HR must brace itself for challenging era ahead

As the nights draw in and the seasons change once again, I find myself reflecting on how HR has evolved since I began my career some decades ago, and what might lie in wait for those entering the profession in the future.

When I first joined Ford Motor Company, the rituals of entry into HR stipulated that new graduates had first of all to earn their stripes in employee relations in manufacturing. These were tough operational roles, working closely with line managers and living permanently on one’s wits, to ensure that the production line did not stop.

As my career progressed and time passed by, learning and development became the hot topics, with HR increasingly involved in developing specific training to enable the efficient delivery of products and services to customers. Investors in People later became the recognised level of accreditation towards which to aspire.

Change management skills and communications subsequently took the lead, as companies struggled to compete in tough markets with fewer people and increased productivity.

Then rewards became the major theme, with HR professionals increasingly expected to be able to take the lead in advising companies from the board downwards on pay and recognition strategies. Highly-technical skills were required to be able to execute effective strategies worldwide, which would attract and retain the best people.

And controversy continues to rage in this complex arena.

As the role of the HR professional has exponentially diversified, so the role of its professional body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, has come into sharp focus. It now comprises a talented and diverse group of members with sought-after skills, and must represent HR leaders who operate at the most senior levels of big corporations and government.

But if the development of HR in the past has been at a furious pace and included extensive development of tools and capabilities, what does the future hold?

HR is entering a new and even more challenging era. As the situations facing organisations become ever more complex and customers increasingly demanding, HR will be pushed unavoidably to centre stage.

There will be a voracious thirst for innovation and creativity from HR to address ever-more complex business dilemmas, as it becomes evident to all that the single source of sustainable competitive advantage in all organisations is their people.

Like the most advanced rollercoaster rides, there will be exhilaration for those HR professionals who embrace the new challenges, although others may look back with fondness to the more sedate attractions of the past.

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