I started my career as a HR Business Partner (HRBP)with a single vision of success: to work myself out of that job. That could mean many things, but for me, it was an organisation where the vast majority of Managerswere empowered,successful leaders who acted altruistically for employees. It was a virtuous self-fulfilling cycle of growth that would retire the need of secondary leadership support of HRBPs.This was in the early 2000’s when the onus of responsibility of all people-relatedmetrics (read: succession planning, talent development, employee engagement, etc.) was as much HR’s responsibility as it was line managements’, and sometimes even more.
Over the course of the last two decades, that notion of a self-empowered leader who is both business-and people-centricstarted to take shape. Organisationsthat focused on building leadership skills across its workforcestarted to report how intangible metrics like high employee engagement were directly linked to better business performance.This in turn spurred managers to further acquire new knowledge around leadership and engagement, and in reality, somebecame better “HR persons” than HR itself.What was once the domain of HR has become a shared platformfor growth.
During those early periods of inventive growth, the role of the HRBP had not drastically changed.However, change in itself was inevitable and over time, business’s expectations of HR evolved as did the concept of what today’s Leadershould represent. Thegroundbreaking technology that constantly surveils our lives coupled with the IT-savviness of the new generation has alteredthe ideals of what makes a good Leader;from one that not only influences the office environment,but alsoout of it.
Was it the digital age and social media that spurred this change? The outcome of a multi-generational workforce grappling with post-COVID reality? Or is it simply due to the constant evolution of the human mind? Regardless of the instigator, the speed of cultural shifts and breaking down of old-world perceptionsis forcing Leaders to re-examinetheir worldview.The concept of leadership has become far more demanding than what some of us could have ever imagined.And to the HR fraternity, this begs the question: How will HR Engage in the New World?
The role of HR is no less ambiguous than it was two decades ago. Rather, one may argue that it has become even more complex and daunting:
• The concept of fairness in HR policy being challenged by the concept of equity
• The emergence of remote working and job flexibility set against the human need to physicallyengage and collaborate
• Decisions based on AI algorithmsand business insight tools that slowlydull the intuitive sense of human judgement and emotions
• The pervasiveness of social media and how it blurs the lines between one’swork identity and personal life
• A diverse and multi-generational workforce withdifferent interpretations of what a Great Place to Work means
• Leading employees with care after two years’ of COVID realitiesjuxtaposed against an increasingly dire economic outlook that will challenge many businesses’ survival
Two decades ago, my vision of the ideal Leader would be borne out of the convergence of desired skills and behaviours. A singular person that can influence and cultivatepositive human relations andbe capable of managing business activities. Yesterday’s heroes like Jack Welch and Bill Gateswere vaunted for their ability to conquer all.
"The concept of leadership has become far more demanding than what some of us could have ever imagined"
But the current plethora and pace of challenge facing the workforce means that we should replace that ideal of an all-conquering singular Leader into one of Community Leadership.HR practitioners should step forward in thought leadership and help navigate the business in dealing with these new and emerging themes by:
1. Redefining theorganisation’s identity in today’s context–HR has a role to play in evaluating the shifts that are needed for the organisation to remain relevant, be it cultural or in systemic processes. Thereafter, HR should be at the forefront to lead and manage the change.
2. People priorities that encompasstotal well-beingof employees – work-life balance isno longerperceived as a dichotomy but more transient that builds on each other. HR and Leaders should therefore design and reinvent their people priorities to engage the whole personincluding areas of health and wellness.
3. HR objectives that are focused on delivering Leadership expectations – the form and function of what constitutes a “Leader” is changing and HR should continue to partner the business in developing broad skills across the organisation.
The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is not that far off from today’s business perspective as we look to harness the collective energy of the workforce by building a rewarding employee experience that is relevant to times.