HR Directors, Interrupted

Image credit: iStockphoto/Jirsak

The deployment of robotic processes and artificial intelligence in HR has had many impacts. Perhaps the most significant is the impact on the role of the HR director.

With much of the processes automated, they can transform their roles. And many have.

This transformation has allowed them to become much more strategic and — as they do it — become more important to the organizations they serve.

Becoming a commercial leader

Leading HR directors have much more on their agenda beyond payroll administration and placing recruitment ads.

As we enter 2021, they are now positioned as commercial leaders first and foremost. It is from this starting point that they act as a vital partner of the business in delivering specialist, functional HR expertise and service delivery to the executive table.

In 2021, the human capital dimension is recognized as a critical driver of organizational performance. This falls squarely on the expanding remit of the HR director.

In the past, HR directors may have seen that the organization’s commercial strategy was outside of HR’s realm and best left to other executives.

There was a time when HR was more about administration and day-to-day operations than about strategy, but those days were back in the 20th century.

HR is a holistic and strategic area in today’s leading organizations that now spans employee engagement, education, productivity, and talent management to innovations in remuneration packages tailored to employees’ work-life balances.

There is also a recognition that an organization’s HR practices can impact its ability to attract and retain the best talent.

Onboarding staff and managing those who exit the business are no longer administrative tasks; they directly impact reputation and brand and, ultimately, organizational performance.

HR directors are working with new technologies such as AI in their direct recruiting functions. Still, they have a role in helping the workforce deal with the change management implications of digitization, from automation of functions through to remote working.

When it is framed in this way, HR becomes a strategic area of the business that is a critical factor in organizational performance. The HR director becomes a business leader with a direct route to articulating a strategy to board members and other executives.

To be effective, HR directors need a 360-degree vision of the organization and an understanding of people and culture’s importance. This has expanded where the next HR director hails from.

“We are continuing to see more HR directors from non-HR backgrounds. Rather than ‘diluting’ the importance of functional expertise in the eyes of HR teams — CEOs and HR leaders alike are embracing this as a way of accelerating the expansion of HR’s strategic influence on organizations,” says Gareth Russell, chief people officer at Hudson APAC.

“HR directors must certainly be operating as commercially minded, customer-focused leaders — mobilizing the HR function to drive overall business success.”

Deeper business insights

These changes in HR were already well underway before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions on business. But they have been accelerated through 2020 and presented new HR challenges.

HR directors have been at the forefront of dealing with the challenges of remote working, restructuring, and also, in many cases, redundancies.

In the transition to remote working, the impacts extend through operational areas around devices and technology to deeper engagement, leadership, culture, and productivity.

With many organizations facing unprecedented pressure from the lockdowns, HR directors have also played vital roles in redundancy. They strategically identified which roles are non-core and drove sensitive and appropriate outplacement for those exiting staff.

Achieving the best results from this process also demands a deep insight into how the business functions and achieves success through the workforce’s make-up, which roles are core, and if areas can be outsourced or filled with contractors.

Executing decisions on building a contingent workforce to help the organization’s performance through the lockdowns is a critical area of business strategy. It is also one in which HR directors have been brought to the fore.

 “COVID-19 has accelerated so many things, and the expanding role of the HR director is one of those areas,” says Hudson’s Russell.

“HR’s challenges for tomorrow are around harnessing the benefits of digitization as workforces move towards unprecedented flexibility, while also promoting a shared purpose and deeper connections. These are exciting times for HR directors, as they play an even bigger role in shaping organizations and their people into the future.”

Image credit: iStockphoto/Jirsak