The future and HR — the oth­er side of the worm-hole

Recent­ly, we host­ed a sem­i­nar on the Future of HR and heard from two experts in the field about their expe­ri­ence and thoughts on the rapid­ly trans­form­ing work­place and their pre­dic­tions for the future. 

That night we slipped trhough the worm-hole to reveal what a thriv­ing HR pro­fes­sion­al will look like in the future dimension.

The dis­tilled wis­dom of the evening was that a suc­cess­ful HR pro­fes­sion­al of the future will have mor­phed them­selves from fill­ing a large­ly process-dri­ven or com­pli­ance’ role into being a trust­ed advi­sor to their employ­er in rela­tion to its human cap­i­tal strategy. 

The HR advi­sor must con­sid­er how to:

  • man­age the costs of human cap­i­tal where there is great com­pe­ti­tion for talent
  • best remu­ner­ate and resource employ­ees to help them exceed cus­tomer expectations, 

and, at the same time

  • con­tin­ue to min­imise self­ish behav­iour in the work­place and pro­tect the busi­ness from its ramifications

The view of the pan­el was that HR pro­fes­sion­als will need to have a much deep­er under­stand­ing of the busi­ness and to be able to talk with author­i­ty and insight in rela­tion to its finan­cial and oper­a­tional aspects as well as its human cap­i­tal needs. In addi­tion, the HR pro­fes­sion­al will need to have a very good under­stand­ing of the mar­ket­ing direc­tion of the busi­ness and insight into where the mar­ket and com­peti­tors are head­ing (or even are like­ly to go).

Increas­ing­ly, the basic process­es that sit with­in many HR func­tions are being replaced by off-the-shelf tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven solu­tions. Much of what has occu­pied the HR pro­fes­sion­al – par­tic­u­lar­ly the inex­pe­ri­enced ones – is being usurped by technology. 

It is a sem­i­nal time: change can be intim­i­dat­ing or it can be embraced.

I had the plea­sure of con­tribut­ing to the pan­el from a legal per­spec­tive. I took the audi­ence (briefly!) through the last 40 years of seem­ing­ly expo­nen­tial growth in leg­is­la­tion and mapped out the trend towards an increased sense of enti­tle­ment on the part of staff. That ground upwards’ pres­sure is opposed by ever-tight­en­ing con­straints on com­pa­ny expens­es as mar­kets become more and more com­pet­i­tive through inter­na­tion­al mobil­i­ty of pro­duc­tion and the gal­lop­ing tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ments in all fields.

My final con­tri­bu­tion was the obser­va­tion that the work­place has changed from one of two par­ties (employ­er and employ­ee) to an atom­ised work­place – one where employ­ees are both the claimants and also often the tar­gets of oth­er employ­ees’ griev­ances. Increas­ing­ly, mem­bers of man­age­ment are being named per­son­al­ly as defen­dants in actions and are sep­a­rate­ly rep­re­sent­ed in cas­es before the Fed­er­al Court on areas such as adverse action, bul­ly­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion. In recent cas­es, HR man­agers have been held liable for being com­plic­it in employ­er breach­es and are fac­ing per­son­al fines (as well as foot­ing the bill for their own legal defence).

This invid­i­ous sit­u­a­tion for HR man­agers aris­es because the employ­er’s lawyers pro­vide ongo­ing advice and guid­ance that is in the employ­er’s inter­ests – inter­ests that may not ulti­mate­ly coin­cide with the HR pro­fes­sion­al’s inter­ests. For exam­ple, advice to the employ­er may be based on a premise that the employ­er is will­ing to take a risk where there is a grey area in leg­is­la­tion and a finan­cial incen­tive in tak­ing the risk. Yet, if the Fair Work Ombuds­man launch­es a pros­e­cu­tion, the HR pro­fes­sion­al per­son­al­ly (along with the com­pa­ny) may be found liable and fined for the breach. 

So, this is the atom­ised future, where the indi­vid­ual manager/​employee has to com­ply with their oblig­a­tions to their employ­er but also pro­tect their own interests. 

It is not dif­fi­cult to pre­dict that HR pro­fes­sion­als will some­times feel they are fac­ing an impos­si­ble bal­anc­ing act… 

Final­ly, I hope I gave our diverse HR guests some com­fort by shar­ing with them our lat­est ser­vice offer­ing: the Sound­ing Board’ – an afford­able, sec­ondary advice ser­vice line per­son­al­ly for the HR pro­fes­sion­al. If you would like to find out more about ser­vices such as the Sound­ing Board’, please get in touch via pri­vate message.