Opinion: What to expect in HR for 2014

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Human Resources Institute of New Zealand national president, Rachel Walker, reflects back on the year that was in HR and shares her thoughts about what the profession can expect in the year ahead:

No one knows what the year ahead will bring, but we can make a few educated guesses. Let’s start with what we’ve seen in 2013, both here and abroad.
Locally we’ve seen senior HR roles being disestablished or filled by people with no formal HR background – often blended into wider strategy/shared services general management roles.  I’ve also noticed ‘people and culture’ and other ‘people’ titled roles being created with ‘HR’ becoming less fashionable as a title. Perhaps as a result of the aforementioned role disestablishment, it also seems more senior HR people are contracting.

A positive development is that HR people are being selected for IOD programs, which shows their skills and attributes are being recognised for directorships. However, there is still a frustrating and disappointing public perception of our profession, as public floggings on social media becoming popular.
Another promising trend I’ve noticed is advertised roles specifically stating that the transactional HR elements are to be left alone, that they want strategists and outside-in focused people (think Ulrich). And speaking of Ulrich, in 2013 the number one HR thinker in the world came to New Zealand for the first (and what I’m sure won’t be the last) time.

Internationally we’ve seen little in the way of improvement in economies, some countries are still in recession with others possibly entering it. In this kind of environment there is a need to make the intangible more tangible – and many are looking to science and measurement to demonstrate the value of HR. ‘Big data’, the ability to pull many forms of data together to create meaning, seems to be the latest buzzword in this area.

Speaking the business language, including data and analytics, is critical for HR people and increasingly HR institutes are working with other professional institutes, such as the Chartered Institute of Accountants, to increase understanding of our profession within other groups.  With globalisation we’re also seeing a rise in international collaborations of professional bodies (think the recent agreement between professional accounting bodies in Australia and NZ to merge).

The nature of work is changing – context, demographics and skills. People are working longer, women have a stronger influence as consumers etc.  It’s been reported to be likely that “China will be old before it is rich” and internationally population demographics will have a significant impact on the future of many countries. Talent management is critical in dealing with the demographics faced, both at a personal level and organisationally. Some companies are putting a massive effort into talent.

And of course, as we are all experiencing, the modern workplace is increasingly virtual and mobile. There is now an emphasis on social media opportunities, which was evident at the CIPD hackathon

So what will HR people see in New Zealand this year?

I’m guessing that talent will continue to be the emphasis of CEOs and the overseas trend of struggling to manage talent will continue to apply here. Culture development will also be one of the most powerful ways HR can add value.  Gradually more CEOs and Boards are understanding this and are looking to senior practitioners to provide it.  This should mean that culture and organisational development is more important at the Board table, creating opportunities in terms of Tier 2 and Board positions. I expect that the quality of organisational leadership will also gain more focus as the economy lifts and more investment will occur.

Regarding HR positions, I believe the electronic provision of administrative/transactional and operational HR support and advice will take off.  There are already providers in the market offering an “electronic HR Advisor” via packages and websites, and I hate to say it but in my view the role of an HR Advisor who writes up disciplinary letters and employment agreements is on the way out.

I predict more HR roles being taken by people with operational management skills and HR people will be forced to learn more about what makes their businesses tick. As a result I think we’ll see more HR people taking a sabbatical in their career into operational management roles.
HR is in a stage of transformation.  It may not be in 2014, but my pick is that by 2020 the typical “HR” person will be business savvy and the “pick fluffy slipper brigade” of people who want to work in HR because they “like people” will be over. 

What are your views?

Written by Rachel Walker, HRINZ National President

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