HR Administration

CEB’s Brian Kropp Offers a Peek at HR’s Future

By James Tehrani

Oct. 2, 2015

On Oct. 1, I checked out the CEB’s ReimagineHR: Building the HR Function of the Future conference, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. About 650 senior-level HR execs gathered together to talk shop about what the future may hold for HR.

While I did run into national and international conference goers at the confab, luckily for me the hotel is right next door to our office, so you could measure the distance I had to travel in yards, only about 30 or 40 of them.

At the conference, I met Brian Kropp (at right in the screen shot below), the CEB’s HR practice leader, and invited him to our office to do an interview. Here is an edited transcript from our talk.

Whatever Works: Can you tell us what the word is on the street at the conference?

Brian Kropp: There’s a set of themes that we’re seeing coming out of the conversations we’re having with executives about the HR function of the future and how we operate as an entity. It’s going to look really different along a set of very powerful and very important dimensions.

WW: Can you give me some examples?

Kropp: Sure. One is the analytic transformation of HR. We all have technology systems, we’ve got tracking systems, [HRIS] systems, all sorts of things that are producing enormous amounts of data, but we’re really not getting the full value out of that data. A really interesting comparison for you: The average person who plays fantasy football has access to more information, better information and spends more time looking at data to make decisions on who’s going to be on their fantasy football team, than the average HR executive.


WW: So what are some of the things HR can do to use data better?

Kropp: Here’s a great example of one of the things that we’re seeing. Almost everybody has an engagement survey or some variation of that. There’s some companies that are actually starting to use those engagement surveys not just to get a sense of what’s going on with their workforce — is this business unit more engaged vs. that business unit. They’re using it as an input into broader business decision-making. So, for example, this one company when they’re deciding to roll out a new product, they’ll look at the market size, they’ll look at the competitive nature in that market wherever it might be, but then they’ll also look at how engaged the sales force is. And when they’re rolling out new products, also pick it in places where the sales force is more highly engaged, the belief being: If your sales force isn’t caring about it and passionate about it, it’s not going to work anyway.

WW: Are HR managers too worried about engagement?

Kropp: It’s interesting. Engagement is a good thing, and more engagement is better than less, but you have to ask yourself a question: What are we going to do with a more engaged workforce? And there’s two other factors that we found that are actually really important: One is your workforce actually aligned with what you are trying to accomplish? You can have a lot of engaged people that are rowing the boat hard, but if you’re not rowing in the same direction, then what good do you have? You just have a boat going around in circles basically. So you need to be aligned. The second thing that you have to do though is actually be agile in terms of what’s going on. Businesses change so fast, organizations change so fast that if your workforce can’t respond to those changes and move in a different way, work in a different way, be part of a new system, that even if they’re engaged, they’re not going to actually achieve business outcomes. So the way that we think about it, it’s not just about having a more engaged workforce is good or bad, it’s what do you actually want to accomplish with your workforce?

To read my interview with the NeuroLeadership Insitute's director, David Rock, who also spoke at CEB's ReimagineHR conference, please click here.

WW: When you come up with a name like ‘Reimagine HR,’ it sort of gives the impression that something’s broken. Is HR broken?

Kropp: I think the world has changed. HR needs to respond to how the world has changed. Let me give you some examples: There’s two really high level macro trends occurring. One is that talent is the most important differentiator of organizational performance just from recent data for that. PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] does an annual CEO survey where they ask: ‘What is the biggest issue that you’re facing in your organization? What is the biggest concern that you have as a CEO about whether or not your organization will be successful?’ In 2010, about 30, 32 percent of CEOs said it was talent. Today, it’s almost 80 percent. So that’s different. The second thing that’s different is that we now live in a world where change is constant. Apologies to Benjamin Franklin who said that the only things we know with certainty are ‘death and taxes,’ there’s a third thing we know with certainty now, which is death, taxes and change. We don’t know what the change is going to be, we don’t know when it’s going to happen or where it’s going to occur, but we know it’s going to happen. … Because of that, our long cycle of static, often slow-moving HR policies aren’t responsive enough and aren’t able to adjust enough to make sure our businesses are successful. I don’t know that we’d go so far to say HR is broken, but I think what we would say is as we look into the future, HR is going to have to work differently than it did before because of the analytic part of it, work is changing — becoming more collaborative — a variety of other factors are there. That's why we debated what the title should be, you know ‘HR’s Broken, We Need a New One’ <laughs>, or how do we take what we’ve got and take it apart and put it back together in new and imaginative ways? And that’s why we think ‘Reimagine’ is the right way to go.

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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