In the debate, now available on demand, guests questioned the skills HR will need to develop, whether Ulrich’s ‘HR business partner’ model will go extinct, and how data will increasingly shape the HR world.
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One skill that will be vital to HR’s capability, according to Herrington, vice chair of the American European Business Association, is being able to think ahead.
She said: “The Covid pandemic has expedited the evolution of the function. We have had to deal with an awful lot of issues in a very short space of time.
“One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from the past few years is the need to really be thinking ahead. We can’t be on the back foot with any of our planning.”
Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer at PTHR, agreed: “I think we’ve got to get used to living in that chaotic world. You’ve got to be as prepared as you can.”
Herrington added: “Being able to navigate ambiguity and counsel and coach people through it, and be comfortable with it yourself – it’s something that’s really important, and it doesn’t come intuitively to everybody.
“It’s going to be part of what we look for as HR senior leaders when we’re hiring talent.”
One big question was whether David Ulrich’s HR business partner model, which has dominated the profession since its inception in the 1990s, will be replaced.
Mark Duggan, head of people at software company Sage Ireland, argued that it was more likely to change than disappear.
He said: “I don’t think the business partner model will end – but I think it will iterate. Your business partner isn’t your gatekeeper, it’s your consultant. You want someone who can understand, commercially, where you’re trying to get to.
“The role is already on that journey; I think what we will see is senior HR leaders moving out of HR and into the business, CPOs being the successors to CEOs, because they’re so close to the business.”
Herrington added that it was a natural fit that strong HR talent should grow to understand different functions. She said: “Increasingly, smart, strong delivery-focused HR talent is going to be critical for organisations, as we think about some of the challenges we’re all facing right now.
“That business partner model is going to become even more important, to have that person embedded in the business.”
Data is taking an increasingly dominant role in HR’s activities, and the panel agreed that maintaining a critical handle on this flow of information will be vital to HR’s decision-making.
More than a third (37%) of the webinar’s audience said they always use data in their decision-making. The majority (55%), however, said they only do so sometimes.
Herrington said that she would have liked to have seen a higher proportion using data for their decision-making. She said: “Using human capital data to make decisions is something that absolutely needs to be front and centre for all of us.”
It’s not just gathering the data, she added, but knowing how to use it: “Really good HRIS analysts are worth their weight in gold.”
Timms agreed: “You can’t just present [people] with reams of untabulated data. You have to ask ‘What’s the meaning of this. And what’s the wisdom that comes from this interpretation?’
“We need to be the scientist and the storyteller.”
Catch up on the debate, run in partnership with Sage, by registering for the on demand recording here.
Watch all past HR Lunchtime Debates here.