Creating an HR dream team

The need for Human Resources Management to play an increasingly meaningful and transformational role in the boardrooms of organisations has been a source of considerable discussion since Dave Ulrich published his notion of the HR Business Partner ​and subsequent papers on various iterations of HR competencies.​

The webinar 2016 Predictions for HR: A Bold New World of Talent, Learning, Leadership, and HR Technology Ahead, recently published on the Bersin by Deloitte website, is in many ways a game changer for a profession that has been trying to define itself for a number of years.

Looking at the HR function through a variety of functional lenses rather than the traditional HR lens, I believe there is a need, in a fast changing, disruptive and connected world, to radically relook at the skills and perspectives required by an HR team. The need to break down silo thinking is emphasised in Gillian Tett’s recently released book The Silo Effect and this applies to HR as much as any other discipline.

The skills and disciplines that I believe should be represented in a future HR dream team are described below.

Several of the skills that are core to HR effectiveness are not even related to traditional HR:

An anthropologist or social psychologist: In the final analysis the role of HR is to assist organisations to be more effective and adapt very quickly to disruption and transformation. For this change to be effective, a deep understanding of social and organisational dynamics is required at a level far greater than the average HR or OD practitioner brings to the process. In her book referred to earlier, Gillian Tett, a financial journalist who ran the New York office of the Financial Times and who also has a PhD in Anthropology, points out the relevance of the discipline to business and organisational effectiveness in facilitating deep organisational change.

A marketing expert: One of the key roles of HR in the modern organisation is to assist in facilitating organisational culture that is relevant to the strategy. In fact, organisational culture should be the internal representation of the organisation’s external brand or reputational aspiration. The two should be inseparable and, just as an organisation needs visibly to represent its brand values externally, it needs to represent these same values internally with the same rigour. This internal ‘marketing’ is not usually a strength of HR practitioners. A further marketing expertise need is to develop an organisation’s employee value proposition (EVP) and to market this in the competitive talent market, thus building an employer brand.

A customer-centric HR operations manager: The Bersin predictions show how critical HR technology will be in the future and how, for the most part, it will be a game changer. The person who runs the HR customer services operations should have a background in running externally focused customer services operations such as those in organisations like Discovery and Multi-Choice.

Social media expert: The need for understanding social media and social technology in its widest sense will be a key skill required for communicating with staff and other stakeholders in the future. This is an indispensable new addition to the core skills set.

A business analyst: Big data and data analytics will be as relevant to HR as to any other organisational discipline. This analysis will form the basis for strategic workforce decisions that are based on accurate, real-time data. Again, this is not currently a core HR skill.

Business leaders: The greatest, and generally justified, criticism of HR practitioners has always been that they do not understand the business of the organisation for which they work. Many organisations place high-potential line managers in HR to provide them with a learning experience about the people side of the business. This is an excellent grounding for future leaders; it is also an excellent opportunity for business leaders to shape HR practices to ensure that they are relevant to the business. In my view, this exposure to HR would be suitable for operational managers and strategists as both are relevant to aligning HR strategy and practice to the needs of the business. It can be anticipated that they would bring experience in leadership which goes beyond the traditional HR approach that is often driven by processes and compliance rather than by good leadership.

HR leaders: Although all the aforementioned disciplines and skills will become increasingly essential to the effectiveness of HR, clearly there is a need for HR professionals. They should be in roles that are specialist to the profession, such as IR and remuneration, but also in roles that integrate all the skills mentioned above, experience and expertise into a coherent team that designs and facilitates the execution of the organisation’s people or HR strategy.

How such a dream team is constituted depends on the organisation. It may be that certain expertise such as marketing is sourced from the marketing function. Or, the HR operations and customer service operation falls within a larger central services division.

However the team ends up being configured, one thing is certain: in a world characterised by disruptive innovation and a whole new generation of HR technology, a radical rethinking of HR is required. Because our professions are largely responsible for how our brains are wired, it will be almost impossible for HR to reinvent itself in the way that will be required in the future. The silo approach to organisational design, in this case HR, will not be sufficient to provide the level of innovation necessary to compete in the future. Multidisciplinary and diverse teams, which include some thinkers from ‘the fringe’, will be required to generate the levels of innovation required for an effective future HR team.

Terry Meyer is a strategy and leadership consultant and author. He is also a part-time faculty member of USB-ED where he is responsible for the HR Executive Programme. Further areas of expertise include organisational design, and talent and human capital strategy.

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