This article accompanies The Human Risk Factor.
"HR first became a profession when it was about ensuring compliance," says Jesuthasan, global head of talent management at Towers Watson in Chicago and co-author of Transformative HR, a new book he co-wrote with University of Southern California Marshall School of Business management professor John Boudreau.
Since then, thanks in part to thought leaders such as the University of Michigan's Professor David Ulrich and others, HR's mission morphed into the efficient delivery of services in support of the business, he says, and then to its current role of helping companies make more informed decisions about people.
"The evolution of risk is a turning point for how companies think about people," says Jesuthasan. "In an uncertain world, it becomes just as important for HR to equip the business to identify the risks we do want to take."
Those sought-after risks can include diversifying an organization's sources of talent, he says.
"The spectrum of how we get work done today is really broadening," says Jesuthasan.
He refers to this new concept as "talent in the cloud."
"The remix for HR extends beyond traditional programs and processes for a 'wholly owned' workforce, to 'How do we manage all these disparate relationships -- from a programmer working for you via [online talent marketplace] Topcoder.com, or a contractual relationship with a supplier providing intellectual property?' " he says.
The "risk deviation" in such arrangements, says Jesuthasan, is that it means intellectual property that's important to the company's business no longer resides within the walls of the organization. Yet the cost of otherwise obtaining that property might be prohibitive.
The cloud gives HR access to talent that might otherwise be unaffordable for the company, he says. Sites such as Topcoder.com let companies access key talent for high-value projects without going through the trouble of sourcing, hiring and retaining such talent. Some of the world's largest companies now contract with developers via Topcoder.com to build mission-critical intellectual property, he says.
The role of organizations, including HR, will be to ensure that such intellectual property is broken down into pieces when it's being developed in the cloud, and then reassembled in-house so as to minimize the risk that it will fall into the wrong hands, says Jesuthasan.
"It's about rethinking the way work gets done," he says.
This will include a hard look at the risks of having work done this new way versus the traditional way.
"If you think about work, it's already an amalgamation of various activities, so it's a reframing from jobs to work," says Jesuthasan. "Once you go there, you identify the inherent inefficiencies that exist in the current job structure. There's a presumption that jobs need to be done by one person -- but this lets us challenge the status quo."
The degree of cost savings unlocked by these new arrangements can give companies access to talent they may never have had before, he says.
"It requires a different set of controls, and this is where the opportunity for HR is: They can be the enabler of work, not just the controller of the workforce," he says. "It's going to call for some very different skills."