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The Evolution of HR Manager 4.0

May 2020
Carlos Sezões
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As companies and cultures change, HR Managers focus on much more than people

Heading into a future where the expectations of technology and human capital are rapidly changing to adapt to evolving corporate cultures, the role of HR Manager is poised to completely transform. Gone are the days when this role was just about paychecks and holiday time; the HR Manager of the future will need to be the driving force in shaping a company’s brand and culture and be the key strategist in defining exactly what it means to be human in the digital age.

This decade marks a century since the concept of people management became largely popularized in the 1920s. Over that time, it has evolved from a purely administrative role, which we’ll call HR Manager 1.0. The newly dubbed personnel department focused on planning and control with a Fordist approach from the industrial production lines.

When companies started weighing professional training and career structuring (linear, ascensional, and lifelong) in the 1970s and ‘80s, there came a new generation of HR leaders – HR Manager 2.0 – who were more focused on the individual as professional.

By the turn of the 21st century, HR had turned to a strategic perspective known as the business partner. This position assumed more analytical tasks, strove for better business knowledge, focused on the cause and effect between investment in people and results. For HR Manager 3.0, the metrics, strategic plans, and performance management are an essential part of the lexicon, and the influence of this can be felt today in most global and large businesses.

But the HR Manager’s evolution is far from complete. Ongoing digital transformation, new business and work models, and the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning with the massification of digitalization and robotization all herald the arrival of HR Manager 4.0. And their role will be much more than just human resources.

As key processes of HR such as onboarding, integrating, developing, and rewarding become increasingly automated, the HR Manager of the future will have a complex and diverse role amid rapid-fire technological and sociocultural changes. Information and communication technologies, which have been the catalysts for cross-sector innovation, will be visible in robots yet discreet in the algorithms. The human element, always fundamental, will move away from routine and transactions and instead focus on strategic thinking, analysis, judgment, and decision-making. The sociocultural change that generations Y and Z bring to the workplace also require new forms of management that focus on purpose, values, employer brand, culture, and employee experience.

The position of HR Manager 4.0 will have the following seven strategic dimensions, some of which are incremental and others that are more disruptive to the status quo:

Blending Human and AI Resources

HR Manager 4.0 will essentially be the supervisor of efficiency and effectiveness in both humans and AI. Acquiring talent will be a mix of marketing and supply chain in positioning, communicating, and attracting. It will be necessary to study and analyze scenarios, carry out strategic and prospective planning, map the existing talent market, plan the acquisition of key skills, and define channels to attract that talent.

Aggregating platforms matching corporate needs and individual talent are the key partners in this task, and technological intermediaries can supply the intelligent machines. The workflow, from a human perspective, will be based on “matching” using AI and predictive tools to establish the degree of reliability of a cultural fit and assess the needs and expectations of those offering their skills.

Those who currently only manage people will have a strategic sub-process in segmenting tasks that require machines for deterministic and routine tasks such as standardized processes, those that require humans for strategic thinking, creativity, and complex problem-solving, and those benefiting from both in probabilistic tasks such as management decisions and training.

Driving Cultural Change

Culture is the cohesion factor at organizations in terms of attracting, motivating, and retaining talent. It must be based on values ​​and a strong purpose, which can be a differentiating factor. It is evident on a daily basis in dimensions such as leadership and decision-making; facing uncertainty, risk, change, and conflict; and how to innovate and deal with the outside world. And, of course, how people are valued.

Organizational culture, being more perennial than structures or strategies, is dynamic and can be shaped over time, influenced by the external environment and the respective sociocultural transformations.

The HR Manager will be the guardian of a healthy culture that reflects the DNA of an organization, ensuring the compliance of a company’s behaviors and processes within its cultural matrix. At the same time, they will be the champion and coach of cultural evolution.

Ensuring an Attractive and Consistent Brand

Having a strong employer brand is increasingly critical. The HR Manager should reinforce the positive attributes of his company´s brand, segment the market in order to define the most relevant targets, and choose communication channels (mostly digital) to address the key messages. The image and its substance (Employer Value Proposition), with benefits packages that shape the perceptions and preferences of professionals, will be assets that HR Manager 4.0 preserves and, in many cases, increases.

Safeguarding Leadership Capital

Leadership is closely tied to culture. Bearing in mind the propensity for more horizontal structures with variable geometry and projects dealing with the outside from an ecosystem perspective (e.g. open innovation), leaders will make the difference.

To define a leadership model, one must assume and reflect the values ​​of the company and its employer brand. Attitudes, behaviors, and decisions must be consistent with what is promised. An effective leadership model, aligned to the reality of each company, should highlight dimensions, levels of responsibility, and desired impacts. On the other hand, ensuring a leadership pipeline (internal and external, backups and successors) will be a constant concern of HR Manager 4.0.

Diversifying the Future

Over the next decade, companies are on track to become even more diverse. Future HR Managers will have to build value proposals that can attract and retain diverse talent in terms of age (three or four generations in the same business environment), gender, culture as a result of globalization and mobility, and work model (full-time professionals, others in part-time mode or in projects or as freelancers).

We must take into consideration a future scenario wherein humans interact with increasingly intelligent machines and the roles of each party are in an accelerated mutation. With diversity as an asset, this will be a more essential role for the future HR Manager.

Adapting Strategies, Structures, and Knowledge

“Structure follows strategy” says an adage from the world of management. However, more strategic changes will be necessary in fast-paced business models. This will require agility in adapting structures based on missions and projects rather than processes and closed departments with increasingly widespread agile methodologies. The knowledge needed will have to be assessed, located, and, whether human or AI, channeled to the organization efficiently. The concept of a learning organization according to American systems scientist Peter Senge will finally be realized.

Preserving the Human Essence

In the coming decades, the definition of “human” will be widely questioned and scrutinized in society as well as in companies. When humans and intelligent machines work side by side, the boundaries will diffuse, and the ethical questions will be profound. HR Manager 4.0 will be the guardian of key principles to ensure essential rights of a work-life balance, health and safety (crucial in the post-pandemic world), privacy, and equity – as well as the development of individual talent.

As companies become increasingly open ecosystems, they have the opportunity to also become advisers and sponsors of work-life integration and therefore support workers in leisure, culture, art, and science to bridge the progressive decrease of professional working hours. This maintains purpose, creativity, and social impact as sources of human fulfillment.

What Skills Will Future HR Managers Need?

Given the complexity of the framework, these HR Managers will require a demanding, vast, and complex mix of skills such as excellent leadership, communication, analysis, and strategic management competences allowing them to be a key partner to the CEO in decisions. They’ll need a solid baseline of social and human sciences (psychology, philosophy, ethics, and anthropology) and the ability to decipher what it means to be human in the digital age through empathy, feedback, and performance management. Last but not least, they should have a basic literacy of this new, more technological world with computational thinking, notions of platforms, AI, blockchain, machine learning, and augmented and virtual reality, which is essential for future onboarding, integration, and training processes.

As the focus shifts from merely managing people to being an officer for change and culture within a company, it is this flexible and ever-changing set of skills that will make the HR Manager’s role even more indispensable in the future than it is today.

About the Author:

Carlos Sezões is a Partner at Stanton Chase Portugal and Practice Leader of EMEA HR.

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