The Brave New World of HR
Posted by Michael D. Haberman
I have been writing about the future of HR for about three years now. In fact, I write more than 50 times a year on the subject. This means I also read a lot about the future of work and what the employee of the future may look like. I have found that writers and prognosticators generally fall into two camps. The first camp is very dystopian, predicting that employees will become enslaved by robots or be replaced by them completely, so they don’t have any work. The world is a dark and ominous place to them. On the other side are those with a more utopian view, who predict that businesses will have advanced to a level of social responsibility that saves workers from drudgery while allowing them to maximize their self-fulfillment goals. I feel that we will actually be somewhere in between. To me, there are three legs in the stool of the future that will support our world. These are a new way of working, a new type of worker, and a new form of HR.
A New Way of Working
It’s no secret that robots are making inroads into the workplace. Industrial robots have been a staple of the industrial world for a good number of years. Now smaller, more personal robots are also beginning to show up. Regardless of the size of the robot, it is clear that robots/Artificial Intelligence/computers will take away much of the routine work that is currently being done. The work that humans will do in the future will be different. It will require more “soft” skills and human decision-making, the things that AI cannot yet perform. To quote myself “AI will be able to make decisions on right and wrong based upon specified parameters, but it may not be able to make decisions on the basis of the emotional or moral level, which is often needed in decisions involving people.”
The future of the workplace will be a much more monitored one. The Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology will measure and monitor productivity and the locations of things and people. There is certainly a potential downside to this, but the upside is that technology will make jobs safer and employees healthier by monitoring the work environment. Many lives will be saved as a result. Most, if not all, industrial jobs will be automated. Many jobs that are repetitious and boring will be automated. I watch TV shows on the Science channel that talk about how something is made, and I wonder, “Why hasn’t the person been automated out of that job yet?” It may be just because they don’t know what to do with those employees!
A New Type of Worker
The workers of the future will have to have a different skill set. They will focus on softer issues, and they will focus on technology issues. Thus, they’ll have to be better educated than they currently are. Futurist Thomas Friedman says that workers in the future will need to bring some “value-added” to the workplace. The good news is that he also predicts that more than a million entirely new jobs will be created in the next decade or so through advances in technology. These jobs will be in fields that don’t yet exist today, and in some cases have not even been imagined. Think about it: who would have guessed that drone pilots would have been needed in the private sector ten years ago? And today we are moving toward self-guided drones! Fortunately for workers of the future, these jobs will also be better paying than much of the service type work done by many today. Minimum wage will not be an issue.
A New Form of HR
The HR professionals of the future will need to have a much different focus. They will be involved in those soft, people issues where there isn’t a clear-cut decision that can be made. They will no longer focus on transactions, but rather on interactions. They will have to be much more aware of technology and the impact it has on the work being done in their business. Technology will drive the search for talent, and HR will have to be adept at dealing with and understanding that technology.
The use of analytics, which is starting to make its way into larger corporations, will become part of the standard HR tool kit, even for smaller companies. New jobs like HR technologists and predictive analysts will become commonplace.
Human resources professionals will focus on keeping the “human” in their jobs and their workplace. Training for soft skills such as leadership, coaching, counseling, and mediation will take on paramount importance in the skill sets of HR pros, and in the skills they develop in other employees. The Chief Human Resources Officer may morph into the Chief of Work position. (Though the acronym for that is unfortunate.)
I think the set of core competencies the future HR professional will need fall into the following categories:
- Finance – The bottom line will always be the language of business, and HR pros need to be fluent in it.
- Sociology – We’ll need to understand how people interact with each other within the changing society.
- History – The tools change, but how we interact with them and with each other doesn’t always.
- Programming – Everyone should understand how to code, especially as it relates to mobile devices. The logic and problem-solving skills it entails will become even more critical as things become more mechanized.
- Robotics – Robot technology will be such an important part of HR that people will need to understand it.
The HR pros of the future will also need to be readers, speakers, and most importantly thinkers who can position themselves to take on the task of HR leadership in the mid-21st century.
I am one of the optimists about the future. We can make what we want of our world, as long as we are prepared to do so. Are you ready?
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Michael D. Haberman is Vice-President and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc., a consulting and services company offering complete Human Resources solutions. As the former founder and President of MDH Consulting, a Human Resources consulting firm, Mike has more than 35 years of experience in Human Resources, and he uses his broad-based background to help companies solve employee problems and deal with governmental compliance.