Next generation HR

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 18 April 2008



Macham, E. (2008), "Next generation HR", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Next generation HR

Article Type: Strategic commentary From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 3.

Next generation HR

Thought leaders share their views on the HR profession and its direction for the future

Elizabeth Macham is based at Right Management.

A couple of hundred years ago, it would have been normal to have a position entitled “director of electricity” in many companies across the globe. It existed to provide advice and guidance on a subject that many organizations simply did not understand. As electricity moved from being an innovation to a mass consumable, the position of director of electricity simply vanished.

An accelerated version of that kind of pace of change is second nature to us today. The top ten in-demand jobs predicted for 2010 did not even exist in 2004. And the HR industry has felt more than others, the impact of that change.

HR outsourcing now accounts for 15 percent of the total outsourcing industry, second only to IT. Some industry sources believe that human resource outsourcing is the future, making the next generation of in-house professionals simply integrators of the company’s outsourced services. But that is to accept the same fate as those directors of electricity; believing that because the importance placed on people performance and its link to business success is more widespread and accepted, we no longer need a dedicated profession.

A bright future ahead

At a recent HR conference I attended, one HR director argued that line managers were now undertaking activities that previously would have been undertaken by an HR practitioner. He maintained that our education systems, which now more than ever encourage students to debate and challenge, are helping to shape a new generation with the appropriate skills required for successful line management. He believed that this, coupled with the outsourcing of more administrative activities, meant the HR teams of the future would be able to concentrate on more strategic business issues facing their organizations. I am not convinced this is wholly true. In general HR departments are shrinking but I am inclined to think this is happening at a faster pace than the development of skills for line managers. Rather than freeing up the time to tackle bigger, more strategic issues, the concept and perhaps the reality is actually increasing the pressure on already stretched resources.

But for a moment, let us assume this future and possible imminent prediction is correct. So if the more labor intensive, costly activities are being outsourced, and line manager skills are evolving, surely the future looks bright for HR, allowing us to focus on becoming robust business partners within our own organizations, working with and as part of senior leadership teams to ensure the continuity and thriving development of our organizations?

I firmly believe in this picture of the future for the HR industry and this is for many reasons. One of the most obvious was evidenced when Right Management recently ran a series of workshops for senior HR professionals across the UK regarding how to achieve a sustainable business partner approach. The workshops were oversubscribed on every single count. The desire to become stronger, more strategic business partners with influence at board level was clear. But for me, one major factor inhibits this prediction that we as an industry have to address: confidence.

Taking control of HR’s future

As I write this at the end of 2007, the year closes with the news that the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) has chosen to turn down the opportunity to provide official HR qualifications in China because it is seen as “too resource intensive.” China is the world’s fastest growing economy and yet as a profession represented by an international body, we’ve inadvertently chosen to remain outside of it. This decision, or rather the ensuing criticism it has generated, perhaps indicates that the tide is turning, that as a profession we are gathering the momentum to be bold and place our stake in the ground regarding our purpose and impact.

As a profession we have seen much disappear through outsourcing and restructure and for many HR departments this has felt like something that has been “done to them.” But now is the time to reap the rewards of these changes for the ongoing development of “HR PLC.” The changes allow us to develop HR as a philosophy within our own organizations, rather than a physical department. In a “use it or lose it” mentality, those that take up the opportunities that these changes and challenges offer will survive and prosper. The future of HR is as bright as we want it to be.

About the author

Elizabeth Macham is a head of communications at Right Management. She also heads up the editorial and delivery team responsible for developing new products and services for HR clients across the UK and Ireland. Elizabeth Macham can be contacted at:

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