Posted on 10 May 2017

The world is adapting to a global economic environment disrupted by uncertainty and shocks. The new normal is slow growth while meeting the challenges of unseen competition with new business models from multiple and diverse markets. Businesses are having to adapt to meet the challenges of geopolitical risk and supply side constraints: slowing labour force growth and weak productivity. It is in this environment that business leaders are looking to their talent to drive change, innovate and react to ensure the sustainability of their companies.

“We have to ensure that the workforce of the future is developed in tandem with the culture and values of its companies.”

When questioned, global CEOs have articulated the need for their organisations to focus on the development of their talent and leadership, to drive the change that will ensure the best practices of operational excellence, productivity, customer centricity and innovation are met. To drive their organisations forward and meet the challenges of tomorrow, we have to ensure that the workforce of the future is developed in tandem with the culture and values of their companies. In this environment, the old world of HR may not be ready, or equipped, to meet these challenges.

Traditional HR practices are ingrained, with a focus on creating HR strategy to drive people strategies, and ultimately addressing business challenges. Leaders are developed to deal with the challenges of today, not tomorrow. Strategic workforce planning is undertaken without consideration of external factors or rapidly changing competitive landscapes. Ultimately, HR talks of transformational change, while its business partners talk of quarterly results, metrics and data. Can HR practitioners rise to the challenges, speak the language of business, and meet the demands of future talent?

“An understanding of analytics and evidence-based HR to drive the business conversation and articulate the story, is critical.”

The bridge can be crossed, but it will require a change of mindset, a shift in thinking, where the focus is on the business challenge and not on the HR practice. In a world of short-termism, a step back is required to consider values and purpose, and how those values are aligned with strategy. An understanding of analytics and evidence-based HR, to drive the business conversation and articulate the story, is critical. Finally, an acceptance that we now live in a digital world, where our future employees are, rightly or wrongly, well informed and connected, is required.

When addressing mindset, the natural reaction is to study those often-mentioned disruptive companies: How do they think? How do they challenge business and social norms? On a more granular level, J. Kenji López-Alt, wrote the US best-selling cookery book “The Food Lab”. In it, he debunked traditional methodologies of cooking, exploring the permutations, the considered traditional approaches to cooking. He adopted a scientific approach, often through a comparison between control measurements and the other measurements. In essence, he refused to accept the given as best practice, and always asked why? HR process is a science too, and in order to develop it, we must learn to ask why? The business of HR must learn to experiment and constantly ask: is the traditional approach the right way to do things?

“Talent acquisition needs to assess not only the skills of the candidate, but also their values alignment with the business.”

With declining numbers in the workforce and the disconnect between educational institutions and business exacerbating the workforce readiness challenge, talent acquisition strategies are going to have to evolve from being driven purely by competencies. Talent acquisition needs to assess not only the skills of the candidate, but also their values alignment with the business. And the pool of talent is diverse. Why invest in the development of talent, if the talent does not have the values of their future employer? Some companies are already using gamification to assess the values of their candidates; others are moving away from the traditional competency models; EY has broadened its recruitment policies to engage non-graduates. In essence, these routes recognise that diversity of talent is going to help drive their businesses forward and that the values of the business are a powerful hook in attracting and retaining talent.

With a focus on talent acquisition, development and retention, workforce analytics is changing the conversation. When one considers talent development, the standard practice is to implement a series of interactions, be they coaching, international assignments, action learning etc. However, if one considers these as levers, HR pulls them all with little understanding of the value of each individual component, rather only assessing the impact of the combined result. Analytics will allow a better understanding of the metrics of each lever and allow for the return on investment to elements measured. This changes the conversation from: ‘we are transforming this’ to ‘we are doing this and this is how you measure the value’. Ultimately, we are changing the conversation from an anecdotal one to a predictive one.

Beyond analytics, the advent of the 4th industrial revolution has arrived – a digital revolution that will harnesses both data and technology, that will reshape business strategy, reshape companies and disrupt industries. While many executives believe that digital transformation should be a strategic priority, few companies are prepared, primarily driven by a lack of digital leadership and familiarity with the processes and benefits. As business begins to realise the benefits of the digital transformation, it will provide an upside in innovation, productivity and growth. In tandem, HR leaders need to consider their role in the revolution; established functions will be disrupted, including organisational design, learning, talent and skills. As the digitisation of labour becomes a competitive advantage, the world of HR will need to be more agile in its operations and thinking.

HR, with a traditional focus on the development of talent, must consider the future of work. Skills, and the definition of competencies, are evolving. Consider the basic competency of collaboration: it was initially designed to ensure employees could transition from a hierarchical structure to a matrix-driven environment. Now collaboration involves working with colleagues in different time zones, from diverse backgrounds and across multiple media. In the future, and with the advent of the contingent workforce, leaders are going to be hired to drive specific projects: how effectively they collaborate with their internal and external network will be the key driver in ensuring project success.

HR leaders must focus on their own development and that of their teams. To do this they need to consider how they can mimic the future of leadership. They must surround themselves with experts with experience that is unorthodox to HR – expertise in marketing, finance, social media, analytics, strategy and the digital world – if they are going to evolve to meet the challenges of business, and the business of HR.


The world is changing. Business is changing. Is HR changing?