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For decades, employers and employees had an informal contract with implied expectations-employees expected a job for life with certain benefits, and employers responded with a rewards system matching those expectations. Today, even the assumption of working for one employer for more than five years is uncommon. Many employees view jobs as short-term affairs; they seek to gather skills and experiences and then move on. What they want out of jobs has also changed; they’re seeking greater flexibility, increased autonomy, and more learning on the job. In this context, there is a growing acknowledgment that we are entering a talent-demand economy. However, many organizations’ policies, practices, and HR systems are not keeping pace. HR faces pressure to change on many fronts, from technological innovation to globalization and many more. What follows are a few specific areas that HR can address as a strategic partner within organizations.

HR technology

A third of companies surveyed in Mercer’s global Workforce HR Technology Study plan to implement new technology within the next three years. Cloud-based applications are most prevalent, especially in large or expanding organizations. To adapt, HR is shifting its operating model based on the following technology trends:

  • Increased user adoption: Systems like Workday and SAP SuccessFactors have a simple and friendly user interface designed to make manager and employee self-service personalized and easy to learn. Self-service tools and dashboard/reporting options offer flexibility in data access and data analyses, bringing information directly to leaders without going through HR.
  • Mobile and real time: Talent apps, especially on mobile devices, allow for convenient and immediate HR processing and data access by leaders, managers, and employees. This real-time data retrieval/reporting can help support data-driven business decisions.

HR Business Partners

The HRBP position was designed to add business acumen and consultative skills in HR. Too often, organizations implement the role with little more than a title change and without discussing how generalists can acquire skills needed to take on new responsibilities. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study, only 13% of organizations reported having a systemic curriculum for developing HR professionals. Fortunately, over one-third plan to invest in HR development in the next year.

Companies have taken the following approaches to improve HRBP effectiveness:

  • Directed training: Companies are providing intensive training to develop leaders with particular skills for this pivotal role. Strategic partnering, analytics, and change management are key skill sets required for success, and are the focus of experiential workshops and other hands-on learning interventions.
  • Rotating line talent into the HRBP role: Some organizations create rotation programs to bring internal talent to the role with the right mix of skills and capabilities, often loaned from the business into temporary assignments. Non-HR leaders not only help improve the business comprehension of the HRBP role, but can also become champions for the value of HR. Successful execution of these programs requires a shift in expectations; unless the role is viewed as a growth opportunity, it will not attract the best talent and will fail to have impact.

Centers of expertise

The prevailing HR operating model relies on Centers of Expertise (COEs)-centralized teams staffed with HR experts-to provide program design and consulting services to the business. Traditionally, COEs designed global programs at the corporate level, which were then adapted or redesigned to meet local requirements. In practice, we have seen a shift in how COEs operate in organizations:

  • Increased global focus: Organizations are increasingly focused on ensuring that their workforce adapts and executes with a global mindset, and this applies to HR teams as well. This approach promotes movement of employees across the organization. Even without physical movement, collaboration technologies are enabling COE employees to connect virtually to each other, to their local HR counterparts, and to their clients.
  • Changing local COE structures: With more robust service center capabilities and automation, in-country COEs are becoming obsolete. In the future, the in-country HRBP and COE roles may merge into one, providing both business partnering and local program execution (but not HR administration work).

What’s next for HR?

It’s time for HR to redefine its value. The new HR operating model needs to:

  • Embrace the new work equation, including the new digital workforce, a flexible workplace, and employees as consumers
  • Understand and champion the role of the manager and new ways of driving business results through performance management
  • Articulate a compelling employee value proposition that is globally consistent but locally relevant
  • Infuse technology, data, and analytics into all that HR does

The role of HR is already evolving. The HR profession of tomorrow will have defined competencies, new skills, and clear expectations for all its roles, from data scientist to virtual collaborator and innovator to technology strategist and talent partner.

To our learned HR colleagues who are eager for change-gather up, skill up, and look to the future! HR is a discipline evolving at break-neck speed, and you have a unique opportunity to shape the next chapter.