“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

Business leaders face a continuous barrage of research outlining breakthroughs in human capital trends, psychological trends and general developments around the world. For the most part, these articles act as hooks to lure one in with the intention of pushing some product or service down the line. However, each year I look forward to the Deloitte report on the top ten human capital trends globally and in South Africa. The encouraging thing is that the survey is done across multiple industries, geographies and disciplines in the workplace (not just HR), so it does seem to reflect some of the interesting challenges that organisations are facing in an increasingly competitive world.

This year’s report, however, is slightly different. Instead of redefining and perfecting traditional HR practices and processes (which has been the flavour of some of the previous reports) there is

some “creating” that HR professionals will have to do to prepare for the future.

To be honest, when I look around I see a massive gap between the demands of the future workplace and the readiness of South African HR Leaders’ ability to deliver business value by leading this change. There are 2 reasons for this:

Transformation, redress and the social sciences

(The old skills set)

The obvious factor that continues to hamper HR excellence in South Africa is that HR teams are considered to be “responsible” for transformation and redress. In an attempt to earn credibility and, “a seat at the table” HR leaders have jumped at the opportunity to grab onto this portfolio. Unfortunately this has had the disastrous effect of letting business leaders off the hook in taking accountability for transformation as a holistic business strategy driven from the CEO’s office.

The other disaster has been the quality of HR professionals that have become popular in, particularly, but not all, large bureaucratic organisations.

Under-qualified, inexperienced, social change practitioners have entered the workplace en masse charged with the responsibility of carrying the human capital agenda for the business. In a recent meeting of thought leaders in the HR community I asked my peers if any of them could explain the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement and to comment on whether free cash flow and low net working capital are good or bad for the bottom line. In a room of 16 people, only two were able to get remotely close to an approximate guess at what these terms mean.

We need to be very clear that transformation and redress are important factors in our country, and it goes without saying that this is a priority. Unfortunately it’s not enough, and shouldn’t be enough in a world where no country is an island, immune to the very real spectre of lean and mean competitors looking to gobble up market share, revenue and talent. HR professionals armed only with the skills to be the voice of staff, host long service events and interpret policy and procedures will be redundant in the next five years.

Business acumen, digitisation, technology and the hard sciences

(The new skills set)

In order to embrace change and drive business forward, HR professionals will have to learn a brand new set of skills. For a lot of us, this will be scary and unfamiliar. In fact there will be many of us that actively resist and even try to sabotage this change. The change is inevitable though, and we’ll either be charting the course or find ourselves out in the wilderness. The usual value chain within HR will remain – we still have to recruit, onboard, develop, remunerate, retain and promote. But these processes will for the most part happen outside of the business, done by the experts in these disciplines who can deliver best in class solutions at a flexible fraction of the cost of having full time employees.

Some of the non-negotiable competencies that we will have to demonstrate and lead will be significantly less people-centric. These include a new technical mastery that will enable us to conduct and utilise people analytics, manage flexible staff complements, engage an augmented workforce that is comfortable with artificial intelligence, harnessing disruptive leadership and implement cognitive technologies to deliver growth and value. In addition to this we have to build cultures of continuous learning, change agility, adaptability and all of this in preparation for jobs that do not even exist as yet.

Striking the balance

In the short term, the human touch will continue to be a way in which HR professionals can show relevance in the Board room. However, the long game is won by bringing the art and the science of human capital together into the workplace of the future. We hold our own future (and that of the organisation) in our hands and the extent to which we are able to embrace the future will determine whether we thrive or become extinct in an ever-changing and relentlessly demanding future that awaits us.

If you would like to access the Global Human Capital Trends report find it here.

By: Brandon Gillham

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