Recently, I was asked to give a keynote speech for one of my clients during their human resources employee retreat. I have always believed that the greatest asset of any organization is its people (something that Elon Musk is discovering after he fired most of Twitters employees). That brings us to the question of why human resources departments (along with IT departments) always seem to be at the bottom of the food chain?
The human resources idea was conceived against the backdrop of the industrial revolution by Charles Babbage and Robert Owen. The intention was that the wellbeing of the worker was critical to worker productivity. The core purpose of human resources practice was to drive industrial welfare, personnel management, scientific management, organization management, and industrial psychology. But, like everything connected to the industrial revolution, ideas tend to be diluted and fade away, and from a productivity-driven function, human resources became an administrative department responsible for attracting, hiring, training, and developing employees.
(Yes, there are a few cases where the role of human resources has evolved to be more strategic, but these are few and not enough.)
The impact of new, jolt-inducing theologies on computation power, machine learning, automation, and fast-tacking, as well as social trends and a shift in narratives will require a new thinking. In order for organizations to secure their place in the future, they will need a guiding power to help them navigate the unknown.
The most important human attributes that have brought us this far are first, our ability to envision the future, to imagine multiple scenarios, and choose the one we want to go after. The one we believe is the best option for us. Secondly, our ability to cooperate and collaborate with each other. We value communication skills and an understanding that only when we work together can we grow and develop. And, finally, our ability to bring the right people together to engineer and build solutions for the future that we envision.
One could argue that the first step, envisioning the future, is something that leadership is responsible for, and as not everyone in the organization is a leader, this function is held by a small group of people at the top. However, the other two functions are related to industrial welfare, personnel management., scientific management, organization management, and industrial psychology. In other words, two-thirds of an organization’s ability to navigate the unknown is in the hands of human resources.
It is obvious that to have a successful future, all parts of the organization must work together. However, human resources are uniquely positioned to be especially helpful to the organization because of their focus on people.
This focus on people is crucial in this time of change. With the approaching era of mass technological automation, when algorithms will be able to process information faster and better than humans. And, as we step into a narrative where social constructs and public dialogues are determined by technology companies like TikTok rather than thought leader. It’s important more than ever to safeguard the humanity of organization. The ability to construct a dialogue with your co-workers, clients, and partners is not a marketing, IT, or R&D skill, but a basic human function. The product of human resources is understanding the constructive narratives, driving creativity and innovation, and influencing the companies strategic trajectory.
The future is not only about technology, it is about our ability to make technology work for us. It is about finding new ways to create value and to make a difference in the world. We need to be able to see beyond the horizon and to embrace the future with open arms. In order to achieve that, we need human resources. We must find ways to partner with technology to enhance creativity and thinking skills, rather than replace them. This approach will help us create better doctors, better lawyers, better leaders, and better dialogues. If we keep the human resources departments on the bottom of the food chain, we will find it almost impossible to tackle the unknown. Perhaps it’s time to rethink human resources departments as a profit centre rather than a cost centre.