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HR needs to up skills on 'futuring' but the role of middle manager is dead, says leading academic

HR needs to develop its skills at understanding the future if it is to provide value to the business, Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, told delegates at the HR Directors Business Summit today.

Speaking in the first session this morning, Gratton said HR needs an answer when the chief executive asks them about the future.

"The most important thing you can do right now is to have skills in ‘futuring’," she said. "Sooner or later the CEO will ask about the future and you will need to put together an answer at short notice."

She suggested three things that would need to be addressed in a blueprint for 2015: how the context of the world is changing, understanding all the points of leverage that will help prepare for the future and making sure the company is capable of adapting to innovative practice.

Of the latter she said: "The UK used to be leaders in HR innovation. It is not so much now."

She added that HR still concentrates too much on what isn’t important.

Separately, Gratton said that she believed that middle management was dead. Her blog on the subject in Harvard Business Review was causing much debate, she said, but she stood by her view that "the classic job of the middle manager will soon disappear".

This is because technology can play the role of manager, monitoring performance, providing instant feedback and creating reports. Skilled team managers are increasingly self-managed while Gen Y sees no value in reporting to someone who simply keeps track of what they do. Finally, with increased globalisation, managers need specialist skills to lead people across boundaries.

Gratton this weeks unveils the final stage of the Future of Work consortium, which bring together 200 executives from corporations including Nokia, BT Global Services, NHS, Save the Children, World Vision International, Thomson Reuters, Colt, Novo Nordisk, Ferrero, Mahindra & Mahindra, Nomura, RBS, ABSA, Novartis, Unilever, Randstad, SAP, ThoughtWorks, Singaporean Ministry of Manpower, ARM and Tata Consulting Group.