The Future of the HR Profession – Game Changers or Game Over?

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

Of course the optimist in me – my overriding genetic order – is that they are Game Changers. Yet I can’t help think that it’s also a lot of Game Over.

Game Over as in the end of an era. Of bureacuratic, policy-led dysfunctional HR because the future is a game that is being changed already. By incumbents and the intake.

What makes me think that? We’re surely saddled with the risk-averse, highly process-oriented HR machine we’ve created aren’t we?

Not if my hunch is right. And my hunch is that there is a new show in town. A game that is changing and WILL BE changed by the time many of those currently embarking on their study programmes as aspiring HR professionals get their hands on influential roles.


I’ve synthesised what I am seeing as a new form of HR – I call it Supercharged HR – that focuses NOT on the low hanging fruit of guidelines and predictable models but in these 5 areas as the new signatures of a function revving up for a place at the front of the grid.

Firstly the Digitisation and Socialisation of work. Not just online but everything augmented, efficiency charged and available through digital platforms and socialised constructs. I’ve seen enough case studies and evidence of emerging practice to feel we are moving beyond the solo, hunkered down travesty of work we call an email inbox. Email is finally losing its vice-like grip on our work. “”How was your day honey?” “So so, I did some emails, had some meetings and did a few more emails”. FFS. Is THIS what we call a meaningful and productive way to be? There’s a person over in the next block of desks, I’ll email them something. FFS again. However what we are seeing with developments in ALL SORTS of digital technology applications, platforms and production mechanisms is not like the electronic processing of manual processes we’ve seen since the early 1990s. No this is game changing digital (to use Dave Coplin’s RSA Talk) reimagining of work. We don’t convert crappy manual processes to electonic and hope it’s mildly more efficient. We overhaul, reboot and radicalise using digital tools that give us a whole different way of working.

My twee example here is the abomination we call “tracked changes” in a word document. FFS. What a dog’s breakfast of a technology solution this is. Instead we now have cloud documents with editable and traceable changes dynamically updated as we make the changes. One is an electronic abhorration of the red pen mentality. The other is like we’re all virtually huddling around a shared piece of drafting construct. More efficient? I think so. More useful? I think so. More like a tiny example of what we can now do with digital technology because we’re thinking and acting differently? I hope and believe so.

Secondly comes my hobby horse of late. The decline of the job propostion. Also known (by Nilofer Merchant and the great Mervyn Dinnen) as work not jobs. Instead of hiring people for a JOB whatever that is – largely 40 hours of packaged up, boxed in, hopeful “outputs” from people, we have work to do. Work which can be allocated on the basis of who has the skill, experience, drive, ingenuity and calling to do that work. So we move away from a boxed commodity like “you can have this car in any colour as long as it’s black” to have-it-how-you-like roof, wing mirrors, alloys, seats, ICE, decals, spotlights even steering wheel type kind of car. So it feels “just for me”. Instead of hiring people for a job, we allocate work to those who have the skills to do it. And they bid and acquire work and make that akin to a job if we need them to. And we have a workforce of people who have 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 35, 40 hours “contracts” to do work. Not a job. But work. There is (in my mind anyway) a HUGE difference. Now before all you orthodoxers run to your “that’s not economical, feasible or practical” argument it is. I’ve seen examples where people self organise, allocate tasks and work to each other and themselves and don’t need a 40 hour construct to make ends meet or have a meaningful existence. Not just a freelance/contract/zero hours hero existence either. CHOICE. I feel the job is dead; long live work.

Thirdly is the demise of managers. What? Say you orthodoxers again. If that’s your attitude then have it. I don’t believe we’ll ever see the back of management (but definitely need to in its current guise). Why would people vote this model down when it’s successfully employed mediocre but arrogant so-and-so’s for so long? But we have created an artificial need for many (and I’ve been one of them) and the number is up. When so many examples are now surfacing of flattened hierarchies; of managerless and very successful companies; of democratic workplaces; results only work environments; self organised teams and of challenger organisations. The need for managers should be a continually demising question and not – in the past – of the creation of layers and sub layers of people given managerial titles to show their “progress and talent”. More specialties and less silos please.

Fourthly, the demand for craft. It is almost impossible to buy a poor toaster or a laptop that doesn’t work (software is another matter on occasions). We have used lean and Kaizen and Six-Sigma to bring efficiencies in production like never before. The roboticised production elements only serves to keep the levels of manufactered goods at an all time effective. However, we might not want mass produced “ikeafied” products. We want art on our walls that is unique. A table made especially for us. A bespoke bed. A set of bathroom fittings we designed from Greek lava glass that reminds us of Santorini.

We will see people want to spend their money not on mass-manufactered same stuff all the time but on unique personalised stuff. Want an iPhone in mother of pearl and not just white, gold, black or silver? You got it.

Finally or fifthy, is the one that some might roll their eyes on because it uses a word some have grown to dislike due to its overuse. Disruption as usual is how I’ll tag it (with a tribute to the marvellous Thomas Wedells-Wedellsborg’s Innovation as usual). I have favoured disrupt over innovate here because I see more that needs disrupting than purely innovating on. Innovation was a much hyped word about 5 years ago and has been somewhat replaced by Hacking and Disrupting (due to Clay Christensen and Gary Hamel largely) but I think with good reason. OK people are hacking everyhing now and disrupting their own cereal selection in the supermarkets but seriously, we have that many tired, floppy and useless HR and workplace practices they need (IMHO) disrupting rather than innovating on. Disrupting becomes a favoured term as it retains the best of the older practice but disrupted by new lines; ways and approaches. So to many this is safer ground than total reinvention. The iPhone was a disruption to the mobile phone market just as the MacBook was to laptops before it. Jobs wasn’t an innovator – Gladwell righlty wrote about Isaacson’s book on Steve – he was a tinkerer. Tablet computers were tried by Toshiba and others before Apple blew it up with the iPad. But they themselves were disrupted by the Samsung Tab, Kindle Fire and Google Nexus as mini tablets. Innovation is harder and maybe less likely to truly take off than a disrupted product, service or methodology.

Disrupting is the new overhaul; reboot or reconstitute. Hacking is the new tinkering, tweaking and customising. It’s just words. Get over their over use and think about what they create and the impact they have. Yes people will misuse them and try and sound trendy. They will get found out. Worry ye not.

So that’s my future 5 game changers for HR. Focus on these 5 and look after the other things that make people and organisations tick and we’re in for a pleasureable ride.

So my view is that the new intake of HR professionals coming out of the universities will get that they are digitised; distinct; dynamic.

They will be digital first.

They will see in the decline of the job proposition into a more productive and meaningful work one.

They will overhaul and see the demise of the manager malpractice we now have.

They will demand craft from people.

They will disrupt as usual.

There is hope. I am glad I am in HR. It is the best time to be in HR.

These guys deserve our support not our predictive lecturing and rolled eyes when they want to hack an orthodoxy. Give them a break.

Else it is game over for meaning at work and we can all go work on a pointless role in a business park in Somewhereville.

Let them change the game.

  1. hrmannz says:

    Reblogged this on Up the Down Escalator and commented:
    Fantastic work as ever from Mr Timms.

  2. angelaatkins says:

    Thanks Perry – this has given me a kick up the backside to try out some game changing with Elephant. We do have a model of our team picking pieces of work, rather than ‘jobs’ but we need to try out some of the other stuff as I don’t know how it really works and all the pitfalls. Rather than game over perhaps it’s a whole new ball game!! Exciting times!

  3. Sarah Louise says:

    I agree with 99% of this, thanks for the punchy refreshing thoughts.

    I wonder – how do we put this accross to a group of people who are ingrained in a traditional way of thinking?

    Demand for craft = amen to that HR brothers and sisters! There is no way we can standardise EVERYTHING.

    I look forward to the future. It’s exciting.

    Thanks 😉

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