About a quarter of HR directors these days come into the function from other areas, while the most successful act as “boundary-less leaders”, borrowing and reapplying ideas and techniques from other disciplines.
According to Stephanie Bird, director of HR capability at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
, an increasing number of HRDs have “zigzag career pathways” these days and so are bringing much-needed multi-functional experience and expertise into the profession.
This situation is leading to a cross-fertilisation of ideas, with marketing concepts such as employer and employee brand, employees as internal customers and staff engagement, for example, all starting to take hold.
“It’s becoming increasingly important for HR directors to have real business-savvy,” says Bird. “HR is an applied business discipline rather than a technical discipline and working with colleagues on the executive team requires people to know the business context, show organisational-savvy and be able to put the case effectively to enable sustainable organisational performance.”
This set of skills is particularly important in a world in which 30% of HRDs now have a global role – even if they are not necessarily based overseas.
But such a scenario is also leading to a growing numbers of HR professionals “plotting their course” and thinking very deliberately about how they can “build out their skills and knowledge” to help them move up the career ladder, which includes working in different countries.
It is also causing the CIPD itself to adopt a more global focus. For example, the organisation – which is the largest HR body in Europe, although it ranks second internationally to the US-based Society for Human Resource Management
– intends to create a presence in new territories such as the Middle East, where it has had little to date.
Brightest and best
Another goal is to build up the global reach of its business-to-business HR transformation practice, while also shifting the focus of its next generation of research to become more global too.
“Global is a key theme. It’s not ‘the daleks are out to get you’ though. We want to work with other organisations to build up the idea of what a great organisation can look like and learn from their feedback. It’s about helping to create sustainable organisations for a growthful future,” Bird says.
Nonetheless, at the moment the profession still does not always attract “the brightest and the best”, she admits.
“I don’t think that it always does. There are still a number of people going into HR because ‘they like people’ and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s about liking them for a purpose,” Bird explains. “A number also come in because ‘it’s not about data’, which means that analytics aren’t as rich as they need to be to gain real insight. But that will have to change in future.”
As to how the HR function is likely to develop over the next five years or so, Bird expects the role of transactional outsourcing to grow in order to free HR up from undertaking routine administrative tasks in order to concentrate on more strategic issues such as employee engagement and leadership development. The same theory applies to the creation of increasing numbers of shared services functions.
But she likewise expects social media to rise in importance in areas ranging from recruitment, which is already resulting in the “disintermediation of many existing providers”, to social learning.
This situation will result in new ways of working, however, of which “we haven’t yet seen the whole impact”, Bird concludes.