From payroll management and contracts to employee experience and agile methods. HR is changing at a blistering pace.
But what's causing this development, and why is it important to understand the conditions?
Moreover, what does a Jedi have to do with anything?
We give you the answers to all these questions in this investigation of the new role of HR.
A paradigm shift is in progress in HR. A fundamental change in what we spend our time doing and how we do it. Over the past 15-20 years, the role of HR has changed – from being a back office role heavy on administration to taking on a strategic function within management teams. This is a role that makes itself seen and heard and makes a difference right the way down to the wire.
This change has been allowed to mature slowly. And it really needed to do so, too. How commitment and profitability are linked together, for instance, hasn't been easy to explain – especially not in terms of figures. There simply hasn't been understanding for it. The perception of cause and effect has been focused on other matters. And when managers said "our staff are our most important asset" – I do in front of an audience – this has rarely meant anything in practice.
Things are different nowadays.
Things are changing at an incredible pace, and the HR industry is bubbling like never before. HR is no longer an isolated issue taking place in parallel with other activities. It's on its way to becoming integrated in the very heart of the business. And with this, the chances of making a difference increases significantly. We're now seeing lots of initiatives related to employee experience and how new HR stars are stepping out into the spotlight. Hurrah for that, we say! For management teams, HR has become one of their top priority areas. Emphasis on the customer experience has shifted, and nowadays there's more frequent focus on the employee experience.
Voyages of change rarely follow a straight course. Changes can be incredibly challenging and sometimes pull the organisation apart. On the one half of the pitch, you have the people who think things are going too slowly trying to speed things up. People who always rely on their own internal compass and don't allow themselves to be impeded by "this is the way we've always done it" approach. And on the other side, you have the people who don't approach the change with the same degree of rashness. Instead, they find their roles and functions in the more traditional parts of the profession. When it comes to HR, there's no opposition in this regard. Quite the opposite in fact: there's a mutual dependence. Although the role of HR is broader and more complex than ever, it still involves payroll management, negotiations and agreements. And by no means have all organisations made as much progress as they would like.
However, our changing world requires us to embrace agile work and the fact that people with plenty of drive who have lots of ideas are always emerging. Daredevils. Heroes.
HR's voyage of change is mainly driven by three factors which together provide impetus and shape the criteria:
- The new generation (with other values and requirements) that takes up a position on the labour market.
- A service sector that's grown at a record pace.
- The people – the HR heroes that get the job done (we call them HR Jedis).
1. Millennials – a generation of people with completely new requirements who are now taking on leading positions
In the US, it's estimated that millennials will make up 50 per cent of the country's total workforce by 2020 – in less than two years' time. This means we can no longer regard these people as a marginal group. They have to be taken very seriously indeed. This is particularly important as this generation has different requirements and dreams to previous generations. They're not necessarily tempted by the opportunity to quickly climb the career ladder towards the top levels of pay. They're not interested in the hierarchical labyrinths of gigantic global corporations. They feel it's more important to have a good manager, colleagues you get on well with, and a good atmosphere in the workplace. This is evident from the survey Young Professionals Attraction Index Sweden 2017 involving students and academics at the start of their careers that was carried out by Academic Work.
This is also a group of people who require feedback in a completely different way to earlier generations. They have stringent demands when it comes to transparency, and they're not automatically loyal to their employers. Senior managers, managers and HR therefore have to agree on their understanding of what this means to their business and organisation. Because things will change, you can be sure of that.
2. Progress in the service sector
More than half of Sweden's production currently comes from the private service sector. Eight out of ten new start-ups in Sweden are service companies – knowledge-intensive, fast-moving organisations with a clear digital agenda and a global market waiting round the corner. For these companies, staff are absolutely crucial as their expertise is the actual business concept. Being an attractive employer with a top-notch HR department is one of the keys to success.
This won't come as a surprise to organisations that have been responsive to the world around them. They've tagged along on this journey and created modern HR work throughout the entire organisation. These companies are a major contributory factor in the advance in HR. Great work! But for lots of companies, this presents an enormous challenge. Staff are important – yes, of course! What does that mean, in specific terms? Suddenly people are facing a battery of questions and fumbling around for knowledge and quick solutions.
Just as change creates groups of innovators and traditionalists, some companies press on while others stand still.
3. People – our HR Jedis
Heroes, role models, champions… or – why not? – HR Jedis. Well, this is what we've decided to call them, these people who go their own way, have belief in their own ideas and don't back off in the face of resistance. In the long run, it's thanks to our HR Jedis that things actually get done. These are the people who stick out their necks, focus on the right things and get others to accompany them along the way. Without these people, the HR journey would simply not happen.
These days, the role of the HR department covers everything from passing on information and acting as administrators and brand ambassadors, to proving themselves and delivering on brief. They have to be effective, and they have to create effects. Quite simply, they have quite a job to do. And to manage it all, they need pretty otherworldly qualities. Luckily, some people do actually possess such qualities.
But what are these qualities like? What sets an HR Jedi apart from the rest? How do you become an HR Jedi?
We've identified three areas that characterise the HR Jedi:
- They understand business
This may sound important and obvious, but it also means they can burst the HR bubble and head out into reality. The HR Jedi is the link between the management team's vision and day-to-day work within the organisation. Understanding business also involves them being into the manager's shoes and supporting the management in all processes. Or, as the old saying goes, "Behind every successful manager is an HR Jedi".
- They're relationship builders, from their heads to their toes
Focusing on people can mean many things. Sometimes it means nothing at all. Except for an HR Jedi – in that case, it means everything. The true Jedi navigates in a way that's based on people in all respects, no matter who they are or what role they play. People are at the very heart of HR, and that's how things are going to stay.
- They're unafraid
Modern HR is specific, measurable. This is why you need the courage to embrace change and go your own way, unafraid of the potential consequences. Being unafraid also involves daring to talk about the elephant in the room. That's not always a comfortable thing to do. But being comfortable isn't what an HR Jedi is all about.
Support, opposition? New insights or just a rehash of old stuff? What are your thoughts on the new HR role?
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