The Future of HR


A couple of months ago whilst scrolling through my Twitter feed (or thumbing through – i’m not sure what the kids say these days), I came across a live twitter feed of an event that was taking place in London regarding the ever evolving role of Human Resources. One of the speakers posed the question

“Why do we think HR as a function has a right to survive?”.


We will of course, but it was certainly food for thought, and something i’ve thought about a lot since I discovered the tweet. It undoubtedly resonated with me.

If you’ve read my ‘about me’ section on this website you’ll see that i’m the chair and founder of the South Wales HR Forum, which is a new forum designed to be an alternative voice for the South Wales HR community. Our very first event is taking place on April 20th in Miskin Manor in South Wales and we have speakers who will be presenting on the topic of ‘The Future of HR’.

So now you can see how much the tweet stuck with me.

But you know what? It struck a chord with a lot of other people too. The event “sold out” (I use inverted commas as the event is free, and sold out means all tickets were reserved) within less than 3 days. We also have a very healthy reserve list too. Considering this event was posted on a weekend, when people generally might not check their LinkedIn or email accounts, I think this is impressive. It demonstrates that there are a lot of people interested in this really important topic within our community.

So as a precursor to that event, I thought i’d present my view on the subject in advance.

To know where we’re going, we must know where we’ve come from right?

I started in HR at the point of it just progressing from the ‘Personnel era’. Indeed, I remember being called a Personnel Officer as opposed to my contractual title of HR Advisor and thought it nothing more than a hang up. To go even further back I was actually referred to as a ‘Trainee B*****d’ when a young HR Apprentice but thats another story altogether!

I’ve seen the significant emergence of the Business Partner model and am seeing this becoming more popular, with those who adapt this model from Dave Ulrich and adjusting it accordingly to their business and their needs as was intended and suggested.

I’m currently re-reading Dave Ulrich’s ‘HR from the Outside In’ and the development of earlier ideas to determine that the main external influencer of any business (usually, the customer) I think makes perfect sense and is a natural progression of the BP model.

The CIPD wish for the HR function to continue to be Strategic Partners, and I don’t disagree.

But hypothetical question – who should really determine our future and that of our function?

“Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi.

We are encouraged to shape our agenda, promote best practice and support change. I have never had a problem with this, on one important condition – that its what the business in which the HR professional works both needs and wants.

Some readers at this point will be thinking that this is an obvious statement to make. Some might assume its a dangerous strategy, especially if they feel the business needs and wants their particular HR function to operate in a low level administration way or in a manner that is unethical. However, what I really mean is if the strategy we design for ourselves doesn’t enable the business to achieve what it needs to achieve, if it doesn’t help the business succeed in its quest to meet its mission and vision, then surely the strategy is redundant, and quite frankly, absolutely useless?

This is where I admire Ulrich’s comments in ‘HR from the Outside In’. It takes the strategy further. If we are supposed to be aligned to help our businesses achieve what it needs to achieve, then surely satisfying the customers demands is the higher power in that pyramid. And so if that is the case, why shouldn’t we meet with the customers of our business and see what they want from their supplier to produce a strategy accordingly. Think about it. Should patients of the NHS contribute to the direction that the HR function should help support the service towards so that the service is improved and therefore meeting the patients needs? Just one example to illustrate my point.

I started this blog post by confirming in my view HR will succeed as a function. This is because, as a function we have the ability to change at the heart of our profession. We are a resilient lot, often humble and wanting to succeed for the right reasons. We are generally not hypocritical and we know that as advocates of change we are, through the CIPD’s feedback gathering programmes and the works of people like Dave Ulrich, already gearing up for the next big change to affect our profession.

People are people, not programmed machines or factual numbers. Thats why our function will survive, just not in a way that we perhaps might have considered yet. Businesses have always needed to adapt to survive in a Darwin-esque manner, and so we have too.

And so we will.