While 2020 isn’t quite as futuristic as is often portrayed in cinema—flying cars, robots aplenty—it has brought dramatic change to best practices in HR. Author and podcaster Lars Schmidt of Fast Company summarizes HR’s new look in a recent article.
First, inclusion—which we previously blogged about here—is replacing diversity as a key component of a thriving business. Diversity has traditionally been framed as a hiring issue and, writes Schmidt, was “transactional at best.” Inclusion, on the other hand, can be applied more broadly to all aspects of a workplace, from recruitment to promotion to staff meetings. Rather than prioritizing quantitative measurements of diversity, such as the number of racial backgrounds that comprise a workforce, modern HR practices focus on giving all employees, regardless of such factors, a seat at the table. Such practices range from inclusion training to setting ground rules at meetings, with the shared goal of ensuring all voices are equally heard.
HR has long been portrayed as a requisite—yet inconvenient and time-consuming—hoop to jump through before employees can get approval for what they are seeking, whether it’s a pay raise or a day off. (Think Roz in “Monsters, Inc.” – a disgruntled, overworked, power-hungry employee, in a cramped office with papers piled to the ceiling, who thrives on telling colleagues what they’ve done wrong and what they can’t have.) This structure often gives HR unnecessary power in decisions that, ultimately, do not require HR involvement in the first place. Now, writes Schmidt, HR departments are increasingly decentralizing this power, relinquishing control, and, in turn, empowering employees. In this way, says Schmidt, modern HR frameworks “allow leaders to lead and employees to thrive.”
New-and-improved HR systems are doing away with practices that have no basis in the goals or operation of a business, such as yearly performance reviews. With the exception of yearlong contract-to-hire positions that have defined end dates, in many cases, there is no viable reason to conduct employee reviews annually. According to Schmidt, agility is replacing tradition as the new gold standard: some companies offer their employees quarterly reviews, others give monthly reviews, and still others check in bi-weekly. It’s not the frequency that matters, but the overall effect on the business. If you’re a biotech firm that reports quarterly to its investors, it might make the most sense to review employees every three months. If you’re a university that runs on a 10-week semester (“quarter system”), then it might serve you well to conduct performance reviews and professional development for staff members at the beginning or end of each academic quarter. As long as your system is grounded in the mission and practices of your business, your employees will perceive their reviews as more meaningful and, perhaps, take them more seriously.
Data analysis is yet another skill that is taking the stage in modern HR practices. Both quantitative data and qualitative analyses are vital to understanding and optimizing how employees are relating to each other and to their work. HR professionals conducting these analyses are now more commonly called “people analytics” teams, which, writes Schmidt, are now found in 69% of large organizations. These individuals conduct surveys, interviews, and other measures to gather quantitative and qualitative data about employees. Capable HR staff in 2020 will possess the skills to collect good data, properly analyze and interpret it, and apply it to the development of effective, data-driven procedures, strategies, and methods that make the most sense for your company’s unique needs and goals.
Next up is a re-branding of the language found in HR policies. While traditional wording focuses on stating the most severe, legally mandated punishment for the worst conduct imaginable, the language in HR policies lately has been shifting towards a more supportive, trusting tone. This recent trend demonstrates business’ growing idea that, Schmidt writes, “they’ve hired adults with reasonable judgment who can make good choices.” Effective HR policy language will still, of course, meet the standards of compliance under the law, but it will not put consequences for bad behavior at its forefront. In other words, it will frame HR as a system that serves to support the business and its employees, rather than as in-house law enforcement that will actively seek out peripheral wrongdoing and punish accordingly.
Present-day HR strategies are an increasingly open book, both internally within organizations as well as externally with other HR sources. Previously, according to Schmidt, “HR viewed their processes as secret ingredients under lock and key.” Now, however, HR professionals are more open with each other and with their organizations about both their successes and their failures. This approach not only make more resources and information available for public access and benefit, but also fuels innovation.
Last but not least, the historic pillars of successful HR professionals—a command on basic employment law, good people skills, an eye for talent—are now, writes Schmidt, mere “table stakes.” In this new climate, flourishing HR teams are expected to possess increasingly in-depth business knowledge, from small-scale finances to large-scale industry trends. As business is becoming more complex, with new technology, marketing strategies, and state laws at every turn, HR experts have no choice but to keep up with the rapid pace of change to remain valuable and well-performing assets to their respective organizations. Now more than ever, HR staff must perform the ultimate balancing act, on one hand maintaining a competitive business acumen while, on the other, effectively managing the people that comprise their company’s workforce.