In recent times, the human resource function has taken on a more strategic and empowering role in most businesses as the value of people in business has become increasingly recognised as critical to the long-term success of any venture.
The delicate question of what is the future of HR, like all future predictions, is fraught with imagination, controversy and at least partial failure. However, opinions on this matter are rich and common, originating from sources carrying brand names of global fame. A recent KPMG global survey of 1,362 HR executives reports that 6/10 believe that the HR function will rapidly become irrelevant if the industry doesn’t modernise its approach to planning for the future needs of the workforce.
So what are these needs? Well, there are many predictions out there:
The missing link
Most company operations can be broken down into matters of money, materials, machines, methods and people. Money, materials, machines, and methods can all be broken down into rational components with clear cause and effect; however, people can’t.
Human beings are driven largely by emotions. We are all driven by the fears and fantasies associated with the fundamental economic analogy of ‘guns and butter’; we want our companies to protect and sustain us.
The recent tragic events unfolding in Eastern Europe remind us of the old adage that it is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. Winning cultures are not built with rational resource management but with the power unleashed by extraordinary leadership and its associated motivation. The most recent example of many in history currently in the making is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. So, success and its cousins' culture and purpose all boil down to leadership.
Why then don’t we see predictions that HR will see a magnificent trend toward human capital activities geared to finding ways to guarantee long-term succession of robust, engaging and trusted leadership. There are scores of bad for every good leader in business and politics. One would think that on-the-ball organisations place a strong accent on ensuring great leadership at all times. And clearly, leadership is the fulcrum of human capital effectiveness and, therefore, HR purpose.
We know that good leaders have both commonsense and compassion, along with a host of well-documented associated attributes. But it seems that the development of such leadership potential is left largely to luck or chance rather than concrete HR practice. Somewhat cynically, may the best man (and sometimes woman) win the leadership race.
Clearly, differentiating between management and leadership is a crucial starting point. They are very different. Filtering recruitment processes to include medium and long-term leadership potential should be vital. Processes to identify leadership skills with appropriate youth leadership programmes will yield a pool of potential for proper succession and batten-passing in years to come.
We train people to do their job or to manage. Leadership training, rotation and mentorship are too often regarded as luxuries. Acquiring empathy and related EQ skills does not come naturally in management circles; they need to be taught and practised. Listening skills, motivational psychology, negotiation skills, and conflict management are as important to excellent leadership as experience and skills in strategy and business administration.
In summary, the future of successful HR will ensure that an organisation has a keen orientation for outstanding leadership and expertise in sourcing and developing a vibrant pool of leadership potential for the business as a whole and each of its parts.