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The Future of HR is Employee-Facing

The Future of HR is Employee-Facing

Smiling group of HR professionals

Last Updated May 30, 2024

Not long ago, the traditional HR department at any given business was focused primarily on functional activities such as the recruitment of new employees and disciplining current employees who broke the office rules.

According to Enio Velazco, PhD, HR executive and adjunct faculty member in Villanova University’s Graduate Program in Human Resource Development, human resources roles are expanding, changing from the typical mold of the HR professional of 20 years ago. HR professionals must now be a human capital strategist, a trusted advisor with more business knowledge, technology savvy, data analysis competence and change management expertise.

“Technology will continue to bring about changes in the workplace. [HR professionals] will act more like internal consultants and lead job redesign teams charged with selecting which tasks and jobs to automate,” Dr. Velazco said.

Newer responsibilities of HR professionals include helping employees make their way from entry-level to senior staff member, offering them training opportunities and guiding them through their professional development throughout their employee journey. This can lead to better organizational efficiency and help retain employees and acquire new talent for business needs.

This shift is due to a changing economy and more employee options, said Kimberly Nash, MBA, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, who teaches Villanova’s online Human Resource Management course, a required course in the Certificate in HR Management program. Nash warns that those who stick to the old ways of conducting HR business will lose out – or, at least their companies will.

In these days of near full employment, people have more choices and don’t feel trapped in their jobs, Nash said. They have options, and part of an HR department’s core duties is to promote a strong culture to help increase employee retention.

“The HR field is changing and in order for a professional to be successful, it requires that individual to change their mindset,” Nash said. “Doing the things HR has always done will not work going forward.”

Nash gave technology as an example. “We need to streamline our processes. The Gen Zs do everything by technology,” she said of the generation of workers born after 1997. “If you want to be a workplace of the future, you have to be on technology.”

Research conducted by Accenture and the World Economic Forum on The Digital Transformation Initiative, shows that 87% of workers polled believe new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will improve their work experience. They are willing to invest their own time to learn the new skills necessary to carry them forward.

Employees Are Looking for Validation

In today’s workforce, staffers are seeking validation rather than feedback, Nash said. “We have to transition our performance management and employee strengths and determine what they are doing well.”

HR must focus away from weaknesses and zero in on an employee’s strengths, she continued. “Have ongoing short conversations with them to validate what they are doing. They know how to make it better.”

Employees are much more likely to stick around if they get validation, feel like they are making a difference and like what they do.

“HR must continue to make changes in people processes, rewards, learning and development and organizational structure to bring about the employee behaviors that result in a better workplace,” Dr. Velazco added. “The better the employee experience, the better the workplace.”

A New Workplace Experience

Jeanne Meister, who writes for Forbes about trends shaping the future of work, discusses three new HR roles in the age of AI that address a compelling vision: creating an experience that cares as much about the employee as the customer.

  1. Vice President of Data, AI & Offering Strategy – a role created by IBM to align with the vision, “Optimizing HR for speed, personalization and democratization to deliver irresistible employee experiences.” This person works to retain good employees by studying data, offering strategy and looking at pay and skills.
  2. Senior Vice President Global HR, Performance and IT – a role Kraft Heinz created using AI to incorporate people analytics and data analysis. This person uses data to predict employee retention and determine who’s worthy of a merit increase. It is based on the premise that people decisions are made on meritocracy.
  3. Senior Vice President, Employee Well-Being & Benefits – SunTrust created this position to focus on employee financial well-being. It considers the high rate of college debt. A program to help de-stress employees provides online and face-to-face training in how to pay down loans, improve a credit score or apply for a mortgage. SunTrust determined that those who complete the program are twice as likely to stay with the company after 18 months.

“As HR professionals, we can be leaders in our organizations by being prepared with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to move our organizations forward,” Nash said.

Prepping for Future HR Roles

“Expect those in HR (if it’s still called that) to be akin to championship coaches, guiding employees throughout their careers and becoming more essential than ever to business analytics and strategy,” wrote Susan Milligan, in a 2018 article for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) titled, “Seven Critical Strategies to Prepare for the Future of HR.”

While AI and machines will perform tasks once performed by humans, that doesn’t leave out humans. “Tomorrow’s HR leaders will need to be bigger, broader thinkers and they’ll have to be tech-savvy and nimble enough to deal with an increasingly agile and restless workforce,” Mulligan wrote.

Good companies will stop seeing HR as “a purely tactical kind of role,” she said, and start seeing such professionals as strategic business partners.

Some companies are even swapping traditional HR titles with catchier descriptions such as Chief Happiness Officer or Director of Talent-Acquisition Strategy. And because companies put most information online, those chief of happiness professionals have more time to develop strategy and work on employee career paths.

“It’s best to be out there connecting with the employees,” Nash said.

By incorporating analytics into the HR realm, professionals can understand the workforce and better predict what a company needs in the way of skill sets.

“It is a huge change when you look at the history of HR,” Nash said. “It is very much employee facing and connecting with the employees.”

“In general, a high-performing organization needs a strong HR unit to create the necessary conditions to attract, develop, retain, engage top talent. Conditions that would facilitate innovation, collaboration and a learning mindset. No organization can continually deliver top performance without improving employee experience – without offering a supportive and collaborative workplace along with proper resources,” Dr. Velazco said.