The future of HR: What it is and how can businesses make the most of it

Employee well-being is essential to the success of modern businesses.

It’s natural to want to be the best, and at worst to keep up with the rest. This is no exception within businesses. In fact, change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale than during the heady days of the industrial revolution. Making it hard to keep up.    

As businesses change so incrementally, a new rhythm of organisational life is emerging from an employee’s perspective. Reinvigorating a company to keep up with this change, but keeping spirits alive is half the battle. That’s why the well-being of employees is so important, as well as being a recruitment and retention tool.   

Suppliers are latching onto this trend. Just look at the 30 per cent growth Vitality, a health insurance provider, enjoyed last year. Their app offers employees rewards in return for completing physical exercise and becoming healthier. It’s being embraced by employees who also get subsidised gym membership. And of course, business owners benefit from a healthier workforce who take fewer sick days and have a higher level of productivity.

However, with research suggesting that finding the right talent and keeping it is going to be one of the big business challenges in 2017, even more attention needs to be given to the heart of the company – its people – it is the most vital organ in the body after all.   

The new formation of companies  

While change can be exhilarating, it can also create turbulence. Unique business models that shake up the market, such as the gig economy, are prime examples of change creating waves. Take Uber, at first celebrated for offering flexible working but soon derided for exploitation and very little workplace protection. It's a classic case of businesses embracing change but thinking about its people too late, and the all too common belief that HR isn’t a necessity until it causes a problem.   

Interestingly, most of us use the term HR without actually thinking about what it means, and when asked to explain, may not have much to say. That’s why HR is being replaced with something more digestible – employee experience. A strategic function with the primary purpose of unleashing human potential.  

Can people management keep up? 

As Uber demonstrates, new business models may be emerging but if the way in which organisations manage their people doesn’t keep up with these changes, it can cause problems. The organisational structures of the past, built on a hierarchy that started at the middle and sprawled outwards, like you would imagine a tree in winter, aren’t suitable for the companies of the future.   

As organisations develop from an authoritative management style to a more participative model, people management should understand and reflect the aspirations of employees. An employee-centric approach that promotes agility, resilience and sustained high performance will be vital to organisational success. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to catch up with this change.  

Indeed, a significant factor in four in ten small businesses not making it past five years is poor people management. An overwhelming amount of small businesses do not grasp its importance; many assume being a small business they don’t need it. In reality, whether you’ve got two employees or 20, you’re doing people management. You’ve got talent to look after and people are complex beings, so there’s a lot of work involved.   

Staff are now the key priority for all businesses, a new way of managing and developing talent has emerged. So how can small businesses adapt to this change? Below are some tips to ensure your businesses don’t fall by the wayside.   

Tip 1: Forget about admin and focus on your people 

Focus on your people – rather than paper – by using technology. Now more than ever, line managers and HR specialists should embrace the array of technology tools on the market. These tools take care of the mundane administrative tasks – such as absence forms and expenses – and automate the process. This saves employers, who manage people, time, allowing them to focus on a more strategic role in ensuring employees are developing and growing to their full potential. This also takes out the element of human error, and frees up employees time, allowing them to focus on more rewarding tasks such as business development. 

Tip 2: Collaboration is key 

Every business begins as a start-up, however, only a handful make it further. Small businesses that create connected and collaborative workforces, rather than teams working separately, will ultimately produce the best outcome. Picture a cobweb rather than the tree in winter. A connected workforce encourages employees to work as a team on projects, allowing them to bounce ideas off one another and improve co-worker relationships. Humans are social beings and businesses should capitalise on that. 

Tip 3: Steer towards accountability and output    

Additionally, we’re seeing an increased focus on outcome and accountability for individuals in the workplace. Promoting accountability not only allows employees to feel they have a say, giving them more responsibility, but it is incredibly empowering and motivating, resulting in getting the best out of your people.   

Tip 4: Cold hard data  

Businesses should use data to drive better decision making. Instead of making decisions based on hunches, businesses can make more definitive choices and back these up with data. For instance, looking through your sick leave data, is there a correlation between more sick days and employees not taking their full holiday? Data can spot trends that business owners might not have thought of. It may even encourage longer holidays to reduce the number of sick days taken and increase that productivity. 

So to keep up or even be the best as a business, it is crucial look after your employees, regardless of whether or not you're in the gig, access or as yet unnamed  economy. And it pays off, as the more fulfilled your workforce is, the better results they give, the longer you will hold on to them and the easier it will be to recruit.  It will also allow companies to free themselves from administration, focus on employee experience and give themselves the time to have high-quality conversations with their people, helping them make it past those first five years.   

Donal Laverty, Partner and Organisational Transformation Consulting at Baker Tilly Mooney Moore 

Jonathan Richards, CEO of BreatheHR 

Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock