The group of wise men and women in the boardroom seemed confused. They were all looking at the single word projected in large fonts on the screen ahead of them – Millennials – waiting for someone to break the ice. It was unfamiliar territory, an unknown that they needed to embrace but didn’t know how just yet. The adventurous amongst them took the lead, speaking out their mind, trying to make sense of the word while others listened intently. The mood inside the room now began to lighten and people started to find their tongues once again.
Just then, with a slight flicker, the letters on the screen changed. They were forming a new word now – Technology. The occupants of the room once again looked stumped, exchanging sheepish glances with each other with the hope that it wouldn’t be them who would have to take the lead in decoding the puzzle this time around.
This might be a fictional account, but it isn’t very far from the reality that organizations are faced with today. Not only is the business landscape changing dramatically, but the pace of the change itself is making it difficult for organizations to keep pace. Embracing change, be it in core organizational processes or the platforms that support them, require substantial investments in unlearning and learning as well as managing the change. And then, these innovations come with no defined validity period. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few quarters before they turn obsolete, leaving the first movers high and dry.
One of the harbingers of such change for any organization today is its people function. This is a sharp contrast to the traditional role of human resources and is a change in itself. An empowered HR team of today needs to be closely rooted into business, have a deep understanding of future trends, opportunities and challenges that the business faces, and needs to display agility in preparing organizations for changes anticipated in the future. It is only then that the function will be able to successfully play its role as an usher of change and retain its relevance.
Let us try and decode the gibberish from the preceding paragraph before we explore some of the key trends that will define how the people function of tomorrow will need to behave and look like. A few years ago, the term Digital came in vogue and organizations moved rapidly to incorporate it in their ethos. However, those that did this most effectively were where the ground had been laid by HR in terms of structural realignments, hiring of resources who understood this phenomenon and empowering them to take material decisions.
On the other hand, the laggards simply managed a tick in the box by introducing the ‘D’ word in their strategy documents and delegating the responsibility to one of the extant functions like IT or Marketing. These functions not only had their plates full already but were also limited by their understanding of the digital landscape and its true potential. They ended up fulfilling their assigned responsibilities by picking up off the shelf solutions for non-core processes like office access, payroll or employee travel claims processing. These were organizations that went digital only in letter and not in spirit.
The above example emphasizes how the people function plays a pivotal role in preparing organizations to make the most of innovations that they ought to embrace. And it is only fair, given that in large organizations, business functions are so entrenched in their given style of functioning that a stimulus is required for them to even agree to change. It is for the HR folks to step up and introduce such stimulus at the right moment and in the right places.
To be able to deliver against this expectation, the first major change I foresee is in terms of sourcing of talent. Talent acquisition will not only have to acquire a futuristic outlook, but it also needs to mediate between the organizational needs and that of the talent it seeks. This, in turn, will define the sourcing pool for such talent and the terms of engagement with them.
Talent acquisition specialists need to understand structural dynamics within their organizations and have a say in shaping it. They also need to better understand the deliverables and skill requirements of each role and whether it can be better handled by a portfolio worker rather than a fulltime resource. With an unprecedented rise in freelance and portfolio workers, especially in certain specific areas of work, it is for the talent acquisition specialist to redefine traditional job roles and offer more effective and efficient manning solutions to their employers.
The second big change in the workplace of tomorrow will be the terms of engagement with individual employees. With an increased thrust on individualism and enhanced bargaining power of those possessing scarce skills, organizations will need to display far more flexibility in how they engage with their people. Standard policies and rigid terms will need to give way to broad guidelines offering a fair degree of flexibility in designing individual employment contracts. Customization is going to be the key in acquiring and retaining critical talent in the not-so-distant future.
This flexibility in engagement terms will require a relook into the compensation and employee benefits policies, giving individuals the right and flexibility to choose what they want and in which form. The gradual erosion of hierarchical structures and the surge in zig-zag career paths over linear ones will mean that individuals will look for a greater say in the skills they learn and the competencies they acquire. This is likely to influence the organizational training and development philosophies as well. The T&D leads would need to limit their internal offerings to certain core areas, mostly functional, and depend on external sources to complete their basket of developmental offerings.
To successfully navigate through these two broad areas of change, the HR function itself would need to become agile and nimble. This is the third big change that organizations of tomorrow are certain to witness. In fact, we are witnessing more cross-functional movements into HR, and individuals without the supposedly necessary pedigree making a mark for themselves in this space. If we follow some of these success stories, we will find a sound understand of business and its needs, and the ability to meet them innovatively and efficiently at their core.
There is going to be no hiding behind processes or rule-books in the workplace of tomorrow. Rules that stand in the way of organizational progress will need to be rewritten, within the ambit of the legal and moral frameworks of course, and processes would need to be redesigned. And it is for the human resources function to lead their organizations in this journey into the future.
HR 40 under 40 Leader & Top 100 Training & Development Minds of India – 2019. Anurag Anand is also the bestselling author of books like To Hell and Back, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy & The Legend of Amrapali.