Will the HR species evolve or become obsolete?

There was some debate at Personnel Today’s HR Directors Club ‘thought leadership’ dinner at London Zoo last week about the future status of HR’s transactional function.

Leading the discussion on a ‘2020 vision for HR’, Henley Management College principal Chris Bones claimed there would be little appetite among senior directors for strategic talk from HR if it couldn’t get the basics right. Neither should HR relegate its transactional duties to the back room, or “devalue the one thing that employees care about”.

Could that be true? That the value of day-to-day transactions has been trampled in the rush to become strategic, transformational and ‘value-add’?

The answer depends on which end of the HR spectrum you stand, and for how long you are prepared to debate it (in this case several hours).

If all HR has to look forward to in 13 years’ time is just being quicker and more efficient at admin, then this could potentially put talented people off joining the profession, argued one HR director. Another wondered who, if not HR, would deal with all the ‘sexy’ stuff (business transformation, being a change agent, managing mergers and acquisitions, for example) that boards are crying out for? And might today’s HR directors evolve their role to such an extent that they become the ‘directors of people, profit and culture’ of the future?

One issue that the majority of HR directors agreed on during the discussion was that nothing could ever replace people-to-people interaction. “Work in all its aspects would be soulless without it,” said one. “Looking people in the eye can tell you so much.”

Of course, the question still remains whether this eye-to-eye nature of people management will still be between HR and employees in 2020, or whether line managers will be suitably empowered and equipped to do an effective job. One HR leader threw this morsel to the group: might London Zoo, in 13 years’ time, have an exhibit entitled ‘HR manager – endangered species’?




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