The Future of HR (again)

On March 19, 2015, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

photo of San Francisco skyline at sunset in HRExaminer article March 19, 2015 by John Sumser

Profit making HR departments will very slowly become the norm. Meanwhile HR departments are struggling to keep up with the flood of changes brought by technology.

I got interviewed (again) the other day. Here’s the questions and answers. The interview revolved around a Forbes article predicting the future of HR. There’s a lot of that going on these days.


  1. According to the business periodical, talent acquisition will include Big Data and social recruiting. Are these successful methods in which to recruit and in your opinion why or why not?
  2. Based on the direct quote below regarding talent analytics “is red hot.” More than 60% of you are increasing investment in this area and company after company is uncovering new secrets to workforce performance each day.” Forbes suggests building a talent analytics center based on invest in data quality, integration tools and infrastructure. Could you please explain in more depth what is such a center and is the predication being applied?
  3. Based solely on your knowledge, what are three top HR trends that are helping companies recruit employees as well as management keeping present employees motivated?
  4. Lastly, how accurate is the below Forbes predication and is there anything you can add to what has come to pass to the success of HR and management and what is to come: “2014 looks to be an exciting and critically important year for Human Resources. The economy will grow, employees will be in charge, and HR’s role in business success will be more important than ever.”
These are definitely things that are coming. But, it’s important to understand that the future is not evenly distributed. Bigger, more resource rich companies get these things as much as a decade before small companies. The rapid pace of technical change has an impact but the basic principle – bigger richer companies get it before smaller poorer companies – is a useful rule of thumb.

  1. Both big data and social recruiting are in nascent phases as tools for talent acquisition. There is no question that the futures hold a more transparent exchange for both employers and candidates. The benefit is disproportionately available to large publicly traded companies. Of course, that’s who reads Forbes. But the other 85% of us work in a slightly different environments. Both big data and social recruiting require big bucks and a social staff. It’s probably not a near term trend for most companies.
  2. Again, the 60% number refers to employees in mostly public and generally large companies. So far, talent analytics is best understood as a tool for the third level of management. Of course, that means that you have to have at least three levels of management for it to be useful. It’s important to notice that analytics produce forecasts based on past behavior. They are incapable of seeing or dealing with disruption or surprising events. In other words, they are predictive in situations where nothing interesting ever happens.
  3. There’s not much new in motivation. What it takes to motivate employees varies by economic cycle. When things are bad, as they’ve been for about 8 years, you have to motivate employees to do more without giving additional compensation. So, things like ‘engagement’ (whatever that actually is) get a lot of attention when there are no raises because the company is not making much money. In hard times, getting to keep your job is often a strong motivator. When things get good, then you can motivate with better pay and increased challenge. It’s easier to afford good training which is a fantastic motivator. Promotions work too.
  4. I’m not sure I can tell you what the Forbe’s quote means exactly. It sort of doesn’t say anything. That’s actually a pretty good forecast … it’s a confusing time in HR and there’s not much to say one way or another. There are a lot of changes afoot but they don’t seem to point in any direction.  Increasingly, HR will be called to demonstrate that the company makes money because it has an HR function. That pressure is going to get relentless. Profit making HR departments will very slowly become the norm. Meanwhile HR departments are struggling to keep up with the flood of changes brought by technology.
You’ll be able to tell when companies are serious about getting value from HR when two things happen: HR Budgets grow by maybe double and HR leaders are held accountable for dollars and cents at the bottom line.

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