The New Role of HR: Anticipator

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HR professionals encouraged to evolve, anticipate and help grow leadership  

How do you tell if your current leadership development and talent management strategies will improve your bottom line over the next three years?

By looking to the past and anticipating what’s next.

So says a new study from consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI) and The Conference Board, which includes survey responses from more than 16,000 respondents consisting of business leaders and global human resource executives.

“The best forecasters spend more time looking backward than forward because they know that to forecast future trends accurately, they first must recognize historical trends,” according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015 survey report Ready-Now Leaders: Meeting Tomorrow’s Business Challenges.

They also anticipate what’s next.

“Being connected to strategic planning is definitely evidene of better alignment, because it shows that the HR team has the knowledge needed by business leaders to help shape future plans (where will skills be, how can we hire for growth, etc.),” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of the consultancy Bersin by Deloitte, in an e-mail interview with SHRM Online. “New skills we see needed [for HR professionals] include statistics, analytics, technology, [industrial organizational] psychology, assessment science, coaching and, of course, all the elements of leadership,” he said.

Developing leaders continues to be a critical problem for HR, the report states. While smart leaders can be visionary and introduce bold, innovative ideas and practices, they may not be very good at managing—despite training. The study reports that although $50 billion annually is spent worldwide developing leaders, only 37 percent of leaders rated their organization’s leadership development programs as effective and, even more surprising, there has been “no improvement over the past seven years,” the study states.

In the video interview with SHRM Online below, New York Times best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant Marcus Buckingham discussed ways in which companies can still reap the benefits that phenomenal leaders may offer their company—even though they may not possess good managerial skills.

The far-reaching, 56-page study focused on many aspects of the future of HR management, including:

  • Top CEO challenges.
  • The bleak leadership outlook.
  • How to generate growth from Millennials and their generational differences.
  • Which countries’ leaders are ready to “make the grade.”
  • Which industries are rising and which are failing.
  • What critical leadership skills are being ignored.
  • The new role of HR.
  • Leadership analytics.
  • Balancing corporate vs. local control.
  • Managing high potentials.
  • Gender diversity and how to make it pay off, among other opportunities.
  • Succession planning.

Back to the Future

Yet another element of the study analyzed how to move HR from partner to anticipator.

Researchers posed the question: How do HR professionals contribute to business?

“For at least two decades, the challenge for HR was to move from being administrators or reactors to being business partners,” the report states. The majority of HR units worldwide have made that shift.

In the survey’s findings, 60 percent of respondents see themselves as “partners” who exchange information with business leaders about current issues and collaborate on mutual goals; 22 percent see themselves as “reactors,” who ensure “compliance with policies and practices; responding to business needs by providing tools and systems when asked;” and 18 percent see themselves as “anticipators,” who “use data to predict talent gaps in advance and provide insights about how talent relates to business goals.”

Why is this important? According to the study, “anticipators,” those who are more closely aligned with the business, are “most connected to strategic planning,” which has more impact on the business.

“While anticipators and partners generally are likely to use similar leadership practices, anticipators do six things differently than partners or reactors,” the study states.

Those six things are:

  • Place a strong focus on programs that foster employee creativity and innovation.
  • Position leadership development as an integrated journey rather than an independent series of events.
  • Institute negative consequences for managers who fail to develop their leaders.
  • Ensure a higher percentage of leaders are promoted from within.
  • Help leaders be more ready to meet the CEO challenge of human capital.
  • Use advanced workforce analytics, particularly those that involve forecasting future talent needs. 

Learning Is Critical

The study makes clear that human resource professionals who fail to evolve will fail to help their businesses grow.

“The skills and knowledge that got HR to where they are today probably won’t be relevant in the future,” the report states. “HR needs to be in a constant learning mode to avoid obsolescence. The role of human capital management will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 30.”

Sound shocking? Maybe not.

“The fact that it will change more in the next five years than it did the previous 30 isn’t shocking or compelling,” Janine Truitt, chief innovations officer for Talent Think Innovations LLC, a talent management and HR technology consulting firm, told SHRM Online in an interview. “Technology has evolved faster over the past decade than it did 30 years prior and that will likely continue. As technology and ultimately society develops at a progressively more rapid pace, HR will have to keep up with the change and demands.”

However, she added, “HR in any organization will only evolve as much as the CEOs or owners of the business want it to. CEOs that truly understand how employees impact their business will be wise to have competent HR leadership and staff directly in alignment with their business objectives [in order] to eliminate the usual disconnect that exists between HR and executive leadership.”