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HR in need of new abilities

Published on Friday, 04 Apr 2014
Jeff Schwartz
Liz Kreuger
Jungle Wong
Emma Reynolds

Today’s business leaders have serious reservations about their human resource (HR) teams’ abilities. Only one in four senior executives rate their HR teams as capable of delivering excellent or good capabilities, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report. The rest believe their HR is underperforming or just getting by.

According to the report, the need to reskill HR is the third biggest human-capital challenge faced by organisations, having been selected by 77 per cent of respondents. This saw it placed after leadership (86 per cent) and retention and engagement (79 per cent). The report is based on interviews with 2,500 business and HR chiefs in 90 countries worldwide.

Jeff Schwartz, senior director and global human capital leader for marketing, eminence and brand at Deloitte, says the changed nature of business due to globalisation, hyper-connection, technology and changing demographics is prompting staff and business leaders to similarly revise expectations of HR.

He warns that companies need to reskill and make critical, focused investments in HR and talent capabilities. If not, they are at a significant risk of not having the people, engagement and skills they count on to innovate, sell, operate and deliver to customers.

One of the critical skills HR teams need today, Schwartz says, is a deep business acumen. Noting that HR teams often lack in business knowledge and insight, he recommends nurturing a profound understanding of global customer and talent markets, analytics, and modelling to develop data-driven solutions to major talent problems.

He also urges HR to sharpen its futurist skills and develop a strong understanding of technology. It should also equip itself with the ability to create social and cloud-based solutions, and support every business function.

“The most important thing is to get started and find ways to integrate these new skills into HR teams on the ground, as well as develop a new set of expectations on what HR and talent professionals need to know,” Schwartz says. “If your HR team has not updated its development programmes for HR leaders, managers and professionals to focus on these future skills, you will likely fall further behind.”

Jungle Wong, leader of Asia-Pacific and China human capital practice at Deloitte, sees huge implications for HR departments that fail to reskill. “If you’re not ready for this new trend, then your value to the organisation will diminish. This is in addition to the fact that a lot of the low-value work can either be outsourced or else automated by HR information systems,” he says.

Deloitte’s report also found that 46 per cent of organisations are not ready for talent and HR analytics – another human capital trend identified as urgent. Only 14 per cent of respondents said their companies have set up any form of talent analytics programme. Wong says getting training or attending courses will help HR staff gain this knowledge. They also can attend conferences to find out what HR teams at other firms are doing.

He also strongly recommends HR teams experience the ‘front line’ of the business to know how they can help the organisation make better decisions from a talent-management perspective.

Liz Kreuger, head of user-experience design at HR consultancy e3 Reloaded, emphasises a need to be user-centred – the ability to understand who HR teams are designing for by carrying out in-depth research.

“What are [employees’] needs? Scenarios? Mindsets? Behaviours? What frustrates them? What do they currently think or feel?” Kreuger says. “HR should then build personas and map different processes and systems for each one, before prototyping and testing them.”

She adds that employee participation and engagement should not be automatically assumed. HR must keep in mind that attention is something that is earned. “Participation and engagement shouldn’t be assumed. We have to work hard to attract people’s attention, and keep it,” she says. “We have to be more creative, using different channels and mediums and make sure we are relevant and providing the right information at the right time to the right people.”

Emma Reynolds, co-founder of e3 Reloaded, believes that HR has the power to be the “new marketing” and to become a profit centre – but that the right skills are needed.

“Marketers used to market ‘to’ their customers and push the carefully crafted and controlled messages they want to communicate ‘to’ their audiences. It was all one-way and one-dimensional. Now, marketers listen, connect and engage ‘with’ their audiences,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds says it is essential that HR teams are user-centred and bring the principles of design thinking to the workplace. “Like marketing, we need to segment, target and position new programmes to different audiences and design things based on radically different needs. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach anymore, and there is no such thing as a single global process. There can be a global core or foundation, but we have to provide the need to localise and customise to different needs,” she says. 

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