What does the future of HR look like?


How can HR respond to a rapidly shifting business world? Six thought leaders predict the major trends for 2016 and beyond.

Jon Williams, Partner, Global Practice Leader, People & Org, PwC

In HR, as in many organisations, we have done things the same way for years without really understanding either ‘if’ or ‘why’ they work. There are all these HR systems that support an old way of working: job descriptions, annual KPIs and pay cycles, promotional structures, etc. But, just like the impact of the industrial revolution, when machines took away many low-skill physical tasks, so the digital revolution and the impact of learning robots will radically change the tasks people do at work. Do we want people to be doing the same low-skill, white-collar jobs when they could be talking to the client? And, if that is the case, we clearly need to reinvent the supporting people systems quickly, because they support a world that no longer exists. That is easy if you are a new company like Netflix, but in an established bank, retailer or airline you have to discard systems and processes that are really precious to you and unlearn things that you have done for a long time – both as managers and HR professionals.

There are new, dramatic changes happening in the world of work and there are jobs that aren’t going to exist in the years to come. Accountancy, engineering and law are likely to be among the most disrupted. They are based on binary decision making, that can be done better by a computer. People won’t do the extensive research, read all those long case studies or juggle all those figures – robots can do that. What consumers will continue to pay for is the leading tax guru, barrister or design engineer (for their oratory skills, kudos, experience, empathy; etc) but not all those workers down the food chain.

However, jobs that work with other people, emotions and interactions will be very much needed. Applying that to HR, we can see immediately that two-thirds of the profession is payroll, administration, etc – things that can be automated. The future of HR is about moving to strategy and talent identification, culture and engagement – tasks that require the very human attributes of empathy and human interaction.   

Business in this country also faces another problem. From research we did with LinkedIn, we found that Australia has the lowest rate of job switching between industries and the highest rate of switching within industries. That is a problem, because without cross-fertilisation between industries, you don’t get fresh blood and ideas sharing and you aren’t getting people who have insight and a view of the outside world who can break things and remake them. Moving within an industry, on the other hand, just leads to periods of reduced productivity as individuals come to terms with the unique processes, quirks and politics of their new employer.

Basically it’s a leadership issue. How do we give people the confidence to adopt new people management models, give up existing tasks and focus on real human added value and manage their employees’ careers so that they don’t have to jump to another, similar, organisation to progress? Leaders need to be brave and not enough demonstrate that boldness.

Mark Zawacki, Founder, 650Labs

The first big trend for Australian business is the continued digitisation of every business and the way mobile is changing everything. The HR fallout from that is threefold. The challenge to recruit and retain top talent for traditional companies is going to become much harder. The millennials coming into the workforce will make up 75 per cent of employees in large organisations in the next decade. Their values are different. They don’t want to go and work for a large, traditional company for the next 30 years. It’s not their gig. The question is, are you going to have an employer proposition that attracts the best talent from among them?

Secondly, large organisations struggle with motivating employees. A Gallup survey of 50,000 companies each year finds that only 13 per cent of people are engaged at work. How are you going to evolve and drive change with a workforce that is not engaged? We are not thoughtful about the way we design work. The impetus for HR is to look at what five attributes are motivating employees at work and then see what they can do to design them into the work.

The third imperative is that HR needs to be strategically repositioned as a true peer among executive management. Currently, they are seen as second-class citizens, not as equals with direct reports who could make it through to CEO. Those organisations who have positioned HR as powerful are going to be the organisations that win. Those that are turning the crank on benefits and have an HR team that does not have strategic vision will lose.

Companies that are very disruptive are starting to change industries. That takes in all Silicon Valley companies where the average age is 30.5 and the average valuation is US$108 billion. They are colocated together and practising cultural leadership and talent development that they do in a strikingly different way from traditional companies.

Traditional companies come to Silicon Valley as industrial tourists and try and mimic what they see there. They get in the cute furniture, but they haven’t adopted the management principles to be like Google. It’s superficial. They don’t believe in consensus-based decision making.

In Silicon Valley, everyone gets heard and a decision gets made. We are going to do something and have forward movement and we will adjust course as and when, but we are not going to be paralysed until those people around the table are on-side.

Big companies do experiments – they don’t do pilots. Or a big bank might do a pilot that takes half a year and is designed to reduce risk, but comes at a price. It slows down learning. We don’t have time to spend half a year figuring out whether things work or not.

Leslie Breackell, Client Engagement Leader, IBM

Our work and personal lives will continue to blur and merge with work-life balance becoming work-life integration. The way we operate as consumers at home is how we expect to operate at work. I refer to it as the Sunday/Monday gap: At work, we expect technology to deliver the information we seek 24/7. When the difference between the two is too wide, people become disengaged.

We will need to make better decisions faster. Time, or our ‘return on time’, has become a primary currency by which many measure value. We must shrink the time it takes to reach informed action, and that is going to require HR to deliver more than just faster answers – it demands that we identify the right questions to ask.

We will also need to become increasingly independent in the way we gather insights for our work, to develop professionally. We’ve become a global society that practises independent investigation and pervasive learning. The data is there, and so are the technologies that make it easy to identify, explore, verify and share information. This freedom breeds creativity in how we approach problem solving, even as it fuels expectations that we can consistently deliver fast, correct action.

As a consequence of these changes, specific expectations are emerging around connectivity and partnerships that will become more important in the future. Workers value being connected to their colleagues, experts and communities to get the job done

This means access to apps and cloud services so people can access information from anywhere in a mobile world. Employees want to be in control of their own work environment and treated by the organisation as an individual, with leaders who share and tailor their approach for everyone’s benefit.

Jacqui Curtis, Deputy Commissioner, Australian Tax Office

Now more than ever, HR professionals have their hands on the sink-or-swim button.

The increasing pace of change in the external environment, coupled with the level of complexity in the public service landscape, the dramatic rise in the expectations of how public services should be delivered and the positioning of public servants between citizens and politicians, creates new challenges and pressures for our leaders. These challenges are driving a degree of ‘messiness’ in the workplace and will require HR professionals, now and in the future, to think hard about how they best bring value to the issues for which they have responsibility. Providing both strategic and practical support for leaders to deliver improved workforce outcomes will be HR’s key role in the years ahead.

Flexibility, agility and pace are characteristics that are insufficiently represented in many public sector organisations. To improve on this, HR professionals will need to fix the basics, through streamlining and simplifying processes, policies and practices. Provide practical support by ‘showing people how’, employing workable solutions and options to people problems. Above all, engage directly with those you support, and speak to them plainly, not at them in HR jargon.

Collaboration will become more important in the future. Many policy and service delivery challenges not only require public service collaboration, but alignment and support of the community and the private sector. Genuine engagement and dialogue results in better evidence on which to base decision making.

HR professionals have a vital role to play in bringing people together with the ability and influence to make a difference and facilitating solutions-focused conversations. Finally, all of this is happening in an environment with finite resources that is likely to remain the same into the future. Getting to grips with workforce data, metrics and analytics increasingly will be the job of HR, so that they can assist leaders to make informed decisions about where to prioritise and allocate their resources.

Ram Charan, Global Advisor to CEOs and Corporate Boards

HR is no different from any other profession: it must deliver results to survive. Its main purpose is largely unchanged, but the context is vastly different. HR must be able to recruit the right people, assign them to the right jobs, and train, develop and retain them, as the world moves at an exponential pace and virtually every company is transformed by digitisation.

Organisations will have fewer layers and use more part-timers and freelancers. HR is the trustee charged with making sure that the combined human effort, from inside and out, delivers the desired results. It’s a big responsibility; after all, talent is the ultimate competitive advantage. Everything else is subordinate to it. People compete, businesses don’t.

Every HR professional has a duty to continue to learn and grow to meet the challenge. It is a never-ending process. Accenture, Google, GE Digital – these businesses have great HR people, as do some others. Watch them, learn from them, and be a leader who drives your company’s success.

Seth Kahan, Leadership and Performance Specialist, VisionaryLeadership.com

Society is undergoing massive shifts that are difficult to imagine. We are all familiar with change, but change is about to become more powerful and complex. We have had to learn how to incorporate moving targets, dynamic relationships, and fluid protocols in every aspect of work. While we used to have five-year strategies, executives now talk of ongoing strategy in real time.

Why is this increasing change important for HR professionals? Because talent development and acquisition is the critical differentiator for strategic achievement. Further, knowledge is enabled by and embedded in every aspect of the work environment.

Here are eight disruptions that every HR professional will need to understand, prepare for and be ready to deliver against:

  • We will need both ‘dots’ and ‘dot connectors’. Because the market will continue to grow more complex and nuanced, there will simultaneously be an increased need for two types of workers: those who are highly specialised (the dots) and those who can connect multiple specialties, bridging their value streams to realise ever greater influence and impact (the dot connectors).
  • Technology and innovation will accelerate exponentially. This will be seen principally in three areas: smart objects, artificial intelligence, and new HR tools and applications. All staff will need to understand the ‘internet of things’, which are connected and communicating objects that collect data and aggregate it, aka ‘smart objects’. Artificial intelligence software will insinuate itself into every aspect of work, requiring professionals to understand programming as pervasively as we have required workers to harness keyboard skills today.
  • Multiculturalism will take on new meaning, as value is derived from a more diverse cultural ecology. The developing world will come more fully online in the next five to 20 years, at an increasing rate. As a result, we will need workers who understand the nuances and potential of developing world penetration, as well as those who can integrate the differing mindsets and leverage the value
    they offer.
  • One of the great positives is that the business world will increasingly convert from an ‘old boys’ network’ to a true meritocracy. We will see dramatic progress in the next five years due to technology levelling the playing field, providing opportunity to anyone who can find it and delivering better, measurable outcomes.
  • Knowledge execution will become the most valuable core asset in the world. The ability to execute and act on knowledge will trump profitability, which will then trump politics. Nation states and their corresponding governments will not be as influential in international relations and global engagement as corporations.
  • Customer service will take giant leaps forward. Just as social benefit has become a requirement for doing business, there will be a similar expectation for customer service.
  • Management will transform completely, changing today’s hierarchical leadership protocols to decentralised, self-organising, and rapid prototyping because of its ability to stabilise and dramatically grow profit.
  • Within 10 years, humanising corporations that are inspiring, innovative and creative will come about, not as a result of good intentions, but by necessity, as work will be fully integrated with life.

If work today is 50 per cent integrated with life, it will become 95 per cent integrated within five years, making it possible for work to be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The trade-off between doing work everywhere and being able to have a life will reach optimum resolution without being limited by technology.

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What does the future of HR look like?


How can HR respond to a rapidly shifting business world? Six thought leaders predict the major trends for 2016 and beyond.

Jon Williams, Partner, Global Practice Leader, People & Org, PwC

In HR, as in many organisations, we have done things the same way for years without really understanding either ‘if’ or ‘why’ they work. There are all these HR systems that support an old way of working: job descriptions, annual KPIs and pay cycles, promotional structures, etc. But, just like the impact of the industrial revolution, when machines took away many low-skill physical tasks, so the digital revolution and the impact of learning robots will radically change the tasks people do at work. Do we want people to be doing the same low-skill, white-collar jobs when they could be talking to the client? And, if that is the case, we clearly need to reinvent the supporting people systems quickly, because they support a world that no longer exists. That is easy if you are a new company like Netflix, but in an established bank, retailer or airline you have to discard systems and processes that are really precious to you and unlearn things that you have done for a long time – both as managers and HR professionals.

There are new, dramatic changes happening in the world of work and there are jobs that aren’t going to exist in the years to come. Accountancy, engineering and law are likely to be among the most disrupted. They are based on binary decision making, that can be done better by a computer. People won’t do the extensive research, read all those long case studies or juggle all those figures – robots can do that. What consumers will continue to pay for is the leading tax guru, barrister or design engineer (for their oratory skills, kudos, experience, empathy; etc) but not all those workers down the food chain.

However, jobs that work with other people, emotions and interactions will be very much needed. Applying that to HR, we can see immediately that two-thirds of the profession is payroll, administration, etc – things that can be automated. The future of HR is about moving to strategy and talent identification, culture and engagement – tasks that require the very human attributes of empathy and human interaction.   

Business in this country also faces another problem. From research we did with LinkedIn, we found that Australia has the lowest rate of job switching between industries and the highest rate of switching within industries. That is a problem, because without cross-fertilisation between industries, you don’t get fresh blood and ideas sharing and you aren’t getting people who have insight and a view of the outside world who can break things and remake them. Moving within an industry, on the other hand, just leads to periods of reduced productivity as individuals come to terms with the unique processes, quirks and politics of their new employer.

Basically it’s a leadership issue. How do we give people the confidence to adopt new people management models, give up existing tasks and focus on real human added value and manage their employees’ careers so that they don’t have to jump to another, similar, organisation to progress? Leaders need to be brave and not enough demonstrate that boldness.

Mark Zawacki, Founder, 650Labs

The first big trend for Australian business is the continued digitisation of every business and the way mobile is changing everything. The HR fallout from that is threefold. The challenge to recruit and retain top talent for traditional companies is going to become much harder. The millennials coming into the workforce will make up 75 per cent of employees in large organisations in the next decade. Their values are different. They don’t want to go and work for a large, traditional company for the next 30 years. It’s not their gig. The question is, are you going to have an employer proposition that attracts the best talent from among them?

Secondly, large organisations struggle with motivating employees. A Gallup survey of 50,000 companies each year finds that only 13 per cent of people are engaged at work. How are you going to evolve and drive change with a workforce that is not engaged? We are not thoughtful about the way we design work. The impetus for HR is to look at what five attributes are motivating employees at work and then see what they can do to design them into the work.

The third imperative is that HR needs to be strategically repositioned as a true peer among executive management. Currently, they are seen as second-class citizens, not as equals with direct reports who could make it through to CEO. Those organisations who have positioned HR as powerful are going to be the organisations that win. Those that are turning the crank on benefits and have an HR team that does not have strategic vision will lose.

Companies that are very disruptive are starting to change industries. That takes in all Silicon Valley companies where the average age is 30.5 and the average valuation is US$108 billion. They are colocated together and practising cultural leadership and talent development that they do in a strikingly different way from traditional companies.

Traditional companies come to Silicon Valley as industrial tourists and try and mimic what they see there. They get in the cute furniture, but they haven’t adopted the management principles to be like Google. It’s superficial. They don’t believe in consensus-based decision making.

In Silicon Valley, everyone gets heard and a decision gets made. We are going to do something and have forward movement and we will adjust course as and when, but we are not going to be paralysed until those people around the table are on-side.

Big companies do experiments – they don’t do pilots. Or a big bank might do a pilot that takes half a year and is designed to reduce risk, but comes at a price. It slows down learning. We don’t have time to spend half a year figuring out whether things work or not.

Leslie Breackell, Client Engagement Leader, IBM

Our work and personal lives will continue to blur and merge with work-life balance becoming work-life integration. The way we operate as consumers at home is how we expect to operate at work. I refer to it as the Sunday/Monday gap: At work, we expect technology to deliver the information we seek 24/7. When the difference between the two is too wide, people become disengaged.

We will need to make better decisions faster. Time, or our ‘return on time’, has become a primary currency by which many measure value. We must shrink the time it takes to reach informed action, and that is going to require HR to deliver more than just faster answers – it demands that we identify the right questions to ask.

We will also need to become increasingly independent in the way we gather insights for our work, to develop professionally. We’ve become a global society that practises independent investigation and pervasive learning. The data is there, and so are the technologies that make it easy to identify, explore, verify and share information. This freedom breeds creativity in how we approach problem solving, even as it fuels expectations that we can consistently deliver fast, correct action.

As a consequence of these changes, specific expectations are emerging around connectivity and partnerships that will become more important in the future. Workers value being connected to their colleagues, experts and communities to get the job done

This means access to apps and cloud services so people can access information from anywhere in a mobile world. Employees want to be in control of their own work environment and treated by the organisation as an individual, with leaders who share and tailor their approach for everyone’s benefit.

Jacqui Curtis, Deputy Commissioner, Australian Tax Office

Now more than ever, HR professionals have their hands on the sink-or-swim button.

The increasing pace of change in the external environment, coupled with the level of complexity in the public service landscape, the dramatic rise in the expectations of how public services should be delivered and the positioning of public servants between citizens and politicians, creates new challenges and pressures for our leaders. These challenges are driving a degree of ‘messiness’ in the workplace and will require HR professionals, now and in the future, to think hard about how they best bring value to the issues for which they have responsibility. Providing both strategic and practical support for leaders to deliver improved workforce outcomes will be HR’s key role in the years ahead.

Flexibility, agility and pace are characteristics that are insufficiently represented in many public sector organisations. To improve on this, HR professionals will need to fix the basics, through streamlining and simplifying processes, policies and practices. Provide practical support by ‘showing people how’, employing workable solutions and options to people problems. Above all, engage directly with those you support, and speak to them plainly, not at them in HR jargon.

Collaboration will become more important in the future. Many policy and service delivery challenges not only require public service collaboration, but alignment and support of the community and the private sector. Genuine engagement and dialogue results in better evidence on which to base decision making.

HR professionals have a vital role to play in bringing people together with the ability and influence to make a difference and facilitating solutions-focused conversations. Finally, all of this is happening in an environment with finite resources that is likely to remain the same into the future. Getting to grips with workforce data, metrics and analytics increasingly will be the job of HR, so that they can assist leaders to make informed decisions about where to prioritise and allocate their resources.

Ram Charan, Global Advisor to CEOs and Corporate Boards

HR is no different from any other profession: it must deliver results to survive. Its main purpose is largely unchanged, but the context is vastly different. HR must be able to recruit the right people, assign them to the right jobs, and train, develop and retain them, as the world moves at an exponential pace and virtually every company is transformed by digitisation.

Organisations will have fewer layers and use more part-timers and freelancers. HR is the trustee charged with making sure that the combined human effort, from inside and out, delivers the desired results. It’s a big responsibility; after all, talent is the ultimate competitive advantage. Everything else is subordinate to it. People compete, businesses don’t.

Every HR professional has a duty to continue to learn and grow to meet the challenge. It is a never-ending process. Accenture, Google, GE Digital – these businesses have great HR people, as do some others. Watch them, learn from them, and be a leader who drives your company’s success.

Seth Kahan, Leadership and Performance Specialist, VisionaryLeadership.com

Society is undergoing massive shifts that are difficult to imagine. We are all familiar with change, but change is about to become more powerful and complex. We have had to learn how to incorporate moving targets, dynamic relationships, and fluid protocols in every aspect of work. While we used to have five-year strategies, executives now talk of ongoing strategy in real time.

Why is this increasing change important for HR professionals? Because talent development and acquisition is the critical differentiator for strategic achievement. Further, knowledge is enabled by and embedded in every aspect of the work environment.

Here are eight disruptions that every HR professional will need to understand, prepare for and be ready to deliver against:

  • We will need both ‘dots’ and ‘dot connectors’. Because the market will continue to grow more complex and nuanced, there will simultaneously be an increased need for two types of workers: those who are highly specialised (the dots) and those who can connect multiple specialties, bridging their value streams to realise ever greater influence and impact (the dot connectors).
  • Technology and innovation will accelerate exponentially. This will be seen principally in three areas: smart objects, artificial intelligence, and new HR tools and applications. All staff will need to understand the ‘internet of things’, which are connected and communicating objects that collect data and aggregate it, aka ‘smart objects’. Artificial intelligence software will insinuate itself into every aspect of work, requiring professionals to understand programming as pervasively as we have required workers to harness keyboard skills today.
  • Multiculturalism will take on new meaning, as value is derived from a more diverse cultural ecology. The developing world will come more fully online in the next five to 20 years, at an increasing rate. As a result, we will need workers who understand the nuances and potential of developing world penetration, as well as those who can integrate the differing mindsets and leverage the value
    they offer.
  • One of the great positives is that the business world will increasingly convert from an ‘old boys’ network’ to a true meritocracy. We will see dramatic progress in the next five years due to technology levelling the playing field, providing opportunity to anyone who can find it and delivering better, measurable outcomes.
  • Knowledge execution will become the most valuable core asset in the world. The ability to execute and act on knowledge will trump profitability, which will then trump politics. Nation states and their corresponding governments will not be as influential in international relations and global engagement as corporations.
  • Customer service will take giant leaps forward. Just as social benefit has become a requirement for doing business, there will be a similar expectation for customer service.
  • Management will transform completely, changing today’s hierarchical leadership protocols to decentralised, self-organising, and rapid prototyping because of its ability to stabilise and dramatically grow profit.
  • Within 10 years, humanising corporations that are inspiring, innovative and creative will come about, not as a result of good intentions, but by necessity, as work will be fully integrated with life.

If work today is 50 per cent integrated with life, it will become 95 per cent integrated within five years, making it possible for work to be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The trade-off between doing work everywhere and being able to have a life will reach optimum resolution without being limited by technology.

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