“HR professionals need to walk with a swagger” – Leena Nair
This is one of the first statements made by Leena Nair, the illustrious Indian-born executive who went on to become the first Asian to head Chanel, the reputed French fashion company. Born and brought up in India, Leena chose to study Human Resource Management against the wishes of her father, who also happened to be an established industrialist.
In 1992, Nair joined HUL as a trainee and worked in different roles in sales, factories, and the corporate headquarters. She rose through the ranks steadily, bringing substantial changes in key areas of people management at HUL and became the HR executive director.
In 2016, Nair made history when she was named as the first woman and youngest CHRO of Unilever.
One of her famous statements is, ““I always tell HR people they need to walk with swagger… HR is no longer a backroom department, it’s a vital part of running any successful business. If you want to support your people, you need to understand how the business works, and you need to be visible within the business.”
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint” – Mary Barra
Mary Barra is another HR professional who broke the glass ceiling when she became the first female CEO of an automobile company. She studied at General Motors Institute when she was 18 while also working for the company. Barra used to cover her educational fees by carrying out simple inspections such as checking hoods and fenders of vehicles. As her expertise grew, she was made responsible for major areas of engineering and administration.
In 2009, Barra was made the VP of Global Human Resources. This was a challenging time for General Motors as the company was going through bankruptcy filing.
During the two years when she helmed the global HR operations of General Motors, Barra was also entrusted with global purchasing and supply chain operations.
In 2014, Mary Barra became the CEO of General Motors. She prioritized vehicle safety and initiated a culture of openness so that workers can report problems in vehicle manufacturing.
“You have to live the mission” – Anne Mulcahy
Anne Mulcahy’s is an inspiring tale and an enduring proof of how a capable leader can turn around even the worst scenario into a dazzling victory. Mulcahy joined Xerox as a field sales rep in 1976. In 1992, she was appointed as the VP, human resources.
Her friends had warned her that HR was a ‘corporate dead-end.’ She herself admitted that HR was historically underrated and bureaucratic.
Mulcahy’s time in HR proved to be a spark that ignited a trajectory that eventually made her CEO, something that she herself had not initially thought of.
“HR was my first really senior position, and it taught me how to operate with other people at that level.” She said, in an interview to Forbes.
Mulcahy became the CEO at a time when Xerox, as a company, was tumbling. Her appointment came as a surprise to everyone, even herself. On the day she was appointed CEO, the company’s stock dropped by 15 percent. In one of the most remarkable and inspiring stories of business history, she halted the imminent downfall of Xerox and made it profitable again. The multi-billion-dollar turnaround she spearheaded earned her praise from all around the world. She came to be recognized as one of the greatest corporate leaders of the era.
The common thread between these 3 exceptional business leaders
If we observe the career trajectories of all the three CEOs, we see that working in human resource management was one of the major catalysts that propelled them to the roles of CEOs at their respective companies.
The clear takeaway from this?
The HR function was instrumental in grooming them to take the mantle of leadership. Now more than ever, businesses need leaders who are people centric and could align organizational values and people more effectively.
In today’s era of digital transformation, the role of HR is no more transactional. It’s not about administration anymore. HR as a function has become a more of a business unit rather than a support unit. Since the modern workforce has developed a mindset of growth and moved ahead of survival and stability, the HR function has also expanded its area of influence.
Today it deals with skill development, wellness design, talent mapping, and more such activities along with its core responsibilities.
Let’s now explore the exciting future and possibilities that have opened up in human resource management.
The new realities and the emergence of HR as a strategic function
- In the HR 4.0 scenario, most HR solutions are highly automated and employers are investing in recruiting and retaining the best. – Deloitte
- Leader and manager effectiveness is a top priority for 60% of HR leaders. – Gartner
- 70 percent of company executives cite people analytics as a top priority – McKinsey
- 43% of HR leaders say they do not have an explicit future of work strategy. – Gartner
The post-covid realities and other changes we are witnessing clearly spell out that the role of HR will no longer be administrative. for example, instead of recording employee attendance, HR professionals would be expected to think of and implement strategies to prevent absenteeism.
With new trends such as the impact of AI, the need to redefine employee experience and workforce planning, the expectations are high from HR leaders in all organizations. Irreversible business disruptions such as digital transformation mean that HRs are poised to drive changes that were very difficult earlier.
When we say HR will become an increasingly strategic function, we mean that they will have to take a major role in working towards fulfilling organizational priorities, helping businesses tackle rising costs from an HR perspective, reducing attrition and attracting the best talent. This gives us a clear understanding that HR leaders will have to predict and identify problems apart from taking the initiative of solving them.
Gartner’s HR model of the future defines the following imperatives for maximum efficiency:
- Strategic talent leaders will take the place of regular HRBP roles – it’s true that HR professionals have to deal with time-consuming tasks due to which they are unable to put into action strategic plans. However, in future, the traditional Human Resource Business Partner Roles will be replaced with strategic talent leaders who will not be weighed down with administrative tasks.
- Problem solvers will be valued – Gartner states that a dynamic pool of problem solvers working on different projects will be critical to the success of this future HR model. This role will require defining talent problems, create hypothesis, test and build solutions.
- COEs will be tasked to deliver skilled expertise – Businesses have realized the importance of nurturing skilled expertise throughout specialist domains. The Center of Excellence in HR will helm this by working with a problem-solvers’ pool to develop policy, practices, and procedures.
- Human Capital Intelligence (HCI) – Organizations will have to rely more and more on analytics. In order to do this, they will establish HIC teams who will be responsible for empowering leaders with talent data so that they could take more informed talent decisions.
- HR operations will become more robust – In order to ensure the strategic vision of HR is translated into action, companies are giving more power and scope to the HR chief operating officer. Along with this, they are building HR tech teams to own the technical infrastructure. People relations managers are also being placed to provide necessary functional support.
2023 and beyond – The exciting future of the HR profession
The pace at which technology has outpaced our imagination is just one of the developments that is driving HR transformation. Following are some HR trends that give us a glimpse of the future and a sense of what to expect.
Gartner has stated that HR leaders will have the following 5 priorities in the coming months
- Building critical skills and competencies
- Organizational design and change management
- Current and future leadership bench
- Future of work
- Diversity, equity and inclusion
The New Operating Model for HR (Infographic)
Discussing a ‘new HR operating model,’ McKinsey stated that CHROs across Europe and the USA have defined a new operating model of HR. Some important aspects of the same are as follows:
- HR would be elevated through digitalization and automation processes – which means moving further away from administrative operations.
- The function will spearhead agility and fluidity – the HR function would give more importance to how to deal with critical issues and priorities through squad models and a pool of professionals who could be deployed quickly.
- HR leaders will realign their focus – ensuring that they transition into advisory roles while administrative tasks are pushed to self-service platforms.
- People challenges will be prioritized – merging the strategic and transaction tasks to effectively solve cross-functional HR challenges.
- HR professionals will have dual roles – where they get actively involved in core areas of business apart from their functional specialization in HRM.
- Distribution of power and responsibilities – HR practitioners will distribute power and responsibilities with line managers in processes where they are deeply involved, such as recruitment and performance appraisals.
What could your HR career trajectory look like?
A natural question that could be burning in your mind is, what would your career path look like if you enter the HR profession.
The three examples of business leaders we discussed earlier clearly signal that HR professionals can grow into primary leadership roles. An important to remember here is, while the traditional career progression still exists and involves the typical growth from an employee to a senior VP and so on, the modern career progression does not necessarily is limited to this approach.
In the following infographic, let’s have a look at what an HR professional’s career progression could look like.
The CHRO’s role would be akin to the role of Chief of Staff
Primarily, the roles are divided into 4 categories:
- Service Providers, and
- Solution Providers
While the beginners’ roles are self-explanatory, we have to understand that the CHRO’s role has become more strategic and more involved in business functions. The competencies and expectations from the HR function have changed. With more radical changes expected, the role of HR would be akin that of a Chief of Staff of the CEO and the organization.
It won’t be a cakewalk for the new age CHROs to manage the modern workforce due to several factors. For example, we are looking at a workforce with greater generational divide than ever before. Employee experience won’t have the same meaning for all employees. In simpler words, HR professionals will have to don multiple hats and take the mantle of leadership on their shoulders.
Ready to take the next step in your HR journey?
The larger question that awaits an answer is, what should be your next step?
Are you ready to kickstart your HR career and scale new heights?
Are you prepared with the right skillset to take the next big step in your HR journey?
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- If you are an HR aspirant, this could be a great way for you to understand what HR practices look like in practice.
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