The Future of Work in HR

September 30, 2017

Technology is changing the way HR works, however the debate around how and to what extent it will change, is a distraction from a more fundamental shift required in HR’s purpose.


Leading by Design


 To date, the role of HR as an enabler of an organisation's strategy has relied on clear and somewhat static strategic goals. Nowadays, strategy needs to be more dynamic. Organisations may have to experiment with multiple paths to survive or quickly shift priorities outside of a multi-year strategy cycle. Professor Bill Barnett, a strategy expert from Stanford University, highlights the importance of a logical strategy and then it's rapid adaption to succeed. He advocates ‘leading by design’, where the role of leaders is not to predict the future but rather, design it for adaption. So, not only does HR need to be more dynamic in its response to strategic shifts, it has a role to play to increase the organisation's ability to scan for, and adapt to new opportunities.  


Consider your organisation's ability to:

  • Adapt objectives to refocus within the performance cycle

  • Move an idea from origination to executive approval at speed

  • Scale training in emerging technical fields

These are just a few examples where HR can enable greater agility. The cost of not releasing process handbrakes is potentially organisational failure or being left behind as a function. HR’s job is not to know the future, but to shape a culture that discovers the future.


Using Design-Thinking


One approach used to discover and adapt to rapidly changing needs is design thinking. A proven practice in marketing and IT, it is a problem-solving approach focused on understanding customer needs using empathy, and rapid prototyping and testing. The approach is ideal for solving complex challenges that require simple customer-centred solutions. 


When applied to HR, design thinking offers a double-win. Firstly, it brings the needs of the business to the forefront and accelerates the rate at which solutions are developed and executed – ultimately this increases the agility of HR as a function. Secondly, as HR builds a first-hand understanding of design thinking this will deepen their ability reinforce the mindsets, behaviours and processes that enable organisational agility.


The Opportunity


To date, HR’s adoption of design thinking is inconsistent and average skill levels are at an awareness rather than competent level. Applying it across all areas of HR and with greater rigour will ensure HR takes the lead in designing for agility, no longer relying on a second guess of the future but building the capability to discover and adapt.


Jennifer Pangas is the founder of - Positioning HR for the future. Experience HRHack's next workshop here .

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