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Challenges before HR practitioners in an evolving world


HRA CLICHE has it that ‘different times require a different script’ and this, perhaps, sums it up for today’s Human Resource (HR) practitioners.
Leading researchers in 21st Century personal management indeed agree that the cliche especially applies to Human Resource practitioners and organisations, if they must remain relevant in another 10 years from now. Besides leading these organisations on the path of change, today’s HRs cannot afford to ignore or turn a blind eye to what is happening “out there.”
Reason: “The ‘out there’ will always impact on the ‘in here’ (internally within the organisation) and it is the leader’s responsibility to be the hinge between the external context and the internal realities,” Keith Coats, Director of Storytelling and International Leadership expert said.

Coats, who was the guest speaker at the seventh Special Human Resource Forum of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), recently in Lagos, said practitioners only need to look around to see the fast-changing world.

The world is changing and so is the workforce, workplace and the customers. But at the centre, is the dynamic leadership of HR practitioners to determine the fate of their organisation amidst the changes.

According to Coats, “If the world is changing, then we need to do things differently. Leaders, that is, HR managers, pay attention to global trends; the big disruption happening there, and ensure their organisation is not left behind. As Peter Drucker said, ‘the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic’.”

A number of global brands have gone under because of not paying attention and Coats cited two: Kodak and BlackBerry. Kodak didn’t see the digital world coming nor adapt to the change. BlackBerry, from the market share of 10.8 per cent, now down to 0.8 per cent because of the changes led by Apple.
Coats added that the future unfolds is three ways: via continuation (73 per cent); cycles of economies and socio-political issues (15 per cent) and novelties (12 per cent). But that was actually five years ago. Today, it is novelties (71 per cent); cycles (15 per cent) and continuation (14 per cent).
That explains why “majority of our future are now shaped by things and events we cannot understand today.”

Continuing, he said: “The implication is that it makes strategic planning almost ridiculous. Not that planning is unimportant but it has to be dynamic. Planning gives us the illusion that we are in control and secure but we need strategic thinking at every level to survive the future. That is the key for HRs.
“It is not quite easy to look out through the window and see the future. Organisations are today having difficulties with conversations about the future. But the quality of questions we ask will determine the type of strategies we developed. The problem is that many leaders are not asking the right questions,” he said.
Experts are unanimous that five things, otherwise called drivers, will disrupt the world of work over the next decade. They are: Technology, Institutional Change, Demography, Environment and Ethics and Shifting Societal Values.

Technology, according to Coats, has significantly changed how we live and work, especially (for the HR) how we deal with information. There is a 24-7 instant access to everything; with all the data always available on any and every device.

“The HR is dealing with a generation that knows how to get everything instantly, using multiple devices. These seamless integration are also expected in our practice. We can no longer pretend that these things are happening. These are leadership agenda that HR must understand, learn and adapt for their organisation to be in tune with the future. HRs must begin to ask, what does this (technology) mean for me and my stakeholders.”

Institutional Changes are also affecting the world of work and how people key into it. Coats observed that “the digital watch didn’t come from established watch companies, the calculation didn’t come from slide rules or adding machine companies, video games didn’t come from board-game manufacturers Parker Bros or Mattel, the ballpoint pen didn’t came from fountain pen manufacturers, and Google didn’t come from the Yellow Pages.

“In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicle, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory and Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.”
Amid institutional changes, the onus is on HRs to help leaders understand the importance of organisational culture, which is the bane of most corporate failure today.
“The real attention of HR is paying attention to the organisational culture. Study by Frey & Osborne at Oxford University shows that 47 per cent of today’s knowledge jobs could be automated within the next two decades! But ‘the only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology, we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it’,” Coats said.

Continuing, the guest speaker noted that the issue of demography, though often left out of the equation, is crucial to strategies of HR practitioners. With birthrate sharply declining around the world, more pressure will be on African countries like Nigeria to supply the workforce, especially talents to Europe and Asian countries.
Amid all these drivers, HR practitioners must begin to identify opportunities as well as threats, by learning, unlearn and relearn what they have learnt.
At every level of the organisation, Coats advised that the HR must build strategic responsiveness, that is, unlearning (new mind sets), thinking like a futurist (new skills) and adaptive intelligence (knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do).

By adaptive intelligence, he meant learning to live with change and uncertainty; combining different types of knowledge for learning; creating opportunity for self-organisation towards sustainability and nurturing diversity for resilience.

Important questions HRs must ask are: “How should we respond to increasing complexity, uncertainty and change within the global and local business/ community environments?

“What mindware shifts and skill-sets are required to better execute our strategic intent through our people? Who are the Guardians and what are they guarding? Who are the Paradigm Shifters and what are they saying?”

Newly elected President of CIPM, Anthony Arabome, earlier said the theme: ‘Reframing HR: Changing the game of HR’ was chosen to address pressing issues in the world of business today.

Arabome said up until recently, most boardrooms discussions centered on Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) succession and business strategies. Now, boards are changing the game — focusing on the role and impact of talent on business performance and risk. As a result, boards are pulling Human Resource Leaders more deeply into challenges involving strategy, execution and capacity.
“Today, boards understand that capacity is the key and only the Human Resource Function is uniquely positioned to deliver this critical need for the business to achieve targeted results and sustainable growth in every organisation. In a global marketplace where both opportunities and risks have multiplied, it is now increasingly evident and acknowledged that business strategy has to be overlaid by talent strategy for the former to be effective.

“The question now for us leaders is: How have we responded to this pull? Have we shown a readiness to align the management of human talent with emerging business demands and changes in the dynamics of the workplace in order to better support and enable successful business imperatives? Are we offering the appropriate people-oriented solutions at the business table? Are we geared up with the right toolkit to address issues ranging from psychological contract, employee commitment and expectations; to workplace culture; the generational divide, changes imposed by globalization and technology or challenges posed by economic and political upsurges and downturns?”

The Special Human Resource Forum of the Institute has been the flagship annual training, knowledge sharing and development platform designed to address the most tropical people issues which are on the front burners of HR practitioners nationwide.

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