The following is an interview I conducted with Carol Morrison of i4cp on the future of HR. A very compelling conversation we had.
Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst. She has been with i4cp for eight years,
researching and writing about the talent, strategy, and leadership issues that
directly affect organizational performance. In addition, Carol has authored
articles for Talent Management Magazine,
Chief Learning Officer, HRPS Journal, Human Resource Executive, and other
I’ve heard for some years that HR
professionals desire a role that makes them more of a partner in the business
enterprise. Is this desire becoming a reality? Are they moving the needle?
You’re absolutely right. This has been – and continues to
be – an evolution for HR and the business partner role. i4cp’s interviews with
CHROs and other top HR and business leaders confirm that many are shifting
their HR functions toward greater efficiency in handling the transactional and
administrative duties typically associated with HR. Technology is helping to
enable that transition.
In turn, greater efficiency affords HR professionals more
time to focus on the value they can provide to the business by helping to
identify issues that impede productivity, by uncovering potential opportunities,
and in working with business leaders to better leverage the contributions of
the workforce. As i4cp’s recent study, The
Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor, underscores, the HR
professional’s role is all about driving organizational performance and that’s
unfolding in more companies today.
What traits/strengths should the HR
professional of tomorrow possess?
Exploring competencies that the future
HR professional will need is one of the core aspects of the i4cp study.
Certainly, keen business savvy is the starting point for a business partner who
can be a trusted and credible advisor to business leaders. It’s more than an
understanding of basic financial statements and business models. It’s in-depth
business acumen, along with such competencies as strategic thinking, the
ability to develop and execute strategy, a strong sense of ethics,
organizational design skills, comprehension of metrics and analytics, decision-making
capabilities, and an understanding of technologies and information systems.
CHROs with whom we spoke told i4cp
that HR performance advisors need to know how to ask the right questions to get
at the issues important to the business. They need courage to speak up when
it’s important to question the status quo, and the emotional intelligence that
enables them to effectively function in volatile situations and to serve as
confidantes when business leaders need reliable counsel.
How will the HR function stay relevant
in the next 10 years?
By contributing those competencies
just described. As long as organizations employ workforces, HR will be not only
relevant, but crucial. Human capital generally represents an organization’s
greatest investment and its greatest asset. If you are a leader who believes
that employees and their contributions are key elements that drive innovation,
differentiation, and competitive advantage, then there’s an important place in
your organization for HR professionals who can help you optimize performance by
ensuring that your workforce is appropriately trained, motivated, and deployed
to execute your business strategies.
In some ways, HR is exploring the last
frontier that holds promise for truly affecting business performance. The
economic challenges of recent years have sharpened leaders’ abilities to cut
costs, streamline processes, and wring all they can from tangible
organizational assets. There is tremendous power in the intangibles that
employees bring: discretionary effort, creativity, tenacity, wide-ranging talents,
and the desire to excel – to name just a few. HR is the integral link in the
performance chain – the force for uncovering and developing that human capital
On the whole, do most HR professionals
understand the challenges ahead within the world of work?
Yes – certainly as well as any of us
can understand the challenges within our volatile business environment. HR
professionals see the work world’s issues reflected in the faces of the
employees and managers they serve every day. So long as HR professionals – and
those involved in every other business discipline – remain curious, eager to
learn, and engaged in moving their organizations ahead, they’ll rise to the
challenges that come their way.
In fact, HR already may be ahead of
the curve. HR professionals often are intimately involved in organizational
change initiatives. Leading the way for change and helping employees and
leaders, alike, adjust to it has afforded HR professionals years of
opportunities to develop the agility and resilience to meet even unanticipated
circumstances with solid skills and resolve.
In addition, the HR leaders who shared
their views with i4cp made clear their investment in providing their promising
talent with unprecedented development options. Often, these involve stretch
assignments, job rotations, and specialized training that extends far beyond
the boundaries of HR. That means HR professionals are learning about
operations, finance, marketing, and other business functions, along with the
challenges they face. They return to HR with expanded networks that cross
functional lines and with a deeper understanding of the issues challenging employees
and managers organization-wide.
How can entrepreneurs, who are
building organizations, include HR in the vision and execution of business
By doing just that – including them at the top level from the
outset. Savvy executives know that HR leaders are valuable members of teams
charged with developing business strategy. Leaving human capital considerations
out of strategy formulation is an ill-informed approach that seriously
jeopardizes execution. You wouldn’t leave out budget considerations when
planning new business objectives. Nor would you ignore the technologies or
equipment you’d need to accomplish your desired ends. Employees and their
skills are an equally vital element. Strategies require execution, and that
falls to managers and employees. In many companies, carefully crafted plans
fail because leaders leave human capital considerations out of the strategy
When i4cp researchers interviewed
Larry Myers, SVP of HR at T-Mobile, he observed that “companies that understand
the impact that sophisticated, top-quality HR organizations and professionals
can have, automatically gain strategic and business advantage. Their executive
teams would not think of making a step strategically without involving HR.”
Successful entrepreneurs understand
that ideas, resources, technologies, processes and people must be deftly melded in order to bring business goals to
fruition. They include HR leaders in developing
strategies to ensure that they’ve addressed all the elements necessary to
capably executing those strategies.