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It cannot be disputed the importance the strategic role HR plays in business growth. The last twenty years have witnessed a determined advocacy to put HR on the front row of strategic decision making. Whilst the advocates have been largely successful (except perhaps in the area of mentoring HR professionals, they have not been as passionate as they have in advocating for a seat at the executive table), they have been challenged by the critics’ intentional plan to return HR to its past.Lately, there is an on-going conversation about the future of HR in a digital-driven era.The key question being asked are: what critical factors will shape the HR profession in the coming years? Two factors stand out: Talent and Culture. Since McKinsey’s 1997 article on “The War for Talent,” companies have attached high importance to hiring high-performing workers, developing them and seeking innovative ways to engage and retain them.With the knowledge of an increasing entry of Millennials into the workplace, talent management has become key on the HR radar. Why? Because focusing on talent management alone is not enough. The thousands if not millions of Millennials that are entering the workplace would be experiencing an already existing culture which may sync with their personal values or not. Hence, crafting a culture that supports the development of talent is critical.


In this first part of a series of articles How Talent & Culture will play out in HR’s Future,I would be sharing how these two interrelated concepts would shape the future of HR and significantly impact business. In this week’s edition, I will look at the evolution of HR. From the days of being labelled as administrative service provider with focus on: labour relations, salary administration and staff welfare, HR evolved into an operational executor where it moved into implementing policies on day-to-day basis and communicating its implications to staff. This evolution was a step ahead; HR professionals had to imbibe the skills of planning, data gathering and communication to express their work. HR moved into a strategic advisory role: aligning HR practices behind business strategy and offering an informed opinion on the people implications of business decisions. Key skills required under this dispensation are analytics and business acumen. I want us to extend this strategic role into a leadership role.


In addition to the skills of having a high level business acumen and analytical prowess is the need for HR professionals to lead the business into new frontiers of growth and profitability. I am making a case for this because, in all intents and purposes, in as much as HR has gained relatively much attention and respect thanit was twenty years ago, practitioners’ seeming lack of skillin numbers and finance, in the bigger context still remains a major drawback.This requires an upgrade in skill: improving in the areas of technology, finance, operations and business development. In other words, tomorrow’s HR professionals must not only know HR from a technical competency perspective, but must also wield strong knowledge in the other key aspects of the business.


Admittedly, anytime HR talks about talent, the focus is on hiring competent people to handle various aspects of work in the business. How about talent in the HR department itself? Is it not even possible HR “people” may lack the knack for identifying high potential talent if they are not highly skilled people themselves?Starting with HR professionals, we ought to examine what competencies are critical to successfully carry out the HR work.Leveraging on the wisdom of notable academics, four critical competencies would drive HR effectiveness:Talent & Leadership Optimizer, Business Developer, Culture Shaper and Digital Builder.




Talent & Leadership Optimizer:

More would still be required of HR professionals to unearth the best in people. Considering that, the Jewish-born physicist and thinker, Albert Einstein opined that, “he activated only 15% of his intellectual capacity”, amidst several studies into human behaviour and performance that seem to suggest that, the brightest individuals do not activate even a quarter of their potential, it throws a challenge to HR professionals to do even more to develop world-class digital leaders,maximize performanceand keep these talents for sustainability and succession.One keytask is strengthening the middle leadership talent pipeline. The levels of uncertainty surrounding employee engagement, even amongst senior leaders, makes sense why the next generation must be ready to step up and lead, when the need arises.


Business Developer:

HR must move from providing support interventions to the business to actually driving the business to new frontiers of growth and profitability. They must understand the business inside-out and then, approach business development from an outside-in perspective. They must identify new market opportunities, analyse their commercial viability, convince executive leadership of their conviction, hire the right people to develop these opportunities and ensure their sustained peak performance. Tomorrow’s HR professional must not wait to be told what opportunities are in the offing and then tasked to schedule an interview to hire some people because the new business requires additional hands. HR practitioners, let us take our trade a step further. Let us know what is trending so we cantactfully advise against or for, in the best interest of the business.


You do not lead with ignorance. Our “adversaries” have for years ridiculed our phobia for numbers, data and analytics. Somehow, they were right. Our constant interest in administrative and transactional issues at the expense of positioning people to drive growth justified this criticism. That notwithstanding, we have an enormous opportunity to topple these gaps and make meaningful contribution to decision making. We have to be able to propose a budgetary cut for compensation for new hires by submitting that, we hire less people butfocusing on quality, increase their salaries marginally and save cost instead of hiring more, who may not be effective after all.Our greatest weapon in this new age is our people skills and unarguably, strong business acumen.


Culture Shaper:

The Millennials are here; they are not yet to come. They are with us. Their presence requires a rethink of prevailing cultural environment in organisations. To retain them and get the best out of them requires a complete overhaul of work itself and workplace arrangements. They are better off working in teams and on specific projects. They prefer to have fun whilst working. They despise the traditional performance monitoring mechanisms we have in place, such as: weekly KPIs and having to report to work at 8am and leave by 5pm. Their orientation strongly challenges the conventional workplace knowledge.They prefer a workplace with a spa, an entertainment centre, a sports arena and counting. HR professionals would need to draft Diversity and Inclusion Policies for executive approval and then, implementation. At the extreme, there would be the need to re-arrange the entire office premises to reflect this home-away-from-home experience that the Millennials seek. More importantly, we will also need to introduce in-house mentoring and knowledge exchange programs that allowthe Millennials to tap into the rich expertise of the Baby Boomers as well as the Millennials to also teach the Boomers some knowledge in evolving trends in technology.



Digital Builder:

The world can be defined in a simple sentence: a global, digital ecosystem. This ecosystem is driven by apps, social media, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and so on. The digital revolution is getting scarier by the day. It appears to me, the ability to code, develop an app and arrange robotics may be top on the competency framework of many emerging businesses. Again, HR professionals cannot and must not be left in the dark. It places yet another enormous challenge on us: to be digital-inclined. We must return to school to learn how to participate actively in this digital ecosystem that is here with us. Moreover, as the guardians of purpose and strategy, HR must shape strategic discourse. We must know enough to affirm decisions or otherwise.To be continued……




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