Neil McCormick Founding Member HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Neil McCormick Founding Member HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Today, incumbents in human resource functions (HR) are typically referred to as groups of “people” people.

HR has evolved from a pay office service to a very complex matrix of workforce service provision. It has continued that evolution, to a certain degree, through the advent of outsourcing and thrived in the uncertain world of change.

Currently, people still make up what we consider to be the workforce in organizations. How long will it be before the technologies John Sumser highlights each week mature and deliver solutions for not just HR processes but organizational processes as well? How long before the IoT (Internet of Things) transforms our day to day lives completely? One could imagine an organization negotiating, purchasing, gathering the raw materials needed, producing goods, selling and delivering them without human intervention. What happens to HR when the pendulum swings and the balance of workforce and automation reverses?

Let’s face it, the final pieces of the technology puzzle are maturing and it won’t be too long before the majority of, if not all, HR administrative process activity is fully automated. e.g. the automated receipt, processing and evaluation of recruitment applications; online training and evaluation; online contract generation and acceptance.

So, what for HR in this potentially big and brave new order?

Well, for mine there are some quite exciting prospects!

I’ve long been an advocate of HR focusing on continuously optimizing the workforce required to deliver organizational objectives and I’ve written many articles for HR Examiner on the topic over the years.

If we take the HR processes and HR outputs from the function of HR then what is left? In some organizations, not much but, hopefully, in many there is still a component of workforce strategy, workforce planning analytics and reporting.

For the sake of this article, let’s assume this is the case.

Time to think about the emergence of technology, maybe in a different way.

If we think of a job as a position within an organization’s workflow filled by either a person or robot, then either one can be the position’s ‘occupant’. We continue to need to translate the objectives required to be delivered into the combination of jobs, work functions and roles and then design a framework of activity lines to structure the work output to meet the organization’s objectives.

The key requirements are still to assist the executive to interpret objectives in terms of workforce, develop workforce strategy and workforce planning as well as monitor, analyze, report and fine-tune delivery in a continuous process. The significant difference is the addition of technology as part of occupancy and the potential for a major change in the mix of both.

The combination of people and or robots delivering against a set occupancy define your workforce.

Through the process of strategizing and planning the workforce needed, we would then be focusing on the ‘organization of work’ and the ‘workforce organization’.

The focus of HR is then to:

  • Assist the executive to interpret objectives in terms of work workforce
  • Design an overall workforce structure that will achieve these objectives
  • Concentrate on workflows and getting business processes to be economic, effective and efficient.
  • Constantly redesign and deliver revised workflows to reduce barriers, reduce costs, and deliver a better outcome.
  • Replace administration/people with more intelligent workflows and robotics.
  • Let the intuitive and inquiring minds within HR look for alternative solutions for the delivery of objectives

This would mean a whole new world of technology awaits. HR would, by necessity, lead the charge in developing enhancements for Artificial Intelligence (AI). Imagine, rather than a psychologist offering services to people we have programmers re-tuning, fine tuning and reprogramming AI.

Of course, the basic HR functions for those people still core to the workforce would remain but be a much smaller component of the overall organization as most if not all the processes we see today would be automated.

That would lead one to think while the people component of the workforce may diminish in the future, those that are left are high value and possibly require far more personalized service in regard to recruitment, career development, engagement, and retention etc.

So, functionally, what would the new HR look like?


  • The Work Organization specialists
  • The Workforce Design specialists
  • Home of Robotics & Automation
  • Work Design Architects
  • Workforce and Workflow Analytics researchers
  • High-value people managers

The one constant is the need for HR to focus on optimizing the remaining workforce that is required to deliver organizational objectives.

Within the ranks of the HR functions, new disciplines and skills will need to be learned. It would seem logical that a detailed understanding of analytics and its application across multiple business streams will form a key criterion for success. Additionally, a far more granular understanding of the application of root cause analysis theory would be needed. When you combine these with the technology streams needed and then overlay the existing HR people support services, HR could be in for a grand time indeed.

Some, or many of you, may think this story fanciful. It may very well be. On the other hand, it may not be fanciful enough!

If at the end of the day I’ve got you thinking about focusing HR activity on work organization, workforce, and organizational objectives: I’m happy.


There is one thing you can do immediately to prepare for whatever rolls around. The success of all or any of the activities I’ve mentioned is predicated on one thing. Fortunately, it’s one thing most HR folk have a fair degree of control over. That’s the quality of your workforce data. I’ve yet to come across an organization that has what I would describe as an adequate data quality.

If you think you are well placed with data quality then get someone, internal auditors are good at this, to validate your assumptions.

If you know you’ve got problems, start now to address them. Five (5) years of good workforce data is more than sufficient to really make some significant headway. One thing is sure, you are going to have to do this sooner than you think. An HR standard around what to capture and how to validate would be nice wouldn’t it!

Let’s face it, the GIGO principle (Garbage In Garbage Out) is still alive and well in 2017.

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