What’s the future of HR? At the same time HR technology is rapidly evolving and companies are relying on workforce data to streamline their organizations, HR’s role has been transforming into “strategic business partner.”
No one recognizes this more than China Gorman, who has effectively established herself as one of the industry’s most distinguished thought leaders. Gorman recently sat down with CareerBuilder to discuss how far HR has come in the past few decades, where it is headed — and what these changes mean for the future of work as a whole.
An Interview with China Gorman on the Past, Present and Future of HR:
CareerBuilder: What will HR look like in 20 years?
China Gorman: Millennials will be ruling the world. From a commerce and economy perspective, the millennials will be the largest cohort – or they’ll be splitting almost every position with Gen Xers. Because Gen Xers and millennials have grown up in a world fueled by technology – coupled with their comfort with transparency and their ability to demand different dynamics from their work experiences, a new business culture will be created. That’s going to impact HR.
We already see the leading edge of that. Millennials report, more than any other generation, that they want their employers to be good corporate citizens. They want to do good by being good. They don’t want this hard-line delineation between work and personal life. They’re demanding and going to expect more and more of an integration between work and personal life.
CB: How do you think the average role in HR will change? What day-to-day responsibilities are going to be different in 20 years?
CG: I think we’ll see further delineation between the high-level strategic work of HR, workforce planning and business planning and the business administration, regulatory, “keeping the lights on,” [aspect]. We could possibly see the growth of really high-level strategic roles – really working with the data, predictive analytics and workforce planning. There will probably be a bigger chasm between the beefing up of the strategic work and the mechanization of the basic, “keeping the lights on” work.
CB: How do you think HR practices have evolved in the last 20 years?
CG: Most of the basics of the employer-employee relationship that HR has managed have changed because of technology. We thought eliminating all that would enable HR practitioners to dive into more strategic tasks, [such as] long-term strategic planning, understanding the data and analytics and making stronger predictions.
That has happened at the very top of the employer pyramid – those companies in the Fortune 300, such as GE, IBM and Unilever. Those organizations have CHROs who sit at the right hand of the CEOs and their HR budgets are enormous. They’re actually pushing strategic HR practices.
At smaller companies, however, the CHRO isn’t often at the right hand of the CEO. They don’t have the budgets they need to move the organizations forward from a data-driven perspective. I think there’s going to be a broadening chasm between organizations that are able to invest – those where the CHRO has the influence to move things forward – and then there’s everybody else, who will be struggling because they don’t have the people or budget.
This is where I think the next 20 years will see a profound change. As baby boomers retire and they’re replaced by Xers and millennials, those folks who grew up in a world of technology, in a world of social technology, who grew up in a world of data analytics and predictive analytics are going to have an entirely different style and agenda when leading businesses. They’re going to have an entirely different agenda when managing talent in their organizations. I think that’s the hope for HR moving forward. It’s a real opportunity.
CB: Human resources used to be called “personnel.” Do you think HR will receive another name change in the next 20 years?
CG: What’s really interesting to me these days is a movement toward making work experiences and company cultures more human. Organizations are beginning to understand that, if we want to engage folks as employees in terms of acquisition and retention, we have to start understanding and treating them like full people… and relate to them as whole people. It doesn’t really matter what we call HR. The move from personnel to human resources was a symbolic message to the business world that these personnel or HR employees were starting to deal with other employees in a different way.
What matters is behavioral change at the top of the organization. If we are successful in understanding that people are not just a construct of skills who show up at the beginning of a shift and leave at the end of a shift, and if we can create fully human relationships, where we care about their kids, what’s happening to their parents, their financial pressures, et cetera, it becomes a stronger, more productive relationship on both sides of the equation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For more than 25 years, China Gorman has held strategic business leadership roles in the human capital management sector. Read her blog at ChinaGorman.com, and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.