By: Stacey Harris, VP, Research & Analytics, Sierra-Cedar

Posted on 09 Sep 2015

The Gist

  • HR is grappling with transformational changes here and on in the horizon.
  • Disruptive technologies represent a double-edged sword for HR and workplaces.
  • The changing workforce composition demands strategic forecasting capabilities.

Stacey, do you think that HR is disconnected from the business imperative?

I wouldn’t use the word ‘disconnected.’ Historically, HR hasn’t been an early adopter function within the business. They are responsible for pulling things together versus pushing new initiatives. In some cases, driving change isn’t a comfortable position for them. HR is still paying its dues – I’m always surprised by the high number of interactions that involve HR having to ask to be included in strategic conversations.

HR hasn’t necessarily stepped up in terms of technologies and tools, especially in comparison to their counterparts in other parts of the business, such as finance and operations. Our research shows that only about 12% of organisations are doing real strategic planning, and only about 25% of these organisations have the tools needed to do workforce planning.

Only about 12% of organisations are doing real strategic planning

There are other significant trends that are challenging HR teams. We’re grappling with macro trends such as multiple generations in the workforce – generations that have different expectations and ways in which they work. For example, millennials are accustomed to receiving text messages and think that’s a perfectly normal way of sharing – and potentially oversharing – information. The “Internet of Things” has resulted in the blurring of privacy boundaries and that has huge implications for HR.

What trends do you think will be disruptive for HR?

In the next 5-10 years, we’ll see increased tracking of our work habits and actions. Some industries are more advanced in this category, such as transportation and package delivery companies that track their drivers via GPS. More intrusive tracking won’t be in general use for another generation. Wearables are a good example – similar to how physical facilities have fallen out of vogue in favor of telecommuting, we’ll abandon traditional phone systems and interact wherever we are: in our cars, on the road, via satellite. How will HR capture and handle the resulting data?

We’ll see increased tracking of our work habits and actions.

Social media has already been disruptive for HR. Whomever is in your organisation is now on LinkedIn and other social networking channels – sometimes with greater clarity and dimension of information than what HR possesses through traditional data collection means. There is actually a tool available that allows you to know who in your organisation is looking for a job, just by scraping all the internet data. This has ramifications across borders, impacting management training and compliance with privacy regulations.

Robots will also be used to replace humans, especially in manufacturing, agriculture and business services. HR will need to play a key role in this workplace of the future by getting ahead of this trend before it becomes a pervasive reality. Rather than reacting to it at the end of a process, HR needs to think about what skills and roles will be necessary in this new world and how to restructure the workforce in preparation for it.

Robots will also be used to replace humans, especially in manufacturing, agriculture and business services

With the degree of disruption faced by HR professionals, do you have any recommendations for them?

There are three areas they need to examine closely. First is workforce composition, which encompasses skills inventory. The entrepreneurial spirit of millennials has resulted in non-traditional engagements. Many of them are seeking to engage with employers as freelancers or contingent workers, putting pressure on traditional employment models. While this variable labor force represents potential cost-savings, they can just as easily walk out the door, taking valuable skills and knowledge with them. HR needs to analyze which roles need to be on staff and which roles can be outsourced. And, since misclassification of workers can result in hefty fines, HR needs to ensure regulations are being met locally.

Second, HR needs to embrace technology, and it’s not always their fault that they cannot. Many HR technology providers have designed their solutions for HR instead of the entire workforce. Given the consumerism of technology, workers expect to access flexible systems that can accommodate business change. Mobile has accentuated this gap – it literally puts HR applications in the hands of the employees; however, if the user or candidate experience isn’t positive, the outcomes aren’t positive either.

If the user or candidate experience isn’t positive, the outcomes aren’t positive either.

Lastly – and many would argue, most importantly – to support the future of work, HR needs to build its own bench strength in the area of data interpretation. We’ve seen some progress made in terms of data collection, yet without the ability to predict and forecast based on the data, it’s not actionable. Business wins are created by those organisations that can make strategic decisions, quickly. Given what a valuable asset one’s workforce is, HR’s insights are indispensable to the business.

Stacey Harris knows HR. Having been an influential industry analyst for more than eight years, Stacey’s credibility is further enhanced by her experience as the organisational effectiveness manager at a major retailer. Responsible for research and analytics at Sierra-Cedar, she produces the well-respected Annual HR Systems Survey that guides many organisations’ buying decisions. We recently caught up to discuss her work and observations.

About The Author

Stacey Harris
VP, Research & Analytics, Sierra-Cedar

A leading member of the HR practices and technology research community since 2007, Stacey launched Bersin & Associates HR research practice before joining Sierra-Cedar as Vice President of Research and Analytics in charge of Sierra-Cedar’s Annual HR Systems Survey and Research function.

View all other contributors