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This blog is about the courage to develop a brave new HR.

No Trends

I’ve had it with the HR trend lists for 2020. They usually are about more analytics, more technology and more people experience.

But instead of listing trends some invisible hand seems to drive, it is time for HR to take control of its own destiny and shape its future. Let’s face it, some of the trends are the old stuff in a new package, or seem to more inspired by wishful thinking then by an assessment of what is needed.

And so, my take is that it’s better to focus on what HR can do, rather than which trends it should follow.

Welcome to the Human Age

If we can believe what many are saying, we are living in the human age. The solutions for the challenges humanity is facing are to be found through people. It’s funny – and worrying – to see that many of those challenges are human-made. So both their source and their solution are human.

The acceleration of the development of AI seems to emphasise (the need for) humanity. Every book or article about AI is about how AI will leverage humanity, or how human skills must be reinforced in a digital age.

So what should HR do in this “human age”?

#1 Return to the Essence

The first thing HR needs to do is to go back to its essence. The essence of HR is to make sure that people are willing and able to perform sustainably in order to create value for all stakeholders of the organisation. What a horribly cold and boring definition that is. But this is what HR should be about. The rest is unnecessary ornamentation that has put HR into a smoke curtain. HR has derailed itself by forgetting that it is about performance, people and value creation.

So, it’s about people. Check. It’s about sustainable performance. Check. It’s about creating value. Check. And it’s about creating conditions to make that happen. Check.

HR should reinvent itself and go back to its simplest essence. For that HR needs to be brave.

#2 Get out of the Trenches

I still see that HR is often a fortress of processes and procedures and that there’s a gap between business and HR. But I know one thing: there is no such thing as an HR Strategy. There is only a business strategy. And we know that the success of strategy, any strategy, depends on the willingness and ability of the people that have to execute the strategy.

So stop building a separate HR strategy and get out of the trenches. HR should fully embed itself in all business processes. But that requires HR to be brave.

#3 Embrace the Human Side of Business

One of the reasons that HR is not always successful is that many HR people are not focused on the human side of business. Still, we are focussing too much on costs and processes. And of course I will not argue with someone who says that efficiency is important. But the question is not how can we be efficient? The question is how can we be effective?

And for being effective sometimes we need to be less efficient. People hate to be treated like numbers. They expect being listened to. Next, they expect fairness. More, they expect compassion. And they fully understand the reciprocity of business. But if they are facing a wall of standards, with no possibility for customisation, they tend to alienate. When their problems are ignored and when they see that there’s a gap between the espoused values and the practices, they tend to retreat, become cynical, passively aggressive, demotivated.

So the mission is to create an organization that is human. But in itself this is only half correct. Because the toxic environments we see are human too. So, if we are to create a human environment, we need to stimulate the prosocial behaviours and neutralise the possibly harmful behaviours that humans are capable of. There are many examples of how people are exploited. Exploitation of people is a human behaviour. But it is not desirable from an ethical and economic point of view.

HR can help to create a context that is humanized. And for that HR needs to be brave.

#4 Show the Evidence

HR is under pressure to show the evidence of what it is doing. I’m all for that. I know from experience that this is difficult. Proving the impact of interventions is often like the quest for the holy grail. The field of people analytics has known an enormous progress, but it has not delivered so far. So, let’s embrace the habit of grounding our practices in a robust process of critical thinking.

The approach of CEBMA on evidence-based management can give guidance here. CEBMA defines 4 sources of evidence / information that any professional should check to make the best decision possible. Sometimes HR has to settle for a solution that is not the best, for political reasons. But even then HR can try and mitigate possible negative consequences of a decision by using evidence coming from both research and experience.

So, by looking for evidence of how people practices have an impact on business results, HR can develop itself. There’s no need to be religious about this and to become more scientific than the scientists. But HR does not do itself a favour by accepting or even propagating practices that have no base at all. So let’s avoid the fads. And let’s also acknowledge the fact that best practices should not be copied blindly. As always, success of a practice depends on many contextual factors.

But to do that. HR must be brave enough to question itself and resist the temptation to adopt the easy practices everybody else seems to use.

#5 Check Tech

HR Technology is a lever for HR Operations. AI, Chat Bots, VR, AR, Machine Learning, … potentially have the possibility to solve many of the problems HR is facing. But HR may become blinded by technology. There is nothing against automating transactional processes. There is nothing against the idea of matching data to select people. However, there are two caveats. First, often technology does not solve the problems for which it has been invented or creates problems that weren’t there. Second, when  people are looking for a job, want to change jobs, have questions about health, career, … make sure there’s someone available. These are situations that require empathy. And if the organization does not organize for empathy, people will look for it elsewhere.

So, don’t just tick the box. Remain very critical and proceed with caution. And that might take courage, because some stakeholders could have other expectations. Like always, success in this field depends on a lot of factors. And for that, HR needs to be brave.

Brave New HR

Not a trend, but a wish for more bravery in HR not to follow trends, but to be very critical about what it does and how it does it. To me, HR is the single most important strategic process in an organization. And therefore it should not be a victim of fashion.


Return to the Essence of HR

Make sure people are willing and able to perform sustainably in order to create value.

Get out of the Trenches

Question oneself more and forget about the own position. Remember there is no HR Strategy.

Embrace the Human Side of Business

Help to create a context that is humanized.

Show the Evidence

Resist the easy practices everybody else seems to use. Do what is needed in the context.

Check Technology

Embrace the opportunities technologies bring but remain cautious for the adverse consequences.

Book a keynote on HR of the Future

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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