At the Crossroads: Is Human Resource Management on the Right Track? and Where Exactly Is It Headed? (Cover Story)

By Jayne, Vicki | New Zealand Management, November 2002 | Go to article overview

At the Crossroads: Is Human Resource Management on the Right Track? and Where Exactly Is It Headed? (Cover Story)


Jayne, Vicki, New Zealand Management


Is human resource management practice in New Zealand keeping pace with changes that are rapidly and radically altering its role in the workplace of the future? This special report explores the changes and their impact on the HR industry of tomorrow.

IF PEOPLE ARE critical drivers of business success, why aren't more human resource managers sitting at boardroom tables? It's a fair question and one that some folk in the industry are voicing with greater vigour as research increasingly uncovers a significant link between people management issues and business performance. Could it be that companies either don't regard their people as a source of competitive advantage, or perhaps pay the notion little more than lip service?

Could it be that HR practitioners haven't taken enough of a lead in advocating a people-centred approach to business success? Either way, pressures for a more strategic HR role are increasing as the industry goes through a period of unprecedented change.

Worldwide, the industry is having to respond to increased competition for globally mobile talent, changes in both workforce attitudes and composition, shifts in the employer/ worker relationship, and rapid advances in HR technology.

Such factors are impacting on the traditional functions and focus of HR management. Sure it is still involved in hiring, firing, compliance and remuneration issues--but it is increasingly moving from the purely transactional into more strategic realms. Attracting and retaining top talent has become a key HR issue and traditional financial incentives are not necessarily a sufficient drawcard. There's a new breed of worker about--culturally diverse, older, multi-skilled and global in outlook, they want more from work than a pay packet. They're after challenge, meaning, and personal growth. Employers, in turn, want more than competent bums on seats--they want to engage both the minds and the hearts of their employees. And they want people skills clearly aligned with organisational goals.

These trends are altering the nature of the contract between employer and employee from one of benefactor/supplicant to one of equals engaging in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Coaches and mentors

Achieving this win-win ideal is what's driving the growth surge in coaching and mentoring, in team-building and leadership development, in upskilling and personal development.

It is also prompting companies to see their employees not just in terms of their work skills but as people with a wide range of other needs, interests and values to be met.

Hence the greater emphasis on finding a beneficial "work/life" balance that takes into account employees' family and community commitments, sporting interests and personal health needs.

It's not just a matter of building an employee-friendly culture but an employment "brand" to help haul in the talent in much the same way good product branding helps haul in the customers. And the nature of employee brand statements--whether family-friendly, fun, innovative, values driven, ethical, socially responsible, or environmentally conscious--are more than potential attractors, they're highly strategic.

While this bundle of new issues is landing on the HR plate, more traditional functions are being steadily eroded. Technology advances and increased outsourcing--the latter perhaps more relevant offshore than in New Zealand--are nibbling away at once-core HR activities such as recruiting, administration, payroll, performance assessment and training, as well as more strategic roles. Some industry pundits believe as much as 75 percent of the current HR workload could be handled by IT systems and much of the remainder outsourced. So where does that leave today's HR practitioner and what will the HR function of the future look like?

Business savvy and boardroom bound

HR practitioners of the future will be fewer in number but higher in profile, reckons Ross Pearce, a principal consultant with Business Consulting Services, IBM (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting). …

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