The Future of Human Resources – Evolution of HR

Recently, more and more HR Professionals have been asking me this question: What do you consider to be the main areas of Talent Management as a discipline?  This topic is become increasingly important because businesses are getting to grips with the fact that the way we manage Human Recourses is simply not relevant anymore.  The technological advancements and generational transformations related to IR4 have changed everything around us, and businesses need to adapt by changing the role and responsibilities of their HR Departments.  HR today is much more a strategic partner to business growth than ever before. 

The Six Functions of Talent Management

For HR Departments to play a strategic role, they need to evolve their focus to specialize in Talent Management functions that serve the new business environment.  Traditional HR Functions should evolve into six contemporary ones.

Function 1:  Talent Analytics.  Exponential advancements in Big Data, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, is causing business to change the way they are making decisions about Talent.  In the past (and unfortunately still relevant at too many South African companies today), Talent decisions are based on gut feel, case studies & survey results or at most some form of descriptive analytics.  Since HR could never really produce predictive and prescriptive analysis, it never really had a substantial business case to influence strategic business decisions.  However, when HR embrace the power of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, they will be able to present data-based business cases that not only influence Talent decisions but larger business decisions within their company.  In order to successfully execute this Analytics function, HR Departments will employ Business Intelligence and Business Analyses skills to assist with the creation, storage, maintenance and analysis of the vast volume of Talent Data that HR has access to.

Function 2:  Future of Work.  This is similar to the Traditional technical evaluation HR aspects such as Human Resource Planning, Workforce Planning, Shift Planning and Job Evaluation (e.g. creation and revaluation of job descriptions).  However, the new Function goes beyond clarifying what is happening and needed now.  HR needs to understand what will happen in the future due to IR4 and accurately anticipate which skills will become redundant in their business, which skills will become more in demand and which skills currently do not exist at all but will become critical in the next 5 years.  The role of this Function remains the same (who is going to do what and where), but the ‘who’ can now be humans and robots/computers, the ‘what’ can be something that does not even exit yet and the ‘where’ could potentially have no limits (even places like the Moon or Mars). IR4 has added a complexity to this function not experienced for the past hundred years.  In order to execute this function successfully, HR Departments needs to be acutely aware of any new technological advancements in their industry and understand how the business can harness this technology for competitive advantage.  It requires the establishment of inter-departmental task teams (driven by HR and not operations) that forces the business to talk about how Technology and Talent will work together in the future.  HR Department then need to translate these future realities into Talent Management programmes that supports employees in this disruptive journey.

Function 3:  Talent Attraction and Acquisition.  Although the purpose of this function remains the same as ever (getting the right talent for the right vacancies at the right time) the aspects that comprise this function has evolved.  Recruitment today is closer to sales and marketing than to traditional HR functions.  Therefore, those specializing in this function need highly developed sales and marketing skills. Recruitment Department should also learn to function more like sales and marketing departments.  This first part of Recruitment, Talent Attraction, involves marketing factors such as Employer Branding and Recruitment Marketing.  The second part, Talent Acquisition, involves sales aspects such as market segmentation (target candidates), CRM Software (Recruitment Software) and Sales interactions between Recruiters and Candidates that involve Unique Selling Points (EVP) and deal closing and objection handling.  Traditional Recruitment aspects such as Candidate Screening still forms part of this function but due to technology such as video interviewing, online assessments, automation and artificial intelligence, the efficiency and accuracy of these aspects are improved exponentially.

Function 4:  Employee Engagement.  This contemporary aspect of HR has evolved from the traditional aspects of Performance Management, Career Development Planning, Remuneration and Health & Safety.  It combines all these aspects in one Function that aims to improve individual and company performance.  The core value system of this function is not built around the company and using carrots and sticks to get people to work harder.  It is a much softer approach that places the employee at the core.  It still involves systems of monitoring and measurement performance against predetermined targets and ultimately some form of reward for various levels of actual performance. It still involves career planning and retention and elements such as compliance to relevant regulations (e.g. health and safety). But the focus has changed from what the Employee is doing to increase productivity to what the company is doing to create an environment where productivity is encouraged. 

Remuneration and Career Development are no longer just expressed in monetary terms but is approached from a holistic employee wellness point of view.  Keeping employees engaged (and therefore productive) involves making sure that the work environment supports their professional and personal goals.  Technology and generational influence have already blurred the lines between work and home long ago, and this HR Function recognizes that fact and supports the Employee on this journey.

As you can see, I do not see payroll as part of HR.  I believe this is a finance function.  Yes, HR can provide insights and guidelines towards remuneration, perks and rewards (as part of the Engagement Function), but the management and execution of this needs to be with Finance.

Function 5:  Talent Development.  The evolution of this function does not lie in its purpose, which remains ensuring employees have the needed skills to execute their duties effectively and efficiently.  The evolution lies in its approach.  Gone are the days where static training programmes are presented at a single venue where groups of people need to take days of from work, resulting in lost productivity (and not to mention the costs for travel and accommodation). Today, Talent Development recognized the need for continuous learning and follows blended approaches that includes elements such as Digital Learning, Group Sessions and coaching & mentoring.  Since Talent Development needs to be bespoke and personalized, HR Departments are focused on content creation and digital delivery (which contains not only text but video, podcasts, online assessments). The latest advancement is to include Virtual Reality into training programmes.  Additionally, HR Departments need high level project management skills to ensure that training programmes are developed and executed on time and within budget.

Function 6:  Organized Labour Engagement.  The last function of HR is dealing with Employee Engagement on the macro level – when and where employees are organized into groups such as unions.  Although in the South African context this is traditionally the more confrontational part of Employer/Employee relations, all stakeholders should work towards moving closer to a collaborative relationship (hence my choice to use the word ‘Engagement’ in the function name). 

Nevertheless, business (like life) is – unfortunately – not a fairy-tale where everyone works together nicely and contributes equally and fairly towards the shared interest.  With IR4 causing more socio-economic disruption than we have seen globally for quite some time, managing the relationship between the company and employee groups will become vital to the company’s sustainable growth. Factors like labour displacement, the growing wage gap and youth unemployment are not just problems for government to solve – HR should take the lead that guide their businesses to navigate this complex matter successfully.

Lastly, I want to mention the traditional administrative duties that fell under the responsibility of HR Departments.  As our ability (and confidence) grows in utilizing technology to our advantage, I foresee that technology such as automation, chatbots and artificial intelligence will lead to the evolution of ERP systems as well as the development of bespoke software applications that will eventually remove the administrative burden from HR completely.  This will free HR Professionals to become more strategic and allow them to take the lead in navigating our businesses through IR4.


This article was originally published on 

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