HR and the future of work – don’t forget the fundamentals


January 26th, 2017

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The new year has brought the usual round of predictions about the future of the world of work, and the implications for people functions . It has also brought headlines that suggest such a world is no longer in the distant future, but is starting to be reality now e.g. “worlds largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence” and “Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence”.

Such predictions and headlines often prompt HR practitioners to reassess their skills, and sometimes to put ‘hot topics’ such as big data and digital transformation at the top of their skills development list. Our research concurs that the future of work will require HR practitioners to have a different set of knowledge and skills, so we agree such an approach is useful (

However our conversations with HR Directors also show that there are some fundamental capabilities that will stay important whatever the future of work. When asked “what makes a HR Leader, now and in the future” the answers include:

  • A business mindset – someone who has a genuine interest in the business, and approaches any issue from a broad business perspective
  • The ability to build and maintain a good HR team (including outsourced functions), a team that will deliver effectively and efficiently, that will get the basics right
  • Someone who builds relationships with stakeholders across the business, and is politically savvy
  • Someone who is confident and credible ‘at the top table’, who can influence as a senior leader, who can counsel fellow senior leaders
  • Having clear and ethical guiding principles, so people know what you stand for, and you are prepared to voice and stand by your views
  • The ability to step back from the day-to-day operational busyness, and apply strategic thinking and an organizational development approach to organizational challenges
  • Having a toolkit to deliver the people agenda, such as culture change, employee engagement, performance management etc. etc.
  • Being comfortable with ‘the numbers’ and financial analysis
  • Being able to analyse data in order to see ‘the wood from the trees’ and to model different options
  • Having a breadth of contacts and networks, both for personal support and for horizon scanning
  • Being tuned into the shifts in the world of work that particularly impact your organization, whether that is artificial intelligence, a 4 generation workforce, or something else.

It is a long (and not complete) list, and a difficult balancing act to build these fundamentals whilst ensuring ‘hot topics’ are attended to. Our new HR Leaders Programme will focus on both the fundamentals and ‘hot topics’ that participants agree are important to their roles. Watch this space for our reflections and learning from this and our other HR offerings, such as HR Business Partner Skills.