Tales from MBA Classes: Re-Thinking HR in the 21st Century
As an MBA student, it is always a great feeling when a class goes beyond theory and textbook to discussions of real world examples, case studies, and personal experiences. (It helps to have an instructor who is actively engaged and enjoys spirited chats with students rather than spending all their time lecturing).
I am currently in a summer course titled Management of Human Resources (which is different, both in the denotative and connotative senses, from “Human Resources Management”). It has been an interesting experience so far, particularly the many talks we’ve had about what “human resources” looks like today and what it should look like in the world of tomorrow. Our first writing assignment was to present to the instructor our ideas about what human resources should look like in the 21st century. I thought I’d share what I wrote here to see what others think and if anyone can speak to having this “new” type of HR experience in their current work environments.
When thinking about a Human Resources in the 21st century, I think that we have a long way to go. When you think about how HR currently looks, it becomes easy to see all the ways in which it could improve. Too often when people think of “Human Resources”, they immediately think of a department and not a concept. If we can move away from the HR-as-department mindset and begin to look at HR as an everyday part of a company’s activities, we might be able to glimpse how HR could look in the century to come.
First, to be clear, I don’t think the United States and its companies have really hit the 21st century. As seems to be the case in history, the first decade or so of a century is really just an extension of the one before. This means we really can talk about what changes may occur in the management of human resources in the coming century. So what would the optimal HR situation look like?
I believe that Human Resources should be part of everyday company activities and functions. Rather than being managed from the top-down, by one person, all component pieces of the company should be involved in some way. First, a company’s executive team should be very aware of the vision for human resources and should buy-in to the leader’s plan. Then, HR should proceed strategically with decisions made about how to organize the company being based on a strategic plan that all executive staff work together on. Next, the various executives and VPs should come together to form a plan for organizing the company, including many areas of interdepartmental connectedness. That is to say, why should a company be built in silos? Why not strategically bring in staff to serve various roles across the organization as needed? Having worked in a start-up, I found that “wearing multiple hats” (i.e. having multiple duties and job roles) could be a bit tiring but was far more empowering and inspiring than working solely in one area, on one project. It allows employees to get a feel for the various parts of the company and truly understand the whole.
As the company expands, HR should expand to include the opinions and ideas of all employees, at all staff levels. Mid-level managers should think about how to create dotted-lines across their sectors and involve the staff that report to them in their ventures. Progress in these areas should be reported back to the executive level and eventually to the President/CEO for review and commentary to ensure all activities align with the vision. This will help all employees feel empowered and as though what they do matters.
HR as a department could practically be dispensed with. I suggest thinking of a new name to fully encompass the scope of the work performed by those staff members, which will mainly be limited to regulatory and compliance-assurance work. With the technological innovations of the last century, there is no need to have so many staff members pushing paper in an HR office. Many of the services HR employees currently provide could be done by employees themselves, via self-service engines online. HR departmental staff would act as arbitrators, planners, developers, trainers, and counselors, focusing on their own aspects of strategic planning and moving away from simple filtering agents.
If HR could become a more organic process, performed unconsciously at all levels every day, companies would find that many of the pitfalls of “traditional HR” could be avoided. Rather than fitting the entire institution into one set of rules, regulations, policies or procedures that trample innovation, all areas of the company could define human resources in the context of their strategic objectives. Accountability would be built into the system via team input. It would look radically different from the HR of today, but it would move us so much further toward the HR of tomorrow.
I have seen only hints of this type of world – where “human resources” is more of a concept than a concrete department – in my various jobs and when looking at other companies, but I would think that this is not an entirely new concept and might be in place somewhere in the world.
I’d be curious to know if anyone is working in an environment like this.
Or is anyone actively involved in trying to change their company’s concept of HR? If so, what changes are being suggested?
Share your ideas and thoughts in the Comments section below!
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