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The Challenge for HR

Release Date

05 November 2012

More and more of us who work in the world of HR seem to be doing more with less, and it’s not a new phenomenon across the working world.  Fredrick Winslow Taylor, the father of scientific management who designed the principals behind the car assembly line wrote,  in the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first....the first object of any good system must be that of developing first- class men.   If we are to have first class HR then, essentially it would be important to have first class HR practitioners who can resiliently and emotionally meet those challenges.  According to Peter Drucker, Taylor was the first man in recorded history to measure and systemise work, describing him as the Isaac Newton of the science of work.  On this basis the initial systems and science of HR did not necessarily focus on people or how they performed.  

In today’s modern working world we are far more interested in how people feel in, and with their workplace and the people they work alongside than what Taylor could have ever have imagined.  It could be true to say, how we structure the future workplace, as well as how we shape the type of work to be undertaken will be an even larger challenge for the HR space. 

Depending on the industry, historically the people who worked and led HR came to us in positions as Wage Superintendent, Payroll Clerk, Personnel officer, HR Manager and now more predominately HR Business Partner.  The latter roles have resulted in HR managing people and their leadership qualities more so, compared again to the systems and sciences of Taylorism.  In this context leadership focuses more on gaining respect, implementing core values and behaviours and expousing and demonstrating these on a daily basis.  These elements make up just a small part of ‘servant leadership’ as a preferred and future HR model to be reckoned with.   

During the tough GFC times we attempted to keep our best talent, ensured ongoing staff engagement and communication, walked the talk on costs and managed any downsizing.  From a cultural change perspective the patterns that make HR what it is today and the preferences we make as Australians in our communities of practice are often clear, but at times slow to change.  While it is difficult to absolutely predict where HR will be in the future, what we do know is the people who participate in the world of work are looking for more options in the way they work, how they work and where they work.  And they want this to happen at a faster pace of change than ever before as well.  Generation Y are taking us there more rapidly than any past generation and it is essential we keep abreast of these changes as HR practitioners. 

One of the many issues concerning people in general and HR practitioners in particular is the extent social networking occurs in the workplace especially among Gen Y.    In managing the latter HR practitioners will need to find better solutions in how they manage people, their performance and integrate social networking as a conduit to change.  And as they go about this work they must not forget to develop the leadership brand of an organization in support of it becoming one of the worlds most admired organizations’. 

Whatever the future, challenge or changing face of HR, just as Hamel et al (2008) & Ulrich (2010) profess,  there is no doubt HR practitioners are in for the ride of their lives if they want to create even more satisfaction for their  customers both commercial and noncommercial.  From an organizational context, how staffs personal strengths and weaknesses are managed with support from the organization as a whole will further enable transformational change resulting in better results for people, performance, our customers as stakeholders and even possibly our shareholders.

Moreover, if we hold on tight in these challenging times without letting our knuckles go too white we will inevitably find what the purpose of the organisation is, and how we can build in a servant leadership model.  Then we can be well on the way to meeting the challenges even more so and unlocking our organization’s heart, mind, body and spirit.

Larry Forsyth is a Senior Manager, WHS & HR Consulting Services with Australian Business Consulting & Solutions. If you have any questions, please contact him on 07 3842 2210 or larry.forsyth@australianbusiness.com.au

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