Change is Coming to the HR Suite

The HR function as you know it will soon cease to exist.

OK, that’s being a bit dramatic. But you should still probably expect to see your HR department’s priorities shifting somewhat in the near future.

So says a new research report from The Society for Human Resource Management, which recently polled 485 C-suite executives in non-HR roles and 439 SHRM members from within the HR profession.

In Business and Human Capital Challenges Today and Into the Future, the Alexandria, Va.-based HR membership association asked both groups to identify the biggest business challenges they’re facing at the moment as well as the issues they figure will be most pressing in the years ahead.

(Interestingly, it seems human resource executives and their C-suite counterparts largely agree that HR is and will remain crucial to the organization’s success, but see the talent-related hurdles that lie ahead a little differently. Check out this executive summary for a few examples of where C-suite execs find common ground, and where their views diverge.)

The poll also asked C-suite leaders outside of HR to specify some of the changes their companies are making within the HR department, or plan to make in the next few years.

Overall, 71 percent said their current and future plans include broadening HR’s scope to help make the function … wait for it … more of a “strategic partner” to the business.

Among the actions non-HR C-suite executives are already taking to make HR more “strategic”? Twenty-two percent said they are “engaging top executives to develop HR strategy,” with the same number indicating they are “refreshing HR strategies such as selection, compensation, benefits and training.” Another 20 percent said they’re “getting senior executives more involved in implementing HR strategies.”

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, 21 percent of non-HR respondents reported that their organizations would be refreshing HR strategies “to align with evolving business goals,” while 19 percent said they will be “measuring the specific effects of HR programs” and 18 percent foresee “getting senior executives more involved in implementing HR strategies.” In addition, 16 percent predict transferring more HR-related tasks to line management.

Whatever tasks HR professionals will or won’t be carrying out one, five or 10 years from now, the C-suite seems to have reached a consensus in terms of the HR function’s ongoing importance.

“At the majority of organizations, both HR and non-HR C-suite executives view HR as having a strategic role,” notes the aforementioned executive summary. Indeed, 63 percent of non-HR C-suite executives said they see HR as such, with the most common perception being that of HR as a sort of transactional and strategic hybrid.

Whatever shape HR takes in the future, the function “needs to make the changes that will drive positive value and improve organizational effectiveness” in the days to come, said Deb Cohen, senior vice president of knowledge development at SHRM, in the research report.

“The HR profession suffers a multitude of critics both within and outside the ranks. HR does not need any more negative attention,” said Cohen. “If change will be constant … then HR needs to embrace its role in being an effective facilitator of change.”