HR Administration

HR’s Future Looks Strategic—or Does It?

By Meg Breslin

Oct. 22, 2012

The human resources manager of the future is likely to take on a much more prominent role, acting more like a performance adviser for driving corporate profitability and shareholder value, according to a new survey of business leaders from the Institute for Corporate Productivity.

The Seattle-based institute, commonly known as i4cp, surveyed 384 business leaders from a variety of industries and interviewed more than 70 senior-level HR leaders for its report, The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor. Among those surveyed were chief human resources officers and other executives from Fortune 1000 companies, including Adobe Systems Inc.; Campbell Soup Co.; Experian; Flextronics International; General Electric Co.; and T-Mobile USA Inc., among others. The report is scheduled for release in late October.

Two-thirds of the companies surveyed said they expect to centralize administrative processes into shared services units within five years, thus freeing up the HR leader’s job for more strategic and advisory work.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said employees will begin to take away some of the transactional work from HR, partly because of new technology that allows HR departments to streamline traditional tasks.

“The thing I’ve heard more and more of in the last five years is that HR is stepping up to the plate,” says Jay Jamrog, a senior vice president at i4cp who conducted many of the interviews with HR leaders. “We heard a lot about business acumen, and that’s not just reading balance sheets. I heard a lot about how HR people need to really think strategically for the long term. … They have to help [the frontline managers] think more deeply about their own workforce, and ask questions like, ‘Where’s your business going in five years? What kind of talent do we have? Are we structured right?’ “

Still, some prominent HR leaders say there’s still little evidence of HR managers actually doing things that much differently.

University of Southern California professor Edward Lawler has tracked the amount of time HR managers spent on working as a strategic partner since 1995. He recently released the results of his latest research, from 2010, and found nothing has changed.

“When we ask them: ‘What is their role in developing business strategy for their companies?’ we’re getting the same answers as we’ve always gotten,” Lawler says.

Lawler says part of what is holding back HR from taking the strategic roles is the mound of administrative work that’s still required.

“It’s kind of hard to ignore the cry from someone complaining, ‘I didn’t get my paycheck’ or from someone who felt their appraisal was unfair or unreasonable,” Lawler said. “This all takes time away from the HR people. They don’t always have time to be a strategic partner.”

In other cases, Lawler says, HR managers may also lack the skill sets needed to engage in strategic discussions because their experience is limited exclusively to HR.

Jamrog, who’s handled dozens of research projects for i4cp, says the push for HR to take on more responsibility is nothing new, but the urgency and activity around it appears much stronger.

“The difference today is this is not talk anymore,” Jamrog says. “Over the last five years, something has happened during this recession … to move HR from just talking about things like this to actually doing them.”

Jamrog also argues that with advances in software technology, more HR managers have time away from administrative tasks to help their CEOs with big-picture questions, such as how staffing can help achieve corporate goals and drive profitability. In some cases, HR leaders are also handing more administrative responsibilities to line managers.

“The future of HR is all about making the organization better,” Jamrog says. “If you’re going to go anywhere in HR and make an impact in HR, it’s about how you helped the company make more money.”

Karla Gehlen, executive vice president of HR for Sterling Savings Bank in Spokane, Washington, who was featured in the i4cp report, agrees that HR’s role is clearly becoming more strategic.

“Much of it is about workforce planning—understanding what the budget is and what the production goals are, and then planning staffing around that,” Gehlen says. “I see that as a truly critical component for the future of HR.”

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Meg McSherry Breslin is a writer based in the Chicago area.

About Workforce.com

blog workforce

We build robust scheduling & attendance software for businesses with 500+ frontline workers. With custom BI reporting and demand-driven scheduling, we help our customers reduce labor spend and increase profitability across their business. It's as simple as that.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

HR Administration

Policy management: What is it and what does it look like for HR?

Summary Policy management involves the creation and maintenance of administrative procedures and guidel...

hr policy, policy automation, policy management

workforce blog

Compliance

Minimum Wage by State in 2022 – All You Need to Know

Summary The federal minimum wage rate is $7.25, but the rate is higher in 30 states, along with Washing...

federal law, minimum wage, pay rates, state law, wage law compliance

workforce blog

HR Administration

Rest and lunch break laws in every US state

Summary Federal law does not require meal or rest breaks Some states have laws requiring meal and rest ...