Has There Ever Been A More Exciting Time To Work In HR?

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“There’s never been a more exciting time to work in HR” is a comment i’ve heard a lot recently. I agree.

I’ve worked in HR all of my adult life, and at the start it was different to how it is now, but not dramatically so.

I ‘cut my teeth’ in large-scale manufacturing where automation and technological advancements had already reduced the number of employees on the site at which I was predominantly based, from the 50,000 it was reported to employ in its heyday to the approximately 3,500 employed back in 2001. This is proof that technology can often remove the need for humans. It’s a sad fact, but it is true, and there’s lots of evidence of it from the last 100 years or so.

In 2001, when I started my career, I could see a strong focus towards the importance of data and the use of integrated systems. SAP was our new shiny toy that incorporated HR, training, payroll, purchasing, stock control, planning, production, health and safety and lots and lots of other areas. Replace SAP with any of the alternatives, the ethos is still the same.

Organisational Development underpinned with correct organisational design, coaching and value-add L&D was being developed at this time to improve business performance, not just tick boxes for regulatory purposes or following a tired command-and-control military-esque reporting structure.

Employment legislation was continuing to progress, with the DDA about to change, agency workers regulations being mooted, and ‘age’ being the next protected characteristic being discussed.

Also, good practice was being questioned. Smart people around me were challenging the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ culture that came from an employer with a 100 year plus history. ‘Use synergies but avoid thinking that one shoe fits all’ was some great advice given to me in my late teens when I was starting to figure out whether HR was something I was going to do for the foreseeable future.

All of this was happening between 12 and 16 years ago. Not much in that respect has really changed, we still discuss lots of the same issue’s, but we’ve pivoted.

So if these examples show things haven’t changed all that much, then why do I feel like now is more exciting than ever to do what we do? Because the external world is demanding that HR needs to change in a very forthright way.

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PESTLE factors are forcing businesses to think and act differently, to embrace new ways of working and to challenge the norm. Competition is rife and aggressive in the world right now, as organisations operate under economic conditions and threats they’ve not faced for many years prior, certainly not in my lifetime.

The global political climate, brexit, gig economy, sexual harassment, gender pay, diversity and inclusion, right wing/left wing views, technology, AI, ‘robots are going to take our jobs’, this is all impacting directly upon our profession.

Exciting, right? But you’ll be forgiven if you’re also a little nervous, or even outright petrified. I’m apprehensive too.

What our businesses need right now, is us. HR.

This really is our time to stand up and be counted; to demonstrate within our businesses the strategic capability we have and the sheer potential we hold within ourselves to guide our organisations through these choppy waters.

HR can stay ahead of the curve, turn threats into opportunities, and create the blueprint towards an improved workplace of the future, as all workplaces, everywhere can be improved and I doubt any will be untouched by what is to come.

And we can offer this service and deliver this work with humility and with respect. Through using our intelligence, our ability and our passion that has often helped businesses navigate murky waters, develop cultures, and create livelihoods we can prove our worth, respectability and organisational credibility where needed.

“Being knowledgable is required, but being prepared is critical”

But to do that, we must be capable. No one wants to be the clueless person who is supposed to contribute significantly with such matters when all eyes turn on them for support and guidance. Being knowledgeable is required, but being prepared is critical. If when our moment comes, we are ill-equipped, we will miss an opportunity that might never come again.

We can act now by keeping up to speed with what’s ahead. Constantly monitoring the external factors to our businesses and assessing their potential impact is a great start. Keeping an eye on technology, speaking with other HR professionals (as well as non HR business people) and understanding what they are doing will also be beneficial.

Genuine and robust ‘future-proofing’ assessments can be built into our people strategies right now.

Assessing whether we have the skills to cope with these changes within our own HR departments (including a look at ourselves personally) should not be optional – if we aren’t capable, we’re doing our employers a disservice.

If we need to change, if we need to develop we owe it to our organisations to put our hands up and say “I need to know more about this to better serve this organisation in the future”. There is absolutely no shame in that. Lots of people need to know lots more stuff to be prepared for what’s to come, and we can set the example by swallowing pride and asking for help, where it’s required.

As a result, we’ll grow and be more enlightened. We’ll be more valuable and we’ll contribute at the level our businesses will require of us. We’ll be more intrinsic, and we’ll  thrive to the betterment of everyone.

There has never been a more exciting time to work within HR in my lifetime. The wave is coming. You can either ride it or wipe-out, but either way, it’s coming. Take control and take a lead or stand by and fall by the wayside.

I’ll be waxing my board.

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