HR Roundtable: What Will HR Look Like in 2020?

Article main image
Jun 23, 2015

We took a different route for the June HR Roundtable in Cincinnati by trying to be prognosticators!

Looking into the future is rarely accurate, but it is a chance to step away from the trenches and look ahead to see what we’d like things to become. The attendees gathered to discuss a very forward-looking topic – What will HR look like in 2020?

To get them primed, we started with the following questions:

  1. What things does HR do well now in 2015?
  2. What things should HR get rid of now?
  3. What should HR add, or look like, in the future?

The small groups were excited to have a chance to brainstorm on how to redefine the HR profession and the discussions were fairly heated. When they came back as one, this is what they had to share.

What does HR do well now in 2015?

  • Administrative support functions — When most people see this in a blog post or summary, you can hear the moans from afar. However, there has always been, and always will be, a transactional facet to HR. This doesn’t have to define the entire profession, but it can’t be ignored either. Having your administrative house in order helps HR and companies run well and be compliant. It just doesn’t have to be ALL that HR does!
  • They keep organizations compliant — If you look at HR, you see that a major component of the field is quasi-legal. There are a myriad of laws and regulations that companies have to work with and HR is the keeper of those areas. Compliance are risk reduction are valuable to any company. This is an area of strength for HR. The key is to have a method to stay on top of this area because it is ever changing.
  • Recruiting and “some” talent management — This was well stated. HR does recruit and fill positions throughout the company. There is a shift toward treating employees as talent, but it’s not very concrete yet. Yes, talent is spoken about at conferences and written about on blogs, but it isn’t in practice yet. It seems to be the way things are moving and that is exciting. It just needs some time to grow and develop.
  • The “authority fabric of our lives” — This answer was spectacular. HR is seen as having some authority even though it may not be viewed in a positive light. The role does have authority in the lifecycle of employees. We just need to determine if our approach makes this a constructive aspect of HR or not. It can be, but we’ll discuss this later in the summary.
  • Listen, talk and engage with employees — It’s interesting that this response was more geared toward being a counselor within organizations and not on holistic employee engagement. However, it is more accurate of where HR practices today in 2015. Employee relations and counseling is a key component of great HR and should continue to be. The key is not to confuse it with overall employee engagement.
  • Good problem solver — This probably takes up the majority of an HR practitioner’s time. Every day is unique and is fraught with new employee situations. The key to this aspect of HR is how we approach it. When people say they “put out fires,” it isn’t healthy. This means you’re constantly looking for the next five alarm blaze to jump into with all of your HR gear. You position yourself as being reactionary versus proactive. We are good problem solvers. We just need to stop thinking we’re firefighters!

What should HR get rid of now?

Steve coined this section as the “Pitch and Ditch” items that should be eliminated to improve HR even now and into the future.

  • Stop being the “catch all” department — HR shouldn’t be a dumping ground for the company. It’s great that you may be willing to jump in and help where needed, but HR needs to stand on its own two feet as a business unit just as all other departments do. If something shouldn’t be handled by HR, don’t take it on to show you’re a “team player.” Make sure the work you do adds value and isn’t just some landing spot for things that no one else wants.
  • Quit being the policy police — If you a rule enforcer, chances are you’re also a firefighter. Policies are necessary, but they should be parameters that allow employees to perform and not rules to hold people in check. Employees don’t like this, and if HR was honest with itself, we don’t either!
  • Join the 21st century — HR is still archaic in many ways. We stick to many manual processes that could be automated in a very cost effective way. You need to look at all your systems and see if they are user friendly and benefit the employees and the company. Don’t just keep plodding through the same old things because that’s what everyone is used to.
  • Quit being the department people “go to” — When people say they HAVE to go to HR, you can hear the heavy sigh and shuffling of reluctant feet trodding to the Principal’s office. If you aren’t out among your people and you force people to come visit you, HR will never shed the silo perception that haunts it. If there is a dark pall over HR because people feel forced to interact with you, then you need to seriously overhaul your approach to what you do.
  • Don’t only be the Fun Patrol — Don’t get me wrong; I think HR should own the culture and the social aspect of an organization. The stereotype that needs to be broken is that HR is ONLY the mandatory fun factory of company picnics, outings that few want to attend and the greeter on the cruise line. Too many companies, and employees, don’t enjoy what they do and there is a great way to incorporate fun and play into the culture, but it needs to be more natural and not only scheduled.

What should HR add, or look like, in the future?

  • Be the glue of the organization — HR has the ability to bring the organization and its departments together. When HR acts as a connector of functions, it brings incredible value. This is possible because HR should be dealing with the people of those departments! See where the disconnects occur and bring them together.
  • Teach others how to be humans — This isn’t putting the “H” back in HR. This is something that is just honestly missing in companies. They are focused on work in spite of people, and HR has the opportunity to bring people back up front so that the good work a company, and employees, want to do is done through them and not in spite of them. People have forgotten how to treat each other with respect, curiosity and intrigue. Employees have become sprockets in a machine. Time to rehumanize the workplace!
  • Expect to be a business partner — The endless wish list of wanting to be recognized and seen as a strategic player has passed. It happened years ago, but we still haven’t caught on. HR practitioners are expected to be business partners because you are a vital function of an organization. This isn’t a job title. It’s where you should be performing daily just as all other areas of a company do. Quit playing from the sidelines and get in the mix of the game that is happening all around you.
  • Be better coaches — Coaching is different than Employee Relations. Coaching means that you’re intentionally spending time with people. This can, and should, occur at all levels of an organization and shouldn’t be seen as a cloaked effort to put out fires. HR has the ability to develop people on an on-going basis throughout the organization. This takes individual effort and focus and has nothing to do with performance reviews. It’s spending time with your humans. Trust me, it’s the best use of your time.
  • Minimize the administrative function — HR will never get out of the organizational broom closet if it continues to hide behind stacks of forms and papers. See how the administrative side of HR is done now, and how it could be done to free up your time to do more things actually with your employees. You’ll be glad you did this.
  • Be decisive — HR has traditionally tried to make every position, stance and viewpoint the “right” one. That isn’t reasonable. We can consider all viewpoints, but we must be decision makers in our roles. Executives expect this. Take ownership of what while keeping the human element in mind, and then make decisions that help the company move forward.

It was great to see that people were positive about HR’s future and didn’t take a negative view of tearing it down. I hope that this can be what the future holds.

We’ll see how it evolves over the next few years and if HR embraces some, or all, of these ideas!