s most important asset. We also know that HR is equally about the business. Savvy business owners and leaders who embraced a people-first approach early in the pandemic are no doubt seeing the benefits now.  

For many people working in HR, during the pandemic it may have felt like we were going in circles, but I believe that HR has made progress that we may not have even realised yet. It’s an exciting time to be a HR professional, as we start thinking about the future of work and what this means for us in HR.

Image of a line going in circles titles 'What it feels like'. Underneath it there's another image of a line that looks more unwound, like a spring, titles 'What progress looks like'
Source: @LizandMollie

The evolution of HR competencies 

So what does the future of HR look like? 

In my article from earlier this year, I explored the key HR competencies of the strategic positioner, paradox navigator and credible activist, which were established by the amazing HR thought leader Dave Ulrich. 

The research in this area continues to evolve and it’s pointing to what we are starting to better understand, that great HR is less about defined ‘roles’ and more about generating ‘action’ within an organisation to deliver value.  

Ulrich’s latest research is now describing key HR competencies as: accelerates business, advances human capability, mobilises information, fosters collaboration and simplifies complexity. From these competency shifts, we can see that HR is less about the ‘roles’ we hold and more about our ‘actions’ that generate value.

An image of a circle with 'simplifies complexity' in the centre. Branching off this, it reads: accelerates business, advances human capability, mobilises information, fosters collaboration.
Image: Adges.

HR is now more about the ‘whole’ and less about the ‘parts’. What this means is that you must have all the ‘parts’ of HR working together to deliver value. For example, you can’t have a great recruitment process that isn’t supported by a great approach to learning and development or workplace relations.  

This shift in the research demonstrates the progress HR is making. It confirms that we certainly aren’t going in circles.

Why is ‘integration’ so important?     

Integration is going to be a key focus for HR in the near future, particularly as we look at reconnecting people and organisations in the post-pandemic workplace.

Brene Brown, in her recent Dare to Lead podcast in conversation with actress America Ferrera, spoke about the importance of ‘integration’ in the context of leadership, explaining that leaders must bring all the parts of themselves to their roles to be effective. The same methodology applies to HR.

I believe that ‘HR cannot be what it’s meant to be, without all the parts of who it is’.  These parts, as defined by David Ulrich’s research, must work together in an integrated way to deliver value. If there is one thing HR practitioners have learnt as they pivoted and adapted to the pandemic, it’s a strong sense of purpose and identity in the roles we hold. How we connect the parts of HR to an integrated whole is going to be what defines high-performing HR teams in the future.

Five considerations as we move into 2022

As we prepare for the year ahead, here are some suggestions that could assist with your planning.

1. Is your HR function delivering value in an integrated manner? This will be a key focus next year and beyond. The structure of your HR function is critical, as you seek to deliver value to your organisation. Here are some questions to help you shape thinking:

  • How are the parts of your HR team working together as a whole to deliver value?
  • Does your culture support an integrated approach to HR?
  • What action does HR generate within your organisation – or is it more about roles? If it’s the latter, what would it take to shift to action?   

2. The pandemic will continue to dominate the HR agenda – experimentation will be key.

Lynda Gratton, who is another exceptional HR thought leader, continues to encourage the adoption of ‘experimentation’ in her most recent article, Why It’s so Hard to Recruit and Keep Employees Right Now, published in MIT Sloan Management Review.  

This article emphasises the focus on employee health and wellbeing, and keeping abreast of the workplace experiments others are adopting in order to remain competitive in order to offset the impacts of the Great Resignation.

Whether it be transitioning workforces to hybrid working arrangements, rapidly responding to new strains of the virus or implementing strategies to support the wellbeing of people at work, we know HR is going to be kept busy. Burnout and fatigue are a high-risk factor for those working in the HR profession. So it will be important for HR professionals to practice healthy self-care behaviours.  

(You can read HRM’s guide on self-care at work here).

3. Take the time to reflect on the role HR has played during the pandemic. We all tend to be quick to move to the next thing, sometimes failing to reflect on what has just passed us by.

The pandemic has made HR an organisation’s most important asset. I’m repeating this point as I know many HR practitioners have been so focused on their people and organisations during the pandemic that they may not have taken the time to look back on the great work they’ve done.

HR professionals have done incredible work in extremely challenging circumstances, and often on top of their ‘normal’ workloads. It is important you know that this work hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

Reflection is useful for all HR professionals to consider what worked well and what didn’t go to plan. This is how we learn and grow.      

This process will assist HR professionals better understand the magnitude of the shift that has taken place for the HR function during the pandemic. It will provide us with the space to appreciate what these changes mean for HR, for the organisations we work in, and, most importantly, what it means for our future careers in HR.     

4. Consider the symbiotic relationships HR has and why it’s important. 

One of the obvious and most important symbiotic relationships is between managers and HR professionals.

We know that managers are more eager to engage with HR as they adapt to the new challenges of leading people. This relationship must not be underestimated and presents an opportunity for HR to create people-focused champions within their organisations, who, in many ways, become an extension of the HR function.

5. Celebrate the progress HR has made.

It has been a challenging couple of years for HR. It’s clear that we’ve been able to be effective, and we must embrace our position of influence and importance within our organisations by celebrating what has been achieved and building on it for the future.

The pandemic may have been the catalyst for making HR an organisation’s most important asset, but we won’t disappear when the virus does. We’ve worked hard to get where we are today and this is something to be proud of – and is most certainly worthy of celebration!

Sarah Queenan is the Founder and Managing Director of Humanify HR Consulting.


HR skills aren’t just helpful for those working in the people department. They’re useful for everyone. AHRI’s short course HR for non-HR people is designed to upskill managers to manage HR matters in their teams. Find out more about this new course here.


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HR’s capabilities are shifting – are you prepared?


The pandemic made HR an organisation’s most important asset, says this HR expert. So what’s next for the people function?

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for HRM about the Critical HR skills that all leaders and managers should have. To my surprise, I was inundated with feedback from all over the world, from HR and business leaders alike, sharing the view that HR skills are now a must-have for the modern-day leader.

Many people would argue that the HR function has become an organisation’s most important asset, and although I may be biased, I completely subscribe to this view and believe the best is yet to come.

For a long time, we have been working for ‘a seat at the table’ and the pandemic has secured us the seat and the table, all in one.

We know that HR is about people – who, over the years, have been referred to as an organisation’s most important asset. We also know that HR is equally about the business. Savvy business owners and leaders who embraced a people-first approach early in the pandemic are no doubt seeing the benefits now.  

For many people working in HR, during the pandemic it may have felt like we were going in circles, but I believe that HR has made progress that we may not have even realised yet. It’s an exciting time to be a HR professional, as we start thinking about the future of work and what this means for us in HR.

Image of a line going in circles titles 'What it feels like'. Underneath it there's another image of a line that looks more unwound, like a spring, titles 'What progress looks like'
Source: @LizandMollie

The evolution of HR competencies 

So what does the future of HR look like? 

In my article from earlier this year, I explored the key HR competencies of the strategic positioner, paradox navigator and credible activist, which were established by the amazing HR thought leader Dave Ulrich. 

The research in this area continues to evolve and it’s pointing to what we are starting to better understand, that great HR is less about defined ‘roles’ and more about generating ‘action’ within an organisation to deliver value.  

Ulrich’s latest research is now describing key HR competencies as: accelerates business, advances human capability, mobilises information, fosters collaboration and simplifies complexity. From these competency shifts, we can see that HR is less about the ‘roles’ we hold and more about our ‘actions’ that generate value.

An image of a circle with 'simplifies complexity' in the centre. Branching off this, it reads: accelerates business, advances human capability, mobilises information, fosters collaboration.
Image: Adges.

HR is now more about the ‘whole’ and less about the ‘parts’. What this means is that you must have all the ‘parts’ of HR working together to deliver value. For example, you can’t have a great recruitment process that isn’t supported by a great approach to learning and development or workplace relations.  

This shift in the research demonstrates the progress HR is making. It confirms that we certainly aren’t going in circles.

Why is ‘integration’ so important?     

Integration is going to be a key focus for HR in the near future, particularly as we look at reconnecting people and organisations in the post-pandemic workplace.

Brene Brown, in her recent Dare to Lead podcast in conversation with actress America Ferrera, spoke about the importance of ‘integration’ in the context of leadership, explaining that leaders must bring all the parts of themselves to their roles to be effective. The same methodology applies to HR.

I believe that ‘HR cannot be what it’s meant to be, without all the parts of who it is’.  These parts, as defined by David Ulrich’s research, must work together in an integrated way to deliver value. If there is one thing HR practitioners have learnt as they pivoted and adapted to the pandemic, it’s a strong sense of purpose and identity in the roles we hold. How we connect the parts of HR to an integrated whole is going to be what defines high-performing HR teams in the future.

Five considerations as we move into 2022

As we prepare for the year ahead, here are some suggestions that could assist with your planning.

1. Is your HR function delivering value in an integrated manner? This will be a key focus next year and beyond. The structure of your HR function is critical, as you seek to deliver value to your organisation. Here are some questions to help you shape thinking:

  • How are the parts of your HR team working together as a whole to deliver value?
  • Does your culture support an integrated approach to HR?
  • What action does HR generate within your organisation – or is it more about roles? If it’s the latter, what would it take to shift to action?   

2. The pandemic will continue to dominate the HR agenda – experimentation will be key.

Lynda Gratton, who is another exceptional HR thought leader, continues to encourage the adoption of ‘experimentation’ in her most recent article, Why It’s so Hard to Recruit and Keep Employees Right Now, published in MIT Sloan Management Review.  

This article emphasises the focus on employee health and wellbeing, and keeping abreast of the workplace experiments others are adopting in order to remain competitive in order to offset the impacts of the Great Resignation.

Whether it be transitioning workforces to hybrid working arrangements, rapidly responding to new strains of the virus or implementing strategies to support the wellbeing of people at work, we know HR is going to be kept busy. Burnout and fatigue are a high-risk factor for those working in the HR profession. So it will be important for HR professionals to practice healthy self-care behaviours.  

(You can read HRM’s guide on self-care at work here).

3. Take the time to reflect on the role HR has played during the pandemic. We all tend to be quick to move to the next thing, sometimes failing to reflect on what has just passed us by.

The pandemic has made HR an organisation’s most important asset. I’m repeating this point as I know many HR practitioners have been so focused on their people and organisations during the pandemic that they may not have taken the time to look back on the great work they’ve done.

HR professionals have done incredible work in extremely challenging circumstances, and often on top of their ‘normal’ workloads. It is important you know that this work hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

Reflection is useful for all HR professionals to consider what worked well and what didn’t go to plan. This is how we learn and grow.      

This process will assist HR professionals better understand the magnitude of the shift that has taken place for the HR function during the pandemic. It will provide us with the space to appreciate what these changes mean for HR, for the organisations we work in, and, most importantly, what it means for our future careers in HR.     

4. Consider the symbiotic relationships HR has and why it’s important. 

One of the obvious and most important symbiotic relationships is between managers and HR professionals.

We know that managers are more eager to engage with HR as they adapt to the new challenges of leading people. This relationship must not be underestimated and presents an opportunity for HR to create people-focused champions within their organisations, who, in many ways, become an extension of the HR function.

5. Celebrate the progress HR has made.

It has been a challenging couple of years for HR. It’s clear that we’ve been able to be effective, and we must embrace our position of influence and importance within our organisations by celebrating what has been achieved and building on it for the future.

The pandemic may have been the catalyst for making HR an organisation’s most important asset, but we won’t disappear when the virus does. We’ve worked hard to get where we are today and this is something to be proud of – and is most certainly worthy of celebration!

Sarah Queenan is the Founder and Managing Director of Humanify HR Consulting.


HR skills aren’t just helpful for those working in the people department. They’re useful for everyone. AHRI’s short course HR for non-HR people is designed to upskill managers to manage HR matters in their teams. Find out more about this new course here.


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