Most organisations are under pressure to evolve their businesses at a faster pace as they try to get in step with rapid changes in the business landscape, technology and customer behaviour. That means HR departments, too, need to become better equipped to lead the organisation’s people through constant and rapid change. They need to build a more agile workforce that is ready to adjust to the evolving needs of the market. This goes beyond offering people flexible working arrangements such as flexible hours or the ability to work from home.
It is about helping to shift the organisational culture to one that embraces learning, change and innovation. It is also about recruiting, developing and retaining people who thrive in a changing world – chameleon workers who can adapt to change, learn new skills in a short space of time and seamlessly move from assignment to assignment.
The HR department of the future must thus shift its focus from reducing risk and managing red-tape towards a highly strategic role of guiding change, improving agility, and ultimately driving higher performance.
Here are a few ideas about how HR must evolve in the years to come:
Accommodate a more fluid workforce
The way that businesses structure their workforces is changing as they begin to source more of their talent through freelancers, crowd sourcing, and other approaches that give employees and companies more flexibility. What’s more, we can also expect to see a further churn in the workforce as more young professionals join an organisation to take part in a project or achieve a specific career goal – and then leave after two to three years.
Even within the walls of the business, we can expect to see teams become more fluid as people are brought together for specific projects and initiatives, and then disbanded so they can move to other parts of the business. In a sense, many parts of the business will follow the same sort of ‘gig economy’ model as movie studios and agencies, building bespoke and sometimes virtual teams of in-house and external skills for each project.
HR teams will need to facilitate this shift, making it easier for managers to source and develop the talent when they need it and where they need it.
For example, they might build databases of skills that they share with managers and facilitate talent exchange programmes between different business units and departments.
Create flexible career options
In an agile workforce, HR will need to rethink how it develops career paths, salary bands and job descriptions. It will need to support managers and their teams as they organically develop their own roles and tasks, often on a project-by-project basis. This will also mean new ways of measuring performance and rewarding employees that meet the needs of a changing workplace.
For example, tech companies like Google allow engineers to spend some of their workday working on passion projects and innovative ideas rather than making them spend all their time on a narrowly defined scope. This has the benefit of creating new ideas for the business and keeping employees engaged – in turn, helping with talent retention.
Facilitate a culture of innovation
HR departments play an important role in shaping organisational culture – from helping to source talent to supporting change management and designing rewards and incentive programmes. To support a more agile business, they need to look at how and where they source talent; how they reward and incentivise the right behaviour; how they support managers and employees through their tools and processes; and how they measure performance.
Develop a learning organisation rather than a ‘training strategy’
One of the major challenges HR face is helping the business and the workforce keep up with the rapid pace of change in today’s digital world. With mobile technology, the Cloud, analytics, blockchain and the Internet of Things changing the world so rapidly, companies and their workforces need to learn fast.
This means that HR departments need to look beyond rigid learning programmes towards creating a culture where continuous learning is valued. This is all about creating opportunities for mentorship, providing on-the-job learning opportunities, and responding quickly when new skills are needed.
Integrated HR management systems play an important role in helping HR departments become more agile and to provide their businesses with strategic support. They automate red-tape so that HR professionals can focus on where they can add value, and they provide data and analytics tools to support agile decision-making.
Anja van Beek is the Vice President for People, Sage International (Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia).