The HR function is as integral to delivering business value and profit as IT, accounting, purchasing and sales. The most valued HR practitioners are tactical practitioners with strong operational roots whose ability to deliver consistent value through the organisation’s employees have earned their place at the core of the leadership team. Without ensuring you have great people with great skills (acquired or trained in on the job) working at their optimum, organisations die or are taken over.
HR will be facing many challenges in the UK in 2015. These are only some of the business challenges we may have to get to grips with:
- The political landscape could change dramatically with a change in government.
- Reports indicate that many more employees will be looking to change jobs, causing a talent battle.
- According to the CIPD, the quality of UK management still lags behind that of the USA and Germany.
- Innovation and openness in rewarding people could be the competitive edge organisations need to recruit and retain the best employees.
- The global marketplace continues to impact UK domestic strategy and practice.
- Will European and possibly Asian deflation knock the UK recovery off course, demonstrating the interlinking of economies across the world?
- The aftermath of terrorist atrocities can lead to a significant impact on business. While the publishers of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have made their largest sales, in the aftermath of September 2001, all sorts of businesses found their sales stagnated for months. Travel (predictable) but far less obvious things like recruitment and promotional goods were also severely affected.
HR will encounter an increased pace of change in the new ‘VUCA environment’ (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, as predicted by Unilever),so the function will have to play many parts in this landscape. HR can shape future trends, be a solid secure place, on occasions ‘keeping the faith’ and fundamentals in place and ensuring that learning and development is a core capability for employees. The ability to think ahead, creatively and tactically through risks and options will never be more prized.
One area potentially facing significant restructuring is the supermarket business. The growth of Aldi and Lidl at one end and Waitrose at the other has caught the ‘Big Four’ out as shopping patterns change. Allegations of questionable financial practices in Tesco (under Serious Fraud Office investigation) demonstrates how easy it is to be complacent. A strong HR function with a profound ethical base will be needed to restore credibility in management.
Technology will continue to drive ahead more remote working at home, in airport lounges, business centres and new patterns of working. Shared Parental Leave will probably take a while to get off the ground as employees and employers try to work out how it actually works, but it may mean that flexible and part time working is no longer a female-only practice. Traditional HR work may decline as employees update their own records and shared service centres (internal or outsourced) handle the more complex reward, reporting and benefit administration.
The UK has great global benefits. For those who value their salaries, taxes are fairly low in comparison with parts of Europe (particularly France). The UK still attracts entrepreneurs and highly skilled immigrants with a tolerant, business-friendly approach (at least until the General Election!).
Hiring strong managers should encourage the UK to up its game and develop empowering approaches to employees. Flexible organisations blending teams of people in collaborative formats to tackle competitive challenges will be the winners. Compare this to the old style layers of ‘management’ in public sector organisations like Network Rail – no wonder there was chaos at Kings Cross when no-one would take responsibility.
HR must be closely aligned to the business objectives and has to stop ‘navel gazing’ (of which there is far too much) trying to justify why it is there at all. The advice given and processes adopted must be credible, practical and robust.
HR practitioners need to embrace change and lead it, providing creative strategic leadership. One interview candidate for a senior position once said ‘I don’t claim to have all the right answers, but I think I do know the right questions to ask’. That, ultimately, is the foundation of 'doing strategy’, and then working out the answer for that particular situation. It is important to be ‘business, organisation and context savvy’ utilising new techniques including ‘swarming’ large numbers of agile employees into a project. (CIPD L&D report).
Having said all this we must not lose sight of the business fundamentals. Theo Paphitis of Dragons Den said in a recent interview that business success was all about ‘passion, drive and work ethic’ coupled with a profound understanding of the business and what ‘you’re aiming to achieve.’ Just like HR really!
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