22 Apr 2016 21:48 IST

Reinventing at 100

HR today is all about what you can create and how you add value to organisational sustainability

Over the last couple of days, I have been reading about eagles. I learnt two fascinating facts — the eagle is the only bird that loves flying through a storm and, second, it discards what is worthless and renews itself.

The HR function is like an eagle. It is a critical function that renews and redefines itself continuously. I believe it is extremely self-reflective and critical of itself. I can say this from my own experience as I have been on the business side earlier and now lead HR as the CHRO. This ability to self-reflect has helped HR continuously evolve and renew itself with the changing dynamics of the business world.

HR, with its 100-year history, has come a long way since the days of being personnel department. In many leading gold standard companies, HR has succeeded in pushing the people agenda, particularly talent management, on to the CEO’s agenda as well.

Re-skilling amid rapid change

Having said this, we know that business dynamics have rapidly changed in recent years. Global teams, changing demographics, increased entrepreneurial appetite and the war on talent are some of the megatrends that are shaping the new HR agenda. Downsizing actions taken by some organisations during recessionary times have given birth to new behaviour and beliefs. Employee loyalty and job security have been replaced by employability quotient for reducing lay-off risks during tough economic conditions. A key dependency would be our ability to continuously skill and re-skill our employees in tandem with changing demands.

However, the quintessential performance benchmark for HR has kept changing. Over the last 10 years, I have witnessed a shift in the way business heads participate in HR reviews. Corporate leaders are pointedly asking questions on employee productivity measures, and the use of HR levers to enhance competitiveness and organisation sustainability, among others. It is not about what you know, it’s about what you can learn, what you can create, and how you can add value to organisational sustainability and competitiveness.

In sync with business priorities

I believe that, as members of the HR community, we are in a unique position to set the agenda and enable our respective organisations to drive growth and competitiveness. The agenda will fundamentally revolve around skills, culture and talent and is an iterative process that continuously syncs with business priorities. A phased transformation incorporating the following elements is the need of the hour:

1) Phase 1 is all about building the business case. Know the business context; know your stakeholders; know the business lifecycle of your organisation; know its current capabilities before starting the HR transformation

2) Phase 2 is about visualising the future. Define the outcomes and benefits that will help the organisation gain a competitive advantage

3) Phase 3 will centre on bringing programmatic discipline. This includes the actions and steps taken to transform HR, including HR structure, defining HR processes, systems and practices and developing the HR team’s functional, technical and behavioral competencies.

4) Phase 4 is about aligning stakeholders, building accountability, and co-opting and involving all change-enablers towards a shared purpose

As we prepare to cross the next performance curve, Phase 3 is the most critical and difficult. The key to a successful transformation in Phase 3 is to identify what capabilities exist within the team and can be easily developed to the next level.

Critical game-changers

Demonstrating early wins creates motivation and the necessary momentum for success. In the immediate future, I would recommend building three critical HR skills that are game-changers in the future:

1) Business Acumen – Know your business, not just your employees but your customers. How can HR help build credibility about the organisation in the customer’s mind?

2) Financial Acumen – Learn to love data and numbers. HR is about balancing employee interests and business interests. Financial wizardry is key to providing differentiated employee benefits and creatively use the limited kitty at our disposal. Leveraging analytics is an effective option.

3) Digital Integrator – Develop a strong understanding of the digital landscape and know how to integrate technology, data and analytics that will benefit HR and the business by increasing engagement, productivity and collaboration.

Just like the famed eagles, the HR fraternity is already preparing for the next generation and is training to be future-ready. I conclude with a bold statement – in the future, HR will be heavily relied upon as a game-changer.

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