Why we need a new model for HR, part five

The story (almost) concludes - HR 3.0 Part 5: systems designers and people operations.

Before we take a look at the two domains we’ve yet to cover in the HR 3.0 operating model, a sneak preview of the final instalment.

Part six will see us explore operational and strategic scenarios rolled through this 3.0 model. But for now, let’s focus on those who design and those who deliver: people operations and systems designers.

My take is that people operations has really emerged in the past few years from the previous (and rather unglamorous frame of) shared services.

Why we need a new model for HR, part 1: an introduction

Harnessing the power of technology, sharpening the practices and processes that support the people in our workforce and underpinning all other aspects of HR.

I see those who lead and work in people operations are in the thick of everything to do with people. Essential key workers in HR’s own midst.

So it’s no surprise to me that I’ve seen a continuation of this into a new operating model for HR.

But it is so worthy of feature and focus as its essentialism cannot be understated.

What is clear in this field is that technology will have an even bigger impact in this area, especially with the emergence of generative AI.

Already, people operations is at the helm of the deployment of digitised solutions for things people need from HR.

And along comes more widely leverageable AI, which could completely reshape the way things get done at work and through the HR service and value proposition.

Why we need a new model for HR: part 2, outlining HR 3.0

Prompt creators, bot deployers and integration strategists will become roles or parts of roles in people operations (if they’re not already in more progressive organisations).

Certainly, talent acquisition specialists are making good headway into this with use cases like:

Textio: A tool that helps recruiters improve the content of their job postings by reducing biased input/language in job descriptions.

Hiretual: An AI-powered candidate sourcing and engagement solution that helps companies find the best talent faster.

Arya: A sourcing tool that uses artificial intelligence to source talent from over 50 professional social channels simultaneously.

Pymetrics: A tool that uses AI to help companies make better hiring decisions by assessing candidates’ cognitive and emotional traits.


And in people operations:

Zavvy: An AI-powered HR management tool that helps automate administrative tasks such as data entry or identifying skills gaps.

Workable: A tool that uses AI to help drive decisions about hiring, retention and employee development.

Not to mention all of the incumbent HRIS providers doubling down on AI within their suite of products.

People operations and people analysts combined presents a whole new intelligence field for HR to utilise in the battle for executive attention, optimised decision-making and predictive insight on talent, capabilities and performance.

Why we need a new model for HR: part 3, people as product

This experimental and iterative state of play will accelerate, create adjacent opportunities for HR and our leadership teams and bring a whole new suite of on-demand, and potentially hyper-personalised responses, support and enablement to our people.

Or it could signal a whole new level of a surveillance state if we’re not careful. The ethics here are paramount. AI-driven performance tracking can be dangerous as it can lead to difficulties in building trust between people, and a constant sense of heightened stress through over-scrutinised performance monitoring.

AI-driven nudges can transform an operation’s performance by combining multiple sources of data to identify specific strengths and weaknesses in an employee’s performance.

However we look at it, there is an arms race for AI utilisation. And people operations will be in the driving (or coding) seat of it regarding people.

People operations in the HR 3.0 model is envisaged as a bit of a centaur role – part human, part machine. And the chance to really create the technologically savvy people professional we’ve perhaps been both longing for, or avoided having to utilise.

Of course, where people operations creates the most value isn’t just deploying the best digitised solutions. Because the systems of work will still need to create that optimum flow, that balance and that adaptive and morphing shape and reshape of dynamic organisation design and development.

Systems designers then will be the progressive (and some would say finally recognised) engineers, architects, shamans and diviners of the way things flow and stack up.

In the HR 3,0 operating model, it’s not just the most strongly recognised elements of OD; as it can and will incorporate systems around talent, inclusion, learning, ethics, sustainability, governance, social and community responsibilities and really anything where there is a system at play.

For example, if the organisation adopts not just AI-based data-based tools and technologies, but other Web 3.0 elements like the blockchain, automation the Metaverse, it will have a huge bearing on the way work gets done and by whom.

And of course, systems designers will need that more dynamic form of OD as the constant state of change, chaos and complexity needs the systems to respond, match and enhance things based on that form of dynamism.

What it should see the end of, is episodic, programmatic OD and the total demise of restructures. A system that is designed for pliability, plasticity and metamorphosis will not need a formal redesign because it will be in flux.

The diagnostic and dialogic aspects of systems designers will now be able to call on the people and performance analysts and people scientists as key participants in their endeavours to tune the systems for optimised impact.

Why we need a new model for HR: part 4, people analytics and science

Combined then, design and delivery will see an interplay not yet seen in dynamic responses to changing circumstances.

Our work in the near future could be drastically and unrecognisably different. People and machines in a new form of role construct, reward analysis and wellness support could be a tech utopia we could never imagine.

Or a dystopian technocrat ruling of more suppressed people in work than we’d ever seen before.

I’m not sensationalising the role of systems designers and people operations, but there is a reason these are the last to feature. The most heavily impacted by the introduction of advancing technologies and the most crucial in shaping and supporting a future we want to be a part of.

That is HR playing on the most significant stage of its life to date.

And that’s why the future of the profession depends on how we adapt first to tumultuous change and then we can enable the rest of our organisation to adapt with more stability and certainty even in the most complex of times.

Perry Timms is founder of PTHR and HRMI Most Influential thinker 2022