#WorkTrends: What Modern HR Looks Like

HR is undergoing a transformation. In fact, the very definition of HR is changing. But is that good or bad, and how will these changes affect you? Keep reading to discover what’s on the horizon for the HR profession.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to Dawn Burke about the future of HR. She is an HR specialist with more than 20 years of experience. You may have seen her speaking at HR conferences or writing for sites like Fistful of Talent. These days, she runs a consulting firm and blogs about helping HR teams think differently about where work is going. Welcome to WorkTrends, Dawn!

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

This Isn’t Your Parents’ HR

Dawn has been practicing HR for 20 years, and she is a big proponent of the new HR. But, she says, before we talk about new HR, we need to define the old HR. “Old HR function was driven by compliance,” she explains. “We evolved from the payroll function and being prevalent in the time of a lot of compliance law.” In other words, the primary job was policing policies to make sure the company didn’t get sued — along with being involved in the recruiting process.

However, that type of HR isn’t going to push businesses forward in the modern workplace. Dawn says the new HR is about being people leaders. “HR’s value is in understanding and uncovering corporate culture, what employers truly value, not the values on the wall. And as corporate connectors — connecting people to their purpose and passion as it relates to the company’s mission, goals and results.”

She thinks modern HR professionals should become subject-matter experts and teach managers and leaders how to run HR within their own functions.

Many people understand the concept of being more holistic, and Dawn says they typically fall into one of three groups: either they’re making the switch to a holistic HR function, or they know they should make the switch, but can’t prioritize the time. “And the third group really likes compliance. They like being a practitioner, and I think they’re going to struggle in the next five to 10 years if they don’t become more holistic.”

Why Leaders Aren’t Prepared (or Even Preparing)

HR can’t change itself. The company’s executives have to provide approval and support for initiating and implementing changes. However, Dawn says, this is problematic for several reasons.

Research shows 89 percent of leaders believe building an organization of the future is important, but only 11 percent know how to do this. “In one survey, high-level executives admitted it was important to rebuild the organization, focus on leadership development, implement new recruiting trends and a lot of HR- and people-related projects.” However, these same executives listed their priorities as finance, marketing research and development and customer support. HR was at the bottom. “You can’t rebuild your culture if you’re deprioritizing HR,” Dawn says.

“Another problem is that executives are beholden to shareholders or private equity investors. The M&A culture is alive and well in America.” Dawn says equity groups are run by financiers who have financial objectives and may see not see HR as a priority.

“In addition, executives are the last ones to prioritize reskilling themselves, and often feel they don’t need to go to training because they don’t have time. So even if they say they believe in training, and set aside money for their employees to be trained, they’re not modeling it.” As a result, Dawn says, their next-in-command is following their actions and deciding they they don’t need to do it, either.

Yet another problem is that executives may not realize how quickly corporate strategies change. “There’s no such thing as a future strategy.” In the past, companies would roll out a plan at the beginning of the year and figure out what they wanted to achieve in the next 12 months. However, she says their plans might change in three months. And executives aren’t doing well in terms of adjusting to disruptions and creating more agile strategy plans.

Simplifying HR

Dawn believes that HR is overthinking a lot of things, and recommends thinking smaller. In fact, she suggests that big organizations look at smaller companies to get ideas on how to think smaller.

These are the three things that HR should focus on:

  • Your job is to present people with options. If someone comes to you with an employee-relations issue, you should tell them you think the idea is great, and then say, “Now, based on my expertise, I’m going to give you a second and a third option.” And then let them choose the option they want.
  • Your job is to mitigate risk — not stop risk. Across the board, stop thinking that it’s your job to stop a train wreck from happening by providing a worst-case scenario. Try this instead: “I like your idea of how to handle this employee, and the risk that it will get us into trouble is low, so go for it.” She advises HR to stop trying to make sure everything is 100 percent perfect to avoid getting in trouble. Because honestly, when was the last time you got into trouble for doing that?
  • Find ways to say yes. This doesn’t mean you always say yes. This doesn’t mean you always say, “That’s a great idea.” But when you start saying yes, it reshapes the way that you think about things strategically and tactically. “It was a successful mantra for my team, because it will help you start in a better place and people are more likely to want to work with you,” she says.

Continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.