The Future of HR Is No HR

The more HR can free its time for strategic tasks, the more it will transform HR's role, with little resemblance to what it looks like today.

Friday, February 26, 2016
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How do we in HR define our job?

On the surface, and certainly from the outside, the job is about managing all facets of our company’s people function. Chief People Officer, anyone?

But day-to-day, the job has long been a tug-of-war between the strategic and the tactical. The role we want to be in involves making strategic decisions about the workforce. The role we often find ourselves in is functional and process-oriented: payroll, performance, compensation, onboarding, etc.

By focusing too much on the latter set of responsibilities, we are perpetuating a perception of the value of HR that is increasingly inaccurate, and outdated.

So how do we move closer toward eliminating the functional work taking up so much of our time? Technology certainly helps. Today’s applications automate processes in smarter ways, freeing HR to focus on mapping the workforce to the CEO vision for the business. And also simplifying work, so our people can focus on their jobs, not systems that hamper them. Beyond simplifying process and saving time and effort, today’s applications are delivering insights and data to help execute the strategic vision of the business.

The more we can free our time for strategic tasks, the more we will transform the role of HR, with little resemblance to what it is today. Hence, the future of HR is . . . no HR. That is, not the HR of today.

How do we make the future of HR a reality? First, we have to change the mindset of the business and its long-held assumptions about HR. Second, we need to re-examine how technology can support this transformation. Applications and solutions that exist to simply facilitate operations are required, but they are no longer enough. Our fast-moving digital economy demands a platform that spurs innovation. For HR, such a platform provides tremendous opportunity.

Here are three critical elements to help make the future of HR a reality.

Simplified Processes

Our outlook at SAP with regard to how we facilitate HR transformation is linked to our Run Simple thinking. Transforming HR to run more simply is not necessarily easy, but the payoffs are significant. Today, HR is on a journey. Our goal is to support that journey by focusing on three "simples" -- simple to run, simple to use, simple to succeed. Business can no longer tolerate the complexity level of a project from five years ago. Technology, particularly cloud technology, reduces, even eliminates, that complexity.

Simple to run refers to options that help speed implementation, and that integrate with other core business technologies. Simple to use is all about a modern design that helps streamline processes and facilitate adoption -- so users are successful whether they touch an application once a year or every day. Simple to succeed refers to the relationship we build with our customers by reexamining how contracts, support, pricing, operations and other customer-impacting elements work more efficiently for them.

Intelligent Services

Even with a simplified, efficient internal function, tomorrow’s HR team’s value won’t change if not integrated with other core lines of business. After all, managers don’t sit in HR only; they sit all over the business. And HR doesn’t transact in HR applications alone, the rest of the company does as well.

Consider everyday workforce changes -- hires, promotions, leaves of absence. These changes regularly touch a range of business functions, not just HR functions -- from payroll, to management, to onboarding and succession planning. Historically, crossing all these areas meant a large amount of manual processing, often by people with a day job that isn’t HR. Taking that manual piece out -- through better technology and greater collaboration -- significantly improves the manager and employee experience, reduces costs and frees people up to focus on what matters - having a rewarding job and supporting the success of the business.

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Visibility across All People

Standardizing and simplifying HR is critical as the world continues to grow more complex. With five generations in the workplace, representing an increasingly global and distributed pool of talent, HR is challenged to unify all these people -- including those not "captive" in our systems.

Managing this growing complexity demands full visibility across all people who "work" for your company. For example, today contingent labor is often managed by your procurement team or outsourced to a staffing firm. Without complete visibility into all your people, the ones you know and see on your org chart, as well as the ones you don’t, you can’t strategically plan around people in a way that reassures your CEO she has the right people in place doing the right things.

I’m not a mystic. But the digital economy requires a level of ability Ram Charan refers to as "perceptive acuity" in his bestseller The Attacker’s Advantage. HR has the tools today to bring greater business value than at any time in our age. By understanding where the business needs to go, deploying the people strategies that will get it there, standardizing and simplifying, employing technology available today, we’ll be right there leading the charge with our C-Suite peers.

The future of HR will truly be no HR -- not today’s definition of HR -- and that’s a benefit to our job satisfaction, our careers, and the success of our people and our businesses.

Mike Ettling is president of SAP SuccessFactors.


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