Creating the ‘People department’ to pursue the future
05 January 2020 | Web Article Number: ME201917422
By Joanne Perry
AS an HR professional, I’m often asked what the jobs of the future will be. This is not easy to answer - the simple truth is that we don’t know, at least not in broad strokes. But if we look more closely at a company’s strategy, we can start seeing where certain roles will fit in.
However, it’s not as simple as assigning jobs with narrow and specific definitions. The days of studying for a lifetime career are gone. Today’s employee must be able to adapt and manage change.
A major reason for this is that employment environments are more fluid and dynamic than ever before, thanks to the advent of digital technology.
While preparing for this article, I questioned the extent to which technology features in the HR department I run. But a quick audit surprised me. It was evident in different areas such as recruitment, administrative processes such as online payslips and leave applications.
We also rely on integrated digital HR platforms to centralise our employee data in a single system. Digital streamlines administrative HR processes such as personal detail changes, job and employment information changes as well as to manage certain HR processes such as performance evaluations and the delivering of companywide training.
Self-service portals and digital evaluation tools empower the rest of RS Components SA staff, while my team leverages analytics from our employee data to remedy familiar challenges such as reducing staff turnover, improving diversity within the business, and manage absenteeism.
These examples reveal just how far digital technologies sub-consciously alter how we work. It reflects the continuous change, often gradual, that occurs as new technologies keep improving our operations.
Finding and retaining the people who can operate and adapt in such a fluid environment is a new but welcome challenge. One cannot simply have a strategy to recruit only the brightest minds - if that was the case, HR wouldn’t feel the pressure to evolve. No, to help our companies perform in this era, where technology is changing the nature of work all the time, managing people has become a much more demanding and strategic discipline.
Helping people to change
One sometimes has challenges with people who aren’t as accepting of change and in some instances feel uncomfortable with the rate of change. I’ve conducted exit interviews where this was highlighted as a contributing factor for leaving the business.
Change can often leave people feeling paralyzed if not managed correctly, but many can adapt to change, providing they are supported in the right way. We accomplish this in several ways, two of which are worth highlighting.
The first is to put the power of managing people in the hands of their Line managers. Despite having that ambition, HR has never really been seen as a strategic resource but instead the bureaucratic hub where everyone's employee-related issues are managed. Managers tend to defer a lot of that responsibility to their HR teams.
Digital HR platforms give managers, among others, access to employ information through self-service portals. Routine tasks such as booking leave or performance management can now be handled by those who benefit directly. It’s also reduced HR’s administrative workload, allowing my team to focus more on strategic objectives such as talent management, employee life cycles, diversity management and skills development.
The second relates to skills. Every business has employees that are loyal, experienced and comfortable with the company culture. It would be damaging to lose them because they can’t keep up with the pace of change. To this end, we’ve created numerous learning opportunities for our employees, such as access to formal education and training courses allowing everyone to upskill and ‘future-proof’ themselves.
In addition, all our employees are encouraged to broaden their knowledge and add to their skills through free access to LinkedIn Learning that the business pays for. Learning and development is a key focus area for us at RS Components SA as we continue to evaluate the business to ensure that our people’s skills and attitudes complement our strategy.
A lot of this is accomplished through technology, with one very important addition. HR must have a presence at the table when company strategy is discussed, otherwise, it can only add limited value. RS Components SA made this change earlier this year and it has been very effective.
Sure, I often sit at the table where the conversations are focused on the sales and operations of the business. However, the collaboration with these functions of the business offers HR opportunities to become a part of the organisational strategy and align their HR goals to that of the larger organisation.
Businesses might operate on profit and loss, but their success depends on their people. This is more important today than ever before. So, HR must go beyond administering people. We must be the department of People and promote those capabilities across the rest of our companies as well.
• Joanne Perry is HR Manager at RS Components