When The HR World asked me to lead the latest round table discussion, I was delighted to have the opportunity to raise the topic of ‘HR in 2020 – are we ready?’ Factors such as the explosive growth in digital and social media technologies are opening up a whole new role for those in HR, including the opportunity to take a lead in shaping organisations for the future.

I grew up with a communal phone in the hall and the delight of sitting at the bottom of the stairs, trying to have a private conversation with my friends. For children today the world of mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and other means of ‘on the go’ communication is part of everyday life, so the thought of working 9-5 in an office seems very dreary. However, as economic power shifts from the West to the emerging markets of Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, it is not simply technology and the attitudes of the emerging workforce that are changing. Rapid growth in these parts of the world is creating a new global middle class with impressive spending power. This is leading to intense competition for new markets, each with its own unique local flavour. People no longer want to be treated as a commodity; they want to be personally engaged by their employer.

As the ‘Baby Boom Generation’, those born between 1946 and 1964, hits ‘normal’ retirement age, experienced talent will be at a premium. This in turn puts pressure on younger workers to quickly become mature, skilled leaders. Should we therefore be leveraging the ‘mature’ workforcein an effort to upskill incoming talent? Many believe that the emerging ‘Generation Y’ or ’Millennials’, those born between 1975 and 1995, have a strong focus on the future, expecting opportunities to progress, to build skills in multiple areas and to receive frequent constructive feedback.

However, with a held view that much of ‘Gen Y’ are CV building and interested in citizenship and sustainability, how do we deal with the fact that these demanding employees may not give loyalty in return?

As a community of HR professionals, the first question that comes to mind is ‘how should we respond to technology?’ Do we embrace the wealth of innovations available, reapingthe benefits of being an early adopter? Or do we observe a more selective approach, carefully choosing which changes to make, yet potentially missing out on the next big thing? Many businesses will become increasingly reliant on better technology and self-service, with employees inputting data independently.

Consequently, entry level HR jobs as they currently exist will reduce significantly. To evolve, HR may need to embrace analytics and ‘big data’ to become a more strategic function. One thing is for certain; to successfully navigate this increasingly turbulent environment, strong decision makers (and inevitably good leaders) will be required.

So the big question is, are we ready? Some businesses will feel sufficiently equipped to face these new challenges but for others, drastic changes may be required to keep pace in an increasingly demanding and competitive climate. However ready we as HR professionals feel, we should take comfort in the fact that we don’t have to face these issues alone.

HR can greatly benefit from cross-function collaboration with disciplines such as IT, Legal and Marketing. Although some believe that the challenges facing HR have been exaggerated, there is no denying that HR needs to leave its comfort zone and respond in some capacity to be ready for 2020.

- Helen Norris, Head of HR, Group Operations, Nationwide Building Society

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