The future of HR: It is more about humans and less about resources


By Anja van Beek, Vice President, People, Sage International (Africa, Australia, Middle East, Asia and Brazil)

Human Resources Management…

Isn’t it strange to still use a 21st century phrase to describe the complex and delicate art of trying to get the best from the people who drive our businesses?

The terminology is rooted in industrial age thinking – leftover from a time that organisations thought of their workers as commodities, at worst and as assets, at best. It reflects a bureaucratic mindset of enforcing policies and shuffling paperwork.

It’s furthermore out of line with the dynamic modern working world where leading companies see their employees as stakeholders, even as partners, in their success. This is why we are seeing so many progressive organisations start to move away from talking about “human resources” towards talking about “talent” and “people”.

This is more than just a superficial change of language – it’s about changing mind sets. It is about shifting the substance of the conversation from compliance, costs and red tape towards outcomes, growth, and development. People are not expenses on the income statement or assets on the balance sheet – they are the living DNA of the business.

A war for talent demands a more people-centric approach

Corporations are under pressure to take a more human – and less ‘resource’ – centric view of people management for three major reasons. The first is that the labour environment has evolved and governments, communities, regulators and others today expect companies to treat employees with respect and fairness. That’s not just about pay and meeting minimum standards in working conditions – it is also about embedding a genuine concern for people into the business.

The second is that even with the current economic turmoil; the balance of power has shifted to employees when it comes to roles and industries that demand specific technical, business, management or engineering skills. Companies that don’t offer opportunities for growth or give employees purpose, will struggle to attract and hold on to the best people, and thus be at a competitive disadvantage.

Thirdly, leaders are beginning to understand the links between employee satisfaction, company culture, and organisational performance. By addressing employee engagement in a constructive way, organisations can better align employees’ goals with the corporate purpose. That helps nurture a motivated workforce and a culture of innovation and high-performance.

Practical implications of thinking about people rather than HR

Against this backdrop, many HR departments face a significant challenge. They need to rethink how they do things; some will even need to reconceptualize their reason for existence. Rather than asking how to manage red-tape, they may need to ask how they can enable people to perform at their best, and support them in driving business performance.

Recent research in the Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Trends Report for South Africa indicates that many business leaders and HR departments are starting to think about these issues in the right way. Respondents to the Deloitte research ranked engagement and culture as the number one priority globally, followed closely by leadership, then learning and development.

For many HR professionals, one key issue is how they can refocus on strategic talent management, skills development, building the employer brand and performance management when compliance demands so much of their time. The answer, for many, lies in automation of routine processes so that they can free up hours for the more strategic aspects of their job.

Automated systems also capture rich data HR managers can use for talent analytics that give insight into trends such as staff churn, the costs of training and development, and the skills they may need to attract and develop to support the business’s future growth.  Another important step is to look at how effectively the company is using technology to engage employees.

Tools such as Employee Self-Service can reduce paperwork for the HR department while delivering better service to the workforce. Employees – especially Millennials – want dealing with an employer to be as easy as banking online or via a mobile app. When people can apply for leave, fill in expense claims and pick up pay slips online, everyone wins from the gains in efficiency and convenience.

Closing words

People management today is about aligning the company’s people, with the vision of its leadership and the culture of the company. That demands that CEOs, HR Directors and other members of the executive suite start thinking about people in a more strategic and holistic manner. It’s not just about costs and productivity – it is also about innovation, unlocking human potential, and creating organisations that people are truly inspired proud to work for.


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