The evolution of HR part three: Today and the future

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As the world of work has changed, the role of human resources has evolved significantly. It is important to understand the historical backdrop, because it has been fundamental in shaping what HR is today.

In part two of this series, we charted the progression of the function up to the early 2000s. It was beginning to respond to the challenges presented by the Ulrich model, and there is a strong focus on the value-add of HRM.

Today and the future:  Taking our learning forward 

In 2010 the CIPD published research that considered the role HR should take in the future to support organisations in achieving sustainable effective performance. Rather than promoting a specific way to organise the function, ‘next generation HR’ highlighted the importance of providing organisation insight underpinned by three ‘savvies’: 

Business savvy: Understanding the business

Organisation savvy: Understanding the organisation; the people, culture, structure, leadership etc.

Context savvy: Understanding the external environment in which the organisation operates (economic, political, legal and social issues for example). 

Looking forwards to the future of human resource management and the HR profession, there are some key areas of learning I believe we should take forward, to help ensure organisations benefit from their people.  

  • There is no magic formula to fit all organisations 

Even in the same sector, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to HRM. While there are certain practices that we know are likely to lead to positive performance outcomes, it is important to find the right structure and approach given the context both within and outside the organisation. 

  • HRM needs to visibly and substantively add value 

There is much research currently being carried out into HR metrics, which recognises the need to demonstrate a return on investment for HRM activities. Capturing quantitative and qualitative data to show added value is vital in seeking further investment. In my experience many HR professionals still struggle to explain the impact of their policies, practices and projects on their organisations.

  • HRM has a critical role in supporting current and driving future organisation change 

The pace of change impacting on organisations is greater than ever before. HRM can support and drive change in many ways including: providing insights that are future focused, developing organisation agility through effective flexible working practices, and shaping communication strategies during change.

  • HRM has an important role as the ‘conscience of the organisation’ 

Corporate scandals such as Enron and the global financial crisis of 2008 have meant that ethical business practices, authenticity and trust are a major concern for businesses, their people and HRM. HRM has an important, though certainly not exclusive role, in highlighting malpractice, encouraging openness and transparency and ensuring workers are treated with respect and dignity.  

  • HRM must respond to the ‘Future of Work’ 

The days of all jobs being 9 to 5, Monday to Friday are long past. HRM needs to respond to these new demands; for example, by identifying performance management systems that can cope with multiplicity of reporting lines, by identifying engagement mechanisms to cope with teams working virtually and by ensuring reward and learning and development practices support new ways of working. For some organisations the focus has shifted from an employment relationship focused on hours worked, to a focus on output.

Significant challenges face the HR profession in the future, but there are also great opportunities to demonstrate critical contributions to the success of organisations. HR is a profession I am both proud and excited to be a member of. Here’s to the next 30 years.

Linda Ashdown is an associate tutor at MOL, a leading provider of professional learning programmes. It has been developing and delivering CIPD qualifications for more than 30 years.

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