AHRI president Peter Wilson asks John Boudreau to gauge the future roles of HR professionals.
Peter Wilson: One of the big challenges in HR is getting people to work effectively in teams. You are a man who knows about co-operation, having co-authored many books with different people. How do you choose your co-authors and how does the relationship work?
John Boudreau: I suppose the lesson would be that past behaviour is a good predictor of future performance and I’ve had an opportunity to work with people whose prolific tendencies predated me by a long way. And then I think it takes practice, frankly.
PW: What sort of HR issues do you see coming out of companies in America and Europe?
JB: Certainly talent management; interesting leadership is perennial, and culture is becoming increasingly important. I thinkorganisations are being called on to be more precise with culture, to measure it better and understand its connection to organisational outcomes.
I think productivity is always an issue with organisations and better business performance. Change management has really seen quite a renaissance with all the turbulence and change, especially in the past five to seven years.
PW: You note that HR has experienced professional convergence with skills from other disciplines such as finance and marketing. What have been some of the big challenges here?
JB: There are parallels between the choices we have for sourcing talent and the choices we might have for sourcing raw materials, equipment or ideas, and I think there are prominent examples now of companies like IBM and Deutsche Bank that have applied the supply chain concept to their talent management.
I’ve seen there is a significant number of organisations truly reaching into the marketing area and saying ‘if we can learn a lot about our consumers and what engages them, where are the parallels to what we might learn about our employees?’
I think that’s just a terrific future of the emergence of marketing principles and employment principles but there might eventually be some interesting dilemmas because obviously employees interact a lot more with each other than customers usually do – and employees have a very different relationship with the company than customers do.
PW: Are there any other big changes that you anticipate happening in the next year or so?
JB: The next year or so is a pretty short period of time, but I think on the very near horizon there’s an upwelling of interest in neuroscience. We now have books on the neuroscience of leadership and the capability of understanding how our brains operate as people make decisions.
So it’s a brave new world there. That one to me really does come very close to this area of mindfulness and wellness being much more accessible.
The other one that I think comes up a lot is this notion of networks; perhaps we might call it social networks. There are a lot of people working on that. I think the technology to map those networks has really arrived.
Companies routinely find the formal hierarchy they have doesn’t adequately reflect the places in the social network where informally there’s energy, expertise or connections.
PW: What is your picture of where the HR profession is headed?
JB: There’s this idea that my colleagues and I have of ‘reaching out’ and that the future HR professional is likely to look less like someone who grew up in HR and more frequently like someone who grew up in another discipline. This boundary of HR and the permeability of that boundary is a very significant issue for the profession.
I think the second one is ‘venturing out’. This is the idea that increasingly HR professionals are influencing well beyond the function, even beyond the company and beyond geographic boundaries.
It seems to me that the future HR professional is likely to be called upon very frequently to be thinking ‘how does a discipline that I’m an expert in have something to say well beyond HR issues, about fundamental company issues like sustainability, reputation, social responsibility, global democracy and technology?’