Differentiation is all about people: reshaping HR creates a new empowerment paradigm

According to a recent PwC commissioned report by Opinium Research, tough times have forced many millennials to make compromises when finding a job – 72% feel they made some sort of trade-off to get into work. Almost 40% of millennials who are currently working said they were actively looking for a different role and 43% said they were open to offers. Only 18% expect to stay with their current employer for the long term.

The report also shows that millennials are committed to their personal learning and development, and this remains their first choice benefit from employers. Their second highest priority is that they want flexible working hours, while cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place.

The Economist predicted in 2008 that there will be a rising nomadic workforce, untethered to desks and even long-term company loyalty. That following year, a global recession brought outsourcing of jobs to a new level, but even as economies rebound, permanent hires didn’t follow suit. People now enjoy the freedom of managing their own careers and companies are seeing the benefits too, particularly as far as knowledge workers and service economies are concerned.

Millennials are rocking the boat even more as survey teams and business architects mull their influence on how companies work. Much has been written about this new, technology-driven workforce – and as much has been debunked. If you are hoping for definitive answers, I fear I have to be honest and say: nobody has any yet.

If uncertainty was the antithesis of business, nothing would get done. Companies thrive by their ability to cut through doubt and leverage advantages. Since the pendulum has swung – and appears to remain – toward the workforce, now is truly the time for effective Human Resources (HR) to shine.

HR is a curious beast. A significant period of my career has been spent in the realm of Human Resources, an industry that is often misunderstood and under-appreciated for its functions and contributions. But we must admit that some of this is HR’s own doing; instead of being a core part of business, HR has been very often been pushed into a bureaucratic, operational corner, expected to push paper and tick the boxes that keep a workforce turning. Business then gets onto the business of business.

Yet this is a misnomer. HR should not be there to keep employees in check. Ideally it is there to help business thrive, a fact underpinned by those companies recognised for their excellent work environments. There is no merit in pointing fingers: the slow institutionalisation of HR has everyone’s fingerprints on it, above all complacency. That complacency, in turn, came about due to work environments where workers were interchangeable and second to function.

That has changed and, in order for companies to take advantage of this, they too must change – change that starts with HR.

Modern HR needs to be brought into the fold of the company’s business and decision-making and enter its ‘bloodstream’. Instead of an isolated department, it should take on a ‘capillary’ role that feeds the business. There is no reason to not ask how HR can help the bottom or top line.

How can this be accomplished? Technology, in particular the robust and unifying software systems that are becoming de-facto backbones at mature and forward-thinking companies. In recent years, we have witnessed how robust and innovative business solutions tie together to create a whole for the company. There is no reason why HR should stand outside of this new company order.

How can such systems change HR? A simple example is standards: like many processes, there are best-of-breed approaches which organisations are benefitting from. HR is not unique – those standards exist for it and implementing them is easy with the right backend solution.

A second example is using automation: so much of HR’s time is wasted on mundane tasks that could be delegated to machines or, indeed, other departments. If a department wishes to hire or release a worker, HR’s rubber-stamping isn’t required. It can be orchestrated through a flexible system where HR retains its authority, but delegates the details to a department manager or someone with suitable credentials. This is very pertinent as we see workforces become more contingent.

Great technology can free up a lot of resources, allowing HR staff to focus on what matters: the people, and determining whether they’re happy, productive and advancing. Imagine being able to take advantage of a worker who self-educates with modern online resources, as opposed to the sometimes-wasteful path of formal training. That is not to say formal training isn’t impactful, but it’s not the only option. A perceptive HR system allows companies to exercise those options; a boon in environments short of skills.

Freed resources lead to better talent management. Employees are no longer automatically company-loyal – they seek opportunity beyond a nice pay-cheque and company perks. The business that understands that is the one to keep those people onboard.

Ultimately, given the chance, HR can be enabled to be the change-maker, a means to shift company culture and advance the business. There is a myth that decentralised HR means the destruction of HR. This is simply not true. Companies need HR, but what they do not need are the paper-pushing cultures of the past.

In markets such as Europe, there is a clear realisation of this and companies are increasingly assigning business leaders into HR roles, so as to deliver their acumen to the power of managing people. The differentiator of the 21st century business is not product or even service. It’s people. With the right people, you can move mountains. With the wrong people… well, everyone will move to a different mountain. But the right technology aligns a workforce and company in ways never thought possible, because it wasn’t ever possible.



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