As new technology drives the role of HR and external agencies exert greater financial accountability, HR directors are facing a heavier workload than ever. Here some experts offer advice on how the industry must seize the chance to evolve and shape the business agenda to suit HR’s future strategy
HR directors are always being told - or are always telling each other - to stop complaining and get on with it. But even the most cursory look at the way the profession is evolving seems to indicate that many of these complaints may, after all, be justified.
In the past five years the role has changed and broadened so much that some pundits now claim it is “impossible” to carry it out with any degree of comprehensibility. They liken it to asking a GP to run the entire NHS including all the different medical specialisms, while maintaining an efficient day- to-day practice in the surgery. In a nutshell, they claim, the job has grown too big for any individual to manage it effectively.
Before we sanction an official day of hand-wringing, however, it’s worthwhile considering how difficult it is to perform any senior management role in the current climate, wedged as we are somewhere between what might be termed the ancien regime and the beginnings of a new, yet largely uncharted, business age whose sole defining feature is its unpredictability.
Even the most celebrated management gurus admit the way forward is so uncertain that the only way to read the future, let alone the present, is to concede the impossibility of it all. “If someone tells you they know the answer, they don’t know the problem,” concluded CK Prahalad at an HR conference last year.
But for the simplest exposition of the situation, we may as well turn to management guru Tom Peters. “Nobody knows what’s going on any more”, is his informed opinion.
There are two possible options open to companies confronted with this situation, although the first - that of playing a game of wait and see - is widely considered to be out of the question. “Stability is death: somehow the world has to adapt itself to a condition of perpetual novelty, at the edge of chaos,” claims yet another management thinker, John Holland. But the second option - broadly summarised as covering all the bases and neve