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Perry Timms



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HR reinvention in 2022: How to evolve in an era of ongoing complexity

Perry Timms shares his playbook for reinventing HR in an era of continual adaptation and turbulence.

As if a continuing, mutating pandemic wasn’t already enough, we are still facing huge challenges in the HR and people profession. These include issues such as the climate emergency; diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging and social justice; and new paradigms for what good work, great leadership, fairer reward and wealth distribution are.

In addition, varying guises of a Great Resignation – or perhaps it is better framed as a Great Reshuffle or Rethink – has many a business leader and HR professional reaching for their ‘War for Talent’ articles from a few years back.

It’s all a bit different now

Work is often simplified to the exchange of financial reward for labour/effort/expertise. And yet time and again, studies show that purposeful work is not simply the domain of a privileged professional class. It’s a fundamental need, right and pursuit for us all.

This is why the term reinvention is more apt than adaptation, or even transformation. 

We require a reinvention of work – what it is, how it’s done, where it’s done, who does it and what they get from it.

And this is the domain of HR. Perhaps a more true domain than administrative and compliance-based people processes and actions.

In reinventing an entire professional field there is a temptation to provide a huge catalogue of rationale, modelling, suggestions and approaches. Yet, we have the time to write the shorter version because – let’s face it – TL:DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is an issue of our time and we need brevity, clarity and applicability.

2022 will need to be a year of investment in people professionals.

Reinvented HR

Firstly, let’s say why it’s reinvented and not any of the other adjectives like disrupted, hacked or even transformed. The Cambridge Dictionary definition seems more pertinent to a reinvented HR: “To produce something new that is based on something that already exists”. 

HR already exists in many guises. It will therefore need contextual reinvention so the playbook for reinvention is based on:

  1. Intention: Declare our plans to reinvent HR. Make the 2022 strategy your place to really set out aspirations.

  2. Collaboration: Seek input and co-creation from our colleagues across the business to what they need reinventing.

  3. Capacity: We need to create the space, time and resources to do the thinking, planning, designing and deployment of our HR reinvention.

  4. Intelligence: What do we know and what else do we need?

  5. Experimentation: More prototypes and evidence-revealing ventures that help us reinvent things like recruitment, onboarding, reward, performance reviews, talent and career development, organisation design etc.

  6. Impact: Better evidence of the value we add and create that is a much more sophisticated set of metrics beyond financial. Human, social, intellectual, material and environmental.

Reskilling the profession

Alongside this playbook, our focus for 2022 should be on reskilling the profession. We absolutely have to create a new skills stack in HR. And we are in need of more T-shaped HR and people professionals.

The trunk of the T should hold traditional competencies and strengths in areas such as: 

  • Employment law

  • Diversity and inclusion 

  • Mediation 

  • Coaching 

  • Business partnering 

  • Talent (acquisition, management, development)

  • Organisation development

Alongside this, HR requires a new broader top section of the T in:

  • Performance metrics and understanding value creation 

  • Data science and predictive analytics

  • The psychology of learning and behavioural science 

  • Experience designers and an enhanced sense of meaning at work

  • Organisation design and systems thinking

  • Code and design engineering

  • Agility, Agile and responsive systems of work

None of this will come easily but already there are programmes of learning outside of HR (for product management, agile project teams, marketing, data analytics etc) that we can tap into and acquire knowledge from.

2022 will need to be a year of investment in people professionals. Two years of admirably coping with chaos have revealed much to learn and a need to reinvent what a people professional is capable of.

HR as a relationship broker, convenor and shaper feels more critical now than at any time in the past few decades.

Increased automation and digitisation 

In addition to reskilling the profession, it is about time we drove the automation and digitisation agenda, rather than reacting to ICT or Operational colleagues’ programmes of action.

In addition, we must build our own automated and digitised routines with either people professionals who can design and code, or engineers brought into the people team to build our own platforms, apps and systems within our HR and corporate digital infrastructure.

However we do it, we need to go beyond the installation of an HR information system, some self-service options and continued use of basic information exchange applications like Email, MS Teams and Sharepoint. We must learn how to link to our corporate workflow management systems (CRM, ERP etc) so we can seamlessly integrate HR/people applications into the flow of work.

We can buy, borrow, build or bot but the key element in this quartet will be to build more ourselves. Build on what we have, build more of what we – and our colleagues in the business – need from digitised processes.

Automation and smarter use of digitised ways of working are crucial to creating continued capacity within HR and creating value for those who need us in more complex, high-touch, personable ways.

The agenda of 2022 to reinvent HR has to include enhanced digital capabilities. 

Embracing agility and fluidity

As part of our capacity creating plan, we need to climb on top of our work backlogs and Agile will help us do this. Saving time, culling unnecessary bureaucracy, shortening and strengthening the outcomes of meetings, bringing more creativity into shaping reinvented processes.

Agile helps us do things more inclusively, with a sustainable pace and not just more speed. It brings clarity and adaptability to create a more versatile way to work on what matters most when it matters most.

This year needs to see Agile becoming a regular mode for HR on projects, initiatives and, where relevant, core operational functions.

A stable – but paradoxically adaptive – HR function is needed now more than ever.

Building strong partnerships to evolve the business

A key test of whether we have our ‘reinvented HR’ proposition right is to consider how much we see our business colleagues willing to help us design, develop and deliver it. If they are not enthused enough by our intent, there’s a lack of relevance we need to address.

It’s beyond a capacity issue – but that is important – as HR teams are busier now than at any time in the past 5+ years. 

People who are impacted by HR’s products and services (our users) should have a say in designing systems that are in their interests, whilst we can ensure compliance with fairness, legalities and progressive business practices.

Evolving businesses see their shared accountability and responsibility to shape for the future and a key consideration of that is how the systems of work, development, performance, inclusion and recognition create the conditions for people to do their best work in changing circumstances.

HR as a relationship broker, convenor and shaper feels more critical now than at any time in the past few decades.

2022’s agendas for change, including the reinvention of HR, needs more collective participation and activism. This must be integrated into design, development and delivery to create the best chances of success in our most uncertain of times.

Reinventing HR is vital now more than ever

Covid-19 continues to destabilise, and we are getting used to continually adapting. 

With that in mind, a stable – but paradoxically adaptive – HR function is needed now more than ever. The people challenges we are facing in business and work now far outweigh the technological and even financial drivers of recent times.

People matter, and it has become clear that means a fresh take on HR will help organisations both develop and deploy key talent to give the company a fighting chance of survival in these most turbulent times.

2022 is the year to produce something new that is based on something that already exists: reinvented HR.


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