The world of work has changed beyond recognition in recent years, with commentators predicting we are on the verge of a seismic shift not seen since the industrial revolution.
In her book ‘The Shift: The future of work is already here’, Lynda Gratton
highlights five forces that will result in profound changes to the way we approach and organise work. The needs of the low carbon economy, for example, are already forcing businesses to review the way they develop, manufacture and deliver products and services. Societal changes have led to more vocal, demanding consumers (and employees) whose voices cannot be ignored – while economic imperatives are encouraging companies to take a more international outlook. With little prospect of trading conditions improving in Europe any time soon, businesses are looking at new and emerging markets in an attempt to future proof their business. Much of Asia, for example, has been experiencing growth rates that are significantly ahead of developed economies.
The other two trends – increasing changes in longevity and rapid advances in technology – are perhaps the most significant for HR. Research has shown that the challenges of managing an ageing workforce where people don’t automatically retire, while at the same time creating opportunities for the next generation coming through, is high on HR’s agenda.
The advent of the Cloud
But it is perhaps technology that is creating the biggest opportunities – and also the biggest headaches. The advent of the Cloud has put sophisticated technology within reach of even the smallest business. It is estimated that by 2015, for example, more than five billion people will be connected by mobile handsets and able to access and share date any time, any place, anywhere. This is both an opportunity and a threat – the potential for connectivity and collaboration has never been greater – but at the same time the competition has never been more intense. The move to a more networked way of working is opening many new doors for companies – but brings with it the challenge for HR of equipping managers to lead and develop virtual teams.
So challenging – but also exciting times ahead for HR people in businesses of all types of sizes – and perhaps a real opportunity for the profession as a whole to finally step out of the traditional role of ‘guardians and gatekeepers’ and into a place where they can act as ‘joiners and enablers’ for the business.
This was summed up neatly by business guru Gary Hamel, who in a recent speech to the CIPD’s national conference
, challenged HR to get out of its comfort zone. Hamel suggested that in the new and emerging world of work, HR has more responsibility for improving competiveness and productivity than probably any other profession.
Practitioners, he argued, need to become as experimental and innovative as their colleagues in marketing and R&D. Part of the shift in mindset is recognising that innovation isn’t always about inventing new products or services. It should also be about reorganising and rethinking systems and procedures so that innovation is allowed to flourish.
The growing trend towards a more collaborative, networked way of working, for example, calls for a completely new approach to the way people are managed and work is organised. Employment relationships are now very different to what has gone before. We don’t necessarily ‘manage’ the people who work for us anymore. They might be outsourced to another organisation or deployed on a company-wide project that pulls together employees from across the business. They are increasingly likely to be working in virtual teams too, with all the management challenges that brings.
What HR can do to support the revolution in working practices
What can HR do in practice to support this revolution in working practices? Perhaps most importantly, they need to step outside the corridors of HR and start really getting underneath the skin of the organisations they work for. Market knowledge, financial awareness and curiosity about how other organisations are tackling their HR challenges will be an important first step on the journey.
Embracing technology – rather than trying to control it – will also be critical. At a recent HR event, it was disappointing to see participants still talking about how to ‘stop’ employees using sites like Facebook and Twitter and discussing how to put limitations around what staff can and can’t put on their LinkedIn profile. At a time when everyone has a personal smartphone in their pocket or handbag, this is both ridiculous and futile. Research is also showing that Gen Y employees coming into the workforce are amazed – and frustrated – that they are unable to use the communication channels they have grown up with in their day to day work.
Yes, there are some legal and data protection issues that need to be considered, but complicated policies and controls won’t solve the issue. What HR needs to get its head round is that these things are here to stay – and if you trust people to use the new social media tools of the trade responsibility, the vast majority of them won’t disappoint you.
One leading technology company has summed this ethos up succinctly in a four word social media policy that provides a reference point for all its employees. What the policy simply says is "Don’t be an idiot".
There is an unprecedented opportunity right now for HR to facilitate the kind of communication and collaboration that should be happening across the business. Internal social networking tools
, for example, have huge potential to unlock people’s creativity and speed up progress with projects. HR should be leading the way in active use of these tools in their internal communications programmes, as a way of demonstrating the huge benefits that they can bring – rather than trying to stop the conversations.
Is HR up to the challenge? A flurry of recent research reports suggests the profession still has some way to go. HR people have come under fire for lacking business nous and failing to exploit technology and have been judged as largely ineffective by their management colleagues.
Hamel sums up the pressing need for change
neatly: Management, he said, is a busted flush and it needs to rebuilt from the bottom up. "Bureaucracy must die," he says. "Because if you don’t kill it, it will kill your organisation."
What does all this mean for you? Here are our top five. What would you add?
- Get under the skin of your business – understand what really makes it, and the rest of the market you operate in tick
- Take on the role of ‘joiner and enabler’ and help drive change rather than simply support it
- Don’t ignore your gatekeeping responsibilities – no one wants to end up in court or in the public eye – but try not to be curtailed by it
- Understand what the generational issues mean to your business, and be proactive. It’s no use waiting until the problems manifest themselves. You need a plan.
- Learn to love technology
Cezanne Software is a leading HR software supplier, with many years’ experience of delivering HR and talent management solutions to companies worldwide through its offices and partner network across Europe and in North and South America.
Cezanne OnDemand is the latest of Cezanne’s HR software solutions. Developed especially for small and medium-sized businesses, Cezanne OnDemand is delivered in the Cloud, on a Software-as-a-Service basis to allow companies to cost effectively improve the way their people are managed. Offered on a pay-as-you-go basis it provides small businesses and medium-sized enterprises with a quick to implement, low-cost HR software system to help streamline people management, improve performance management, reduce administration and gather better HR intelligence to support planning and decision making.