It’s no surprise that HR departments can be a bit obsessed about the future, whether it is on an individual level or as an industry. The challenges of dealing with the workforce at a micro level are just as challenging as dealing with them on a global scale, and we would all love a crystal ball to ensure the decisions we make today will pay dividends tomorrow.

But for the non-clairvoyant among us, we must rely on our expertise and knowledge to create a set of principles that we believe will both feed the current workforce and sow the seeds for the next generation of employees. This is now more important than ever as HR finds itself at a crossroads. The remarkable pace of change within technology and communications is providing either a road to opportunity and development of the HR role or potentially a recession into a basic business function.

These are issues that our latest white paper ‘HR in 2020; a new employment landscape’ seeks to address.

It is clear that there are many pitfalls ahead, with a significant shift in management practices needed to accommodate the rapidly changing workplace. It would also seem that not many of us believe we are anywhere near where we need to be in implementing these changes. In an international employee study by Oxford Economics, only 34% believe that management is prepared to lead a diverse workforce, and just 47% think they can effectively lead global teams, something that is increasingly necessary as technology makes the world ‘smaller’. This oversight could potentially be compounded into a ‘blind leading the blind’ scenario as we welcome a host of raw ‘Gen Y’ talent into the workforce through entry-level positions and graduate schemes.

Strong and informed leadership is, therefore, central to the shaping of business culture. For example, if we look at the expectations of Gen Y workers when it comes to technology, they are not just familiar with it, but expect to see it integrated into their own working environment, a decision that can only be made at the very top of the chain.

As technology undergoes constant innovation and choosing what to adopt becomes increasingly difficult, perhaps it is healthy to accept that ‘learning on the job’ might be a part of this process for everyone involved. Leaders must also be wary of a ‘sheep mentality’; the fear of missing out on popular innovations which prompts the adoption of systems or processes that do not actually fit needs.

As we are now all aware, one of the key influences technology exerts on business is through social media. The vast majority of organisations, stakeholders and customers use a variety of social media platforms, creating numerous opportunities (and risks) that require a leadership response. It is however, still obvious that organisations need to ensure their social media output contributes to business efforts, understanding target audience and tailoring content across platforms. Again, leaders need to be effective decision-makers on these issues. If certain social media platforms aren’t appropriate for their business, they shouldn’t be afraid to avoid them – even in the face of their more socially-aware employees.

The key to all of this is an ‘up-skilling’ of HR leadership; in particular, understanding technology and big data to help transform it into a highly analytical and anticipatory function. Becoming a more strategic arm of the business will give HR a ‘seat at the table’ and the ear of the board. Anticipatory HR departments are already 43% more likely to be involved in the long-term business planning process. These types of companies are also over six times more likely to have exhibited strong financial performance, versus those where HR’s planning process involvement is late or non-existent. In fact, a report by PWC claims that with sufficient collaboration and strategic focus, we could see HR leaders evolve into a Chief People Officer (CPO) role, a powerful and influential component of business leadership.

Of course, the flipside of this is that if HR remains transactional then it risks being replaced by the technology itself and becomes simply an outsourced function. Driven and delivered properly though, the next few years can be HR’s time to shine. So with its fate resting in its own hands there is no need for a crystal ball. Instead, let’s put to use strategic analysis, proactive staffing and employee engagement policies and evolve to be ready for 2020 and beyond.

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