With every second minor celebrity offering free arbitrary advice these days on the larger issues of the human condition, I found this admission by Bill Gates refreshing: “I save my public voice largely for the issues where I have some depth.”
It’s an observation that I’m very conscious of as each new year comes around.
AHRI enjoys the benefit of a member base that signals through research and social media the emerging areas of professional interest, and there are many issues on the horizon each year that affect the ways in which HR practitioners focus their energy or adjust their practice in the pursuit of maximising business strategy or seeking organisational solutions.
As the CEO of the professional institute, I’m conscious that we need to be attuned to the big issues affecting practitioners but I’m also mindful, like Gates, that we need to save our voice for those issues in which we can develop depth by conducting research and make meaningful contributions that are helpful for business and enlighten policy developers as well as the general public.
Last year we worked with the Economist Intelligence Unit and our American cousin, SHRM, in a study on global workplace flexibility that was based on data collected from 51 countries.
We also conducted research with Deloitte on social media and HR, and worked with Deakin University on another of our longitudinal workplace relations studies.
In addition, we looked at gender equity, mature age employment and disability employment, all issues that can affect for better or worse Australia’s workforce productivity, business profitability and national prosperity. We also surveyed the membership on coaching and mentoring, staff turnover, learning and development and working hours.
We either published or will be publishing a report on the results of these surveys for public consumption. Most of the 2012 reports gained media attention, some of them prominent attention in the form of page one coverage in the national press.
Sometimes I’m asked why AHRI gets involved in large questions of public policy. Don’t AHRI members simply want a professional association that can assist them to do their job more efficiently and effectively?
I’m sure members want that, and we work persistently to provide them with tools and resources available for member use. We are overhauling those this year with a more contemporary website and a new product now in development called AHRI: ASSIST which will provide real-time HR advice to members at the click of a mouse.
Our monthly member magazine and quarterly refereed journal are also there to enable members to keep informed on developments in business and the profession that are happening in Australia and elsewhere.
In most of these member offerings we make an assumption that businesses don’t operate in a vacuum and neither do HR departments.
To be effective businesses need to know about what’s going on in the economic, political and social environments in which they exist and operate, otherwise they can lose touch with changes that occur in their customer base which will inevitably affect revenue and profitability.
To do that businesses need switched-on people who are engaged with the enterprise, understand the world outside the organisation and are committed to what the enterprise is attempting to achieve.
In other words, while we assume that national prosperity affects customer activity and, in turn, the profitability of enterprises, we also know that national prosperity depends on sound government policy and effective delivery of policy. Writing in the London Review of Books this month, the author of Capital, John Lancaster, describes what happens in a country, such as the UK, when the economy is depressed.
Imagine for a moment that you come across an unexpected ten pounds. After making a mental note not to spend it all at once, you go out and spend it all at once, on, say, two pairs of woolly socks. The person from the sock shop then takes your tenner and spends it on wine, and the wine merchant spends it on tickets to see The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and the owner of the cinema spends it on chocolate, and the sweet-shop owner spends it on a bus ticket, and the owner of the bus company deposits it in the bank. That initial ten pounds has been spent six times, and has generated £60 of economic activity. In a sense, no one is any better off; and yet, that movement of money makes everyone better off. To put it another way, that first tenner has contributed £60 to Britain’s GDP. Seen in this way, GDP can be thought of as a measure not so much of size – how much money we have, how much money the economy contains – but of velocity. It measures the movement of money through and around the economy; it measures activity. If you had taken the same ten quid when it was first given to you and simply paid it into your bank account, the net position could be argued to be the same – except that the only contribution to GDP is that initial gift of £10, and if this behaviour were replicated across the whole economy, then the whole economy would grind to a halt. And that, broadly speaking, is what is happening right now. People are sitting on that first tenner.
In the UK that description is roughly true but not in Australia, or not yet.
So what issues are the big ticket challenges for 2013 that will be likely to affect business activity and national prosperity in which the Australian HR profession has a stake?
Against the backdrop of the economic malaise in Europe and the US, some of AHRI’s most senior members put their minds to that question at a meeting last December. They came up with this short list of business challenges to be faced this year:
- A tough marketplace: pressure on costs and increasing competition compounded by a strong dollar and a reduction in consumer spending
- Change fatigue
- Increasing government regulation
- Developments in technology, including social media
The same group turned their minds to what might be the key HR issues for 2013 and came up with these:
- Leadership development and culture
- Making diversity and inclusion a reality
- Sourcing and retaining talent
- Improving productivity and managing costs
Many prompts come to mind when thinking about those lists and for many businesses they include building leadership and succession pipelines, maximising the diversity of the talent pool, power shifts to the customer and transforming the cost base of customer service, dealing creatively with unions, and the perennial HR conundrum of doing more with less without increasing risk.
This month the AHRI board will be looking at the HR research issues for 2013, and these will be among them.
What are your thoughts? Have I missed any big ones?
Lyn Goodear is the chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute