Mercer’s Take on ‘Why HR Needs to Change’

There weren’t any huge surprises in Mercer’s recently released HR Transformation report, “Why HR Needs to Change,” but it certainly underscores the continuing clarion call for HR to better develop its 450744473 -- women business leaderown and prepare for significant changes to the profession.

The report cites Mercer’s recent Global Talent Trends Study, which finds that, while only 5 percent of employers polled say HR is seen as a strategic partner in their organization and more than 80 percent say their talent processes need an overhaul, a measly 13 percent say they have a systematic curriculum for developing HR professionals.

Granted, the pressures on HR to change that are cited in this latest report are all pressures we’ve reported on: the growing digital workforce, businesses’ needs to become more global yet remain local, the rising tide of data analytics, flexible workplace designs and the evolving role of the manager, to name the first five.

Also well-documented already are the challenges in executing a viable HR business-partner model — “originally designed to add business acumen and consultative skills in HR [but too often implemented in organizations] with little more than a title change and without discussing how generalists can acquire the skills needed to take on new responsibilities and [remove] existing administrative tasks from their job[s],” as the report states.

But HR experts I reached out to about it do agree the message — call it a warning, if you will, that HR better change or cease to exist — is a good and necessary one, a warning HR practitioners and leaders need to be paying attention to.

John Boudreau, professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, and a handful of like-minded HR leaders including Eva Sage-Gavin and Kaye Foster-Cheek, recognized this problem years ago and established the CHREATE initiative in 2013 to — in the words of its online description — “map how HR must evolve to meet the future challenges in 10 years, to identify pivotal initiatives to accelerate that evolution, and to design the actions needed to make the future a reality.” I especially like this description of its mission, posted by CHREATE:

“Through the power of open-source collaboration, participant diversity, volunteerism and a unique combination of in-kind and financial resources, we aim to continue and extend the community of senior HR leaders who will reimagine a profession equipped to address the challenges of the future.”

Boudreau pointed me to this piece he posted on the Visier site back in April, in which he describes the “evolving work ecosystem [as one that] requires ‘retooling’ HR issues using the best thinking from disciplines such as engineering, finance, neuroscience, marketing, operations and supply chain.”

He lays out in that piece the future roles required to meet the challenges of this new ecosystem, and I must admit I noticed none of these roles contain the letters “HR”:

“The Organizational Engineer is an expert in facilitating virtual teams, developing leadership wherever it exists, and talent transitions.  She is an expert at talent and task optimization.  She is the knowledge resource on principles such as agility, networks, power and trust.

The Virtual Culture Architect is a culture expert, advocate and brand builder.  He connects current and potential workers’ purpose to the organization’s mission and goals.  He is adept at principles of values, norms, and beliefs, articulated virtually and personally.

The Global Talent Scout, Convener, and Coach masters new talent platforms and optimizes the relationships between workers, work and the organization, using whatever platform is best (e.g., free agent, contractor, regular employee, etc.).  She is a talent-contract manager, talent-platform manager and career/life coach.

The Data, Talent & Technology Integrator is an expert at finding meaning in big data and algorithms, and how to design work that optimally combines technology, automation and humans.

The Social Policy & Community Activist creates optimal synergy between goals that include economic returns, social purpose, ethics, sustainability and worker well-being.  She influences beyond the organization, shaping policies, regulations and laws that support the new world of work, through community engagement.”

Indeed, if organizations will be needing their HR professionals to transform themselves to this degree, a great, great deal of in-house HR development will be needed across the business community and profession. Far more than a 13-percent commitment.

Boudreau, Sage-Gavin (former chief human resource officer for The Gap Inc.) and Foster-Cheek (former CHRO for Johnson & Johnson) wrote about their group’s mission and vision for the future of HR in a recent issue of People + Strategy.  I like what Mark Sokol, executive editor, says about his contributors and the profession they know so well in his introduction to the pieces (pages 8 through 10):

“Perhaps you know the William Gibson saying, ‘The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ Some people really do get to the future sooner than others, and we would be wise to learn from them. … [Sage-Gavin and Foster-Cheek] describe the future of work and human resources — a future that has arrived for some of us and, in time, will involve all of us. This is not just their opinion, but reflects a consensus of experts across our profession.

” …  Boudreau reminds us that [the two former CHROs aren’t just writing about] forecasting trends; [they’re writing about] changing how we see and define the world of work — and that can fundamentally change everything we do in human resources.”

Mind you, CHREATE — which stands for a Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise — does a very different kind of dive into how HR must change, but no doubt the researchers at Mercer would agree the time for such fundamental change has come.