This is the best time to be in HR


Robert Browning’s poem “Andrea del Sarto” was something that made us reflect for a while and wonder if there are analogies that can be drawn.

This poem, published in the year 1855, finds Andrea thinking back on his career and lamenting to his wife that his worldly concerns have kept him from fulfilling his promise as an artist.  He feels limited because of the mundane duties of earning money and supporting her. In comparison, his more famous (and unmarried) contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael lived for their work with greater passion and spirit.

Try to extrapolate this to the current times and you find this piece of Victorian poetry remains pertinent even 160 years later. It is perhaps relevant to the challenges facing HR leaders today.

The demands of day-to-day HR may be crowding out the focus, passion and spirit that are necessary if they were to play a leading role in helping organizations capitalize on opportunities offered by the modern world.

The Big 4

There are four forces making HR more central to business success:

  1. The context of business (STEPED: social, technological, economic, political, environmental, and demographic changes)
  2. The magnitude of changes in the world around  (VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity)
  3. The demise of employee well-being (individuation, isolation, indifference, intensity)
  4. The requirement to be outside in (Reach Out, Venture Out, Seek Out, Break Out and attend to customers, investors, and communities)

The potential for action is infinite


Globalization:  A world where exchange of goods, services and capital is getting increasingly easier

Personal technology: A world where app-powered mobile platforms like smartphones and future technology like wrist devices and Google Glass seamlessly and constantly connecting people and Web-based content.

Generational diversity: The range of attitudes, aspirations and perspectives in a given group of workers, ranging from a Gen X to Y to Z

Mass customization: Combining mass production with customization for specific individual consumers or groups, thus meeting the twin objectiveness of effectiveness and efficiency. .

Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Open innovation:  User innovation, innovation ecosystems, co-development, innovation contests and crowdsourcing enabling rapid outflow and inflow of knowledge.

Social media: Online networks and two-way communication channels that connect users in the virtual world, establishing new relationships and facilitate a never-before mode of interaction.

Big data: Data that are too big, too unstructured or too diverse to be stored and analyzed by conventional means, processes or tools.

Gamification: Applying game mechanics to non-game situations to motivate and change behavior.

How HR shifts to center stage and what role it can play

In recent times, the “war for talent” has captured the imagination of HR leaders. So amazing systems were built for bringing people into the organization (sourcing, having a value proposition), moving them through the organization (development, performance management, engagement), and removing them from the organization (outsourcing).

The war for talent was a great battle, but we now need to turn to victory through organization.

In today’s rapidly changing business world, the challenge of building the right organization complements and super-cedes the talent challenge. Culture itself is an amorphous concept, it is interesting to note that the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors has prepared recent documentation to help auditors monitor culture[1]

Talent is not enough. Individuals are champions, but teams with championships.


Specific Role Choices

An HR professional can work at three stages: individual contributor, manager and leader.


He/she can choose to be a strategic enabler (culture and change champion, human capital curator, and total rewards steward) or focus first on a specific quadrant (e.g., functional excellence in rewards, learning, or organization design)

The underlying idea is to create dynamic systems that leverage talent throughout the organization, where the unified whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the long run, that’s what gives the company the competitive edge it needs

Summing Up

While it is a great time to be in HR, it is not without downsides. When the dog catches the car, when a political novice is elected, when a backup player in theater or sports becomes a starter, the opportunities are great, but the challenge of responding is often greater.

So, as HR moves to center stage, delivering real business outcomes, the forces at play, be it STEPED or VUCA, need not be viewed as threats, but opportunities. Again, now is the time to be in HR—the demands have never been greater, and neither have the resources to accomplish greatness.