The Bar Has Been Raised and It’s Time For a New Kind of HR Executive

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’ll be reposting each of the top 25 articles between now and January 2nd. This is No. 21 of 2016. You can find the complete list here.

Like a lot of you, I get requests from executive headhunters looking for C-Level HR officers.

As I read through the job descriptions and mentally scan my network, I am noticing a powerful trend. That trend translates to a new level of HR officer.

The days of the “maintainer” are out of the window, especially for this management level. Organizations today are in a state of flux with the VUCA mentality. VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, is a catchall for “Hey, it’s crazy out there and its getting crazier.”

We have all probably read about the new HR competencies that will be needed. The phrase “HR Business Partner” is so much prominent today. Human resources is being pushed into uncharted waters, and in a lot of cases, it’s sink or swim.

CEO’s are looking for more than what HR has offered in the past, but there is no need to fret however, because the CFO, CMO, CDO and CIO have all gone through some similar transformation. Organizations are looking for more strategic support from all the C-Level occupants

We are the in-house consultants

However, the difference is that our purveyance has to do with the internal talent comprising our workforce.  All the others have an external focus to the marketplace

If you covet those roles and you are looking to come in and simply guide and maintain, you need not apply. I have known a number of HR executives that were relieved of their duties when they could not provide that strategic support.

We are gradually being given the keys to the kingdom, but the skill set for this new reality is vastly different from our past.

The new level of HR must understand the industry and the business world as a whole — what is happening, what are the causes, and how can I help my organization buffet the headwinds? This has a lot to do with self-development. It is almost like studying for an exam on a daily basis.

The challenge of changing business models

Part of my education is to watch CNBC or other business channels. I love to see the CEO interviews and how they discuss their companies, industries, and the marketplace. They talk about the challenges that they are facing, and as I do, I super impose the HR angle over their comments and try and figure out what would be the HR response to their issues.

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Recently I watched the CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler, discuss how HBO’s entire business model had changed. At one time we watched HBO on our home TV, our favorite show came on at a specific hour, and we tried to make sure that we were free around that time to watch.

Fast forward to today; now close to 70 percent of HBO viewers are now watching on some mobile platform, be it a tablet or smart phone. That was the impetus for HBO GO, which was the organization’s digital response. With this transformation, the talent equation changed to a mobile focus. Outside business trends and stakeholder expectations have turned into internal actions.

The focus now is on business results and human capital improvement. How do we guide our workforce capabilities into uncharted waters?  We are now the navigators in the midst of the storm, whether it consists of industry challenges, growth opportunities, global expansion, or something else.

We are being asked to shape the future with our workforce capabilities. No longer can training, staffing, compensation, communications, data be seen as individual components. They must be part of a unified focus bringing all those capabilities to bear on the marketplace, both internally and externally.

The New Style of HR

As many organizations seek out this new style of HR executive to help the overall business execute against its future strategy, the onus is on us, as strategically minded executives with a laser focus on HR and the business, to build a high impact HR organization.

This high impact-focused executive understands the critical shifts in roles, skills and capabilities in the HR function. In a nutshell, we must become business people adept at solving “people issues” within the organization.

The bar has been raised, and all the talk of wanting a “seat” at the table has come to fruition. As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for because you may just get it.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “The Bar Has Been Raised and It’s Time For a New Kind of HR Executive

  1. Ron – Good article. I couldn’t agree more that a ‘new’ kind of HR is needed, but your description of what that looks like is a little vague. As you note, the business world is in a high state of flux, and the kind of skills necessary to help organizations navigate the VUCA are actually similar to those that should already exist in the HR world. What’s different, and absolutely critical, is the way HR thinks about it’s mission; it’s the individual attributes that need to change. Things like risk tolerance, creativity, and the willingness to lead are ‘must haves’ in the 21st century, and sorely lacking in the greater HR community today. Frankly, if HR doesn’t wake up and step up, it risks not only irrelevance, but extinction. Like you say: it’s sink or swim.

    BTW – I hate the ‘HR Business Partner’ title; it’s a symptom that just destroys HR credibility, similar to when ‘Personnel’ became ‘Human Resources’, which is now changing to a number of other terms, ‘Business Partner’ being one of them. HR has been trying to find itself for as long as I’ve been in HR, which exceeds 30 years, and changing names without any underlying differences is no way to build respect.

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