Enhanced security concerns across the world in response to terror; a possible slowdown in growth economies as well as subdued oil prices will all have a role to play in how business is shaped this year. This will have a deep impact on the amount of leverage the people function will have.
As we close this year and look forward to a brilliant new year, how do we separate the routine from a trend in terms of people processes. Trends are easy to get wrong and notoriously difficult to identify. Hence, this broad piece will identify focus areas and trends that would remain relevant in the slightly longer term, and yet give scope for action this year. Those that are already in early stages of adaptation, such as HR on mobile, use of communities for talent sourcing, flexible work options and people analytics have been omitted.
2015 was an exciting year for employers as well as employees in most countries. There was steady job creation, mobility, growth opportunities and a stable economic environment barring a few hiccups. However there are some clouds that need to be factored in for 2016 in the business environment. There are signs that global growth will be uneven and maybe below expectations in major economies. India will have its own set of challenges to convert tentative signs on economic recovery into robust growth. The impact of enhanced security concerns across the world as a response to terror; a possible slowdown in growth economies as well as subdued oil prices will also have a role to play in how business is shaped this year. All this will deeply impact the amount of leverage the people function will have.
So, what should HR as a profession focus on in the coming year and maybe a bit beyond?
Focus on customers and people
HR should have two clear primary axes to focus on, much like in two-dimensional geometry —a total focus on enabling business to bring value to clients and an overarching focus on people. Over a period of time, HR has diluted both by getting more involved in internal organisational machinery or things that are operational and urgent. With greater reliance on analytic tools, the function can make a tremendous difference on how companies increase operational efficiency as well as bring business value. The other axis, an increased focus on people, will increase in importance this year with employees demanding one to one attention as well as instant resolutions.
Culture of learning and mastery of the profession
Michelangelo would say that if people knew how hard he worked to achieve mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. One cannot be truly regarded as important to business till one becomes a master in one’s area of expertise and is sought after for that expertise. No matter which area of HR one handles, there is scope for developing expertise — both in terms of learning as well as teaching. This should be taken up as a personal challenge by all HR people this year.
Innovation closest to people
One idea that HR people have been successfully piloting at Infosys last year has been ‘Zero Distance’—innovation closest to customers. In the same light, HR needs to innovate closest to people and business. A defining trend will be companies innovating to remain relevant to talent —for attraction as well as retention. Barring a few examples, most innovation in HR happens distinct from business and people. One needs to allow one’s teams that are closest to people and business to bring in innovation in their everyday work.
Going digital, the transition
For HR to deliver world-class experiences, there is no way other than going digital. And one can’t have substandard solutions in the digital space as people are used to world-class user experiences in most of their everyday encounters in other spheres. There will be a need to look beyond existing capabilities and probably source some of the best available in the world, from fields outside of HR. Again, modular change is the way to go here and collaboration and innovation with people within as well as outside will be a must. A clear trend that is emerging is that the legacy of enterprise-based people interfaces will give way to sleeker and simpler digital interfaces. HR will have to lead from the front to make this transition happen.
Creating an employer brand for a multigenerational workforce
Largely, the debate between employing millenials vs others will fade out in the near future. The best employers will be those who will be able to
integrate a multigenerational diverse workforce and utilise each of their strengths. One has to learn to identify the right talent for the task with advanced analytics as well as decision making. Talent will get a larger scope and definition this year and companies will be willing to experiment in this space. One has to accept that some of the better talent does not want to be employed by organisations full time and would be interested in coming together with the right team for a challenge and then disbanding to do something different.
Lastly, companies have to compete on talent — the best there is, everywhere. One needs to bring back the human in HR to attract and retain the best. While scale and complexity have been mastered for long, the future is about dealing with the individual in an unparalleled way. For this, one needs to understand the changing needs of the people one works with and then go about delivering them in a human way. This includes being flexible in terms of how the way one administers policies, in terms of understanding workforce needs for an extended workplace or modular workers, or simply recognising the fact that brilliant contributions could come from those not constrained by nine to five. Treating employees as individuals and not as part of a group or segment will be more visible as a trend in 2016.
And finally, a wish for the profession. HR has a tendency to make things too complicated. An important trend for one to create in 2016 is to make life simpler for people, for business and for oneself. HR people can do this by seeing themselves as key players in bridging the potential of human talent with the needs of business. Anything else is secondary and can be done without.
(The author is senior vice-president & head-HR, Infosys.)