HR execs, wake up! Five ways to stay relevant

For too long HR has been typified by complacency and lethargy, but disruption is upon us. The new world of work requires a wake up call. In this exclusive Insight article TomorrowToday's Ray de Villiers* outlines five areas of improvement for CHROs to stay relevant.

*Ray is a speaker and consultant who assists organisations understand trends that are influencing the future world of work. 

What does the modern HR executive need to have on their radar in order to prepare their business for the new world of work? This article doesn’t pull it’s punches, and in places is consciously “up your nose”. For too long HR has been typified by complacency and lethargy - the new world of work requires a wake up call…. the five areas outlined below are the nascent clangs of an alarm intruding into, and disrupting, your comfort.

1. Exit interviews 
Traditionally organisations have spent a disproportionate amount of energy on the interview and on-boarding process in comparison to the exit process. It is almost as if we react like wounded and discarded lovers, with a sense of betrayal and hurt when a person lets us know that they are leaving. Considering how much time, money, and energy is expended getting the person onboard it is understandable that hearing that they are leaving elicits a corporate “emotional response”.

In the new world of work we need to get over it!

Firstly, acknowledge that we need to balance the budget allocated to employing individuals by also making resources available to facilitate their eventual exit. This is important for the individual, but equally so for the team they are leaving behind - a team who you spent so much time and energy and money making them fit into seamlessly. The team left behind may experience productivity issues as they adjust to losing a member (and a few weeks later to assimilating a new one). A properly designed exit process considers all of these aspects, and manages the team as much as the individual.

Secondly, for some key individuals the exit interview conversation should be structured as “see you again soon”, not “goodbye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. In the British Foreign Service diplomats beyond a certain level are able to take Special Unpaid Leave for an extended agreed period. They are also able to leave for a period of up to five years as a Career Break. During that period they may come back at any time and be treated as a hiring priority returning to a level that is the same as when they left. Give your key talent the perspective that you will welcome them back, and even put a formal structure in place to manage the “reinduction process” and your business will be future fit for the new world of work where talent is more mobile than ever and we need to redefine retention.

Essentially, your exit interview needs to be treated as the final on-boarding exercise.

2. Alumni networks 
Talent runs in herds…. Talented people have talented friends. Talented individuals don’t only bring themselves to an organisation, but their whole extended social network. This resource need not be lost to the organisation once an individual exits.

Assuming you have redesigned and managed your exit process, an alumni network is the foundational element in keeping your talent engaged - even while they work for your competitors.

This is where modern HR leaders need to stop being so sensitive and start to wear their “Big Person Underwear”.   People leaving your business are not betraying you, or selling out the vision, or proving themselves to be uncommitted turncoats. Rather, they are merely moving on to other opportunities.

Just because they are moving on doesn’t mean you should loose access to the vital resource that exists in their social and personal networks. Remain tapped into this by creating and managing active Alumni networks of key individuals who have left your organisation.

3. Gig economy
The new generation of employees are men and women who may not actually work for you full time. On the flip side, you may need to adjust your business’ people strategy to actively dissuade recruitment of individuals into positions or contracts - especially if the tasks associated, or deliverables needed, can be sourced more effectively from those who choose to remain outside of the formal job market as part of the gig economy.

Sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and others are increasingly making it possible for individuals to offer their services for specific tasks where they are paid for a specific output. No boss managing office hours, or getting stuck in peak hour traffic to make it to a meeting that nobody thinks is necessary….

Organisational recruiting processes need to be updated to incorporate the gig economy. This is essentially an alignment of your people processes with the reality of the digital economy. 

First step…. realise that CV’s and Resume’s need to be dropped as the litmus test for recruitment. Likes, reviews, and the subjective experiences of others who have engaged an individual are the only relevant yardstick for engaging individuals in the new world of work.

4. Artificial Intelligence
The evolution into the digital economy also means that any HR executive or manager worth their salt will already be spending time looking at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be playing out in their business or industry.

At the moment everyone is stressing about the redundancy that the technology will bring about. That is the wrong focus. The appropriate response to AI is not to cut jobs but to retrain and redirect resources. The window for this redirecting is open now - you need to intelligently examine what is on the other side. 

There will be a number of peripheral, complimentary, or auxiliary job areas that open up as a result of AI. The responsibility of an HR executive right now is to ensure that they are directing sufficient human capital development and investment resources to equip their people with the skills and abilities needed to succeed when AI changes everything.

To be clear - it is lazy and disingenuous HR leadership to look at the horizon and see cut backs and lay offs as a result of AI.

5. Generational complexity
In all of this frenetic digitisation activity there is one final complexity that the modern HR executive needs to manage in order to lead their business into the new world of work. 

Older people in the workforce are more vital and energetic than they have ever been. Many are choosing not to exit the workforce as their parents did before them - either because they believe they still have value to add, or because they cannot afford to. 

At the same time younger individuals are entering the workforce.

The complexity this diversity introduces is that everyone in the workplace wants an environment that fits the way they feel comfortable in the world, and that is consistent with their worldview and value system. 

As you adjust your workplaces to the dynamics of the digital market and digital natives - you cannot ignore the wisdom and experience and value of those who are staying past the traditional corporate “sell by” date.

The new world of work is more generationally complex than any environment we have ever had to navigate in human history.

If this new world of work isn’t keeping HR executives awake at night then those executives need to loose their jobs - because if they don’t, the business they are responsible for will implode / explode one night while they are enjoying a peaceful night of ignorant sleep. The new world of work is coming and requires a whole new way of thinking from the leadership responsible for the people in it.