It’s time for HR to act like professionals if we want to be treated like them

HR leaders must stop criticising and start contributing to the success of our industry

Has any period ever experienced more organisational change than now? The most significant technical revolution in history is creating a seismic shift in business operations. Company models, investment programmes and the relationship with workforces are all undergoing fundamental changes. In these uncharted waters HR professionals have a new and elevated role to play – so how should we best equip ourselves to navigate our organisations through the storm? Is this the moment to reinvent and bolster the role of the CIPD as the most effective route to unite a dispirited discipline around shared learnings and good practice, and enhance the professional status of our practitioners?               

The challenges that confront our organisations are close to the proverbial perfect storm. The internet is so familiar that we often discount the scale of disruption it heralds. But it is transforming every aspect of our companies’ operations, as well as the lives of the customers we serve. Business models, established and proven over the generations, are wilting under the heat of the gig economy. Traditional roles are evaporating and relationships between organisation and employee are becoming more fluid. ‘No change’ is no longer an option and all companies everywhere are examining their structures and operational options so they can adapt, not just to prosper – but in some cases to actually survive.

HR functions are charged with leading this transformation as organisations restructure. Fewer bricks, more clicks, higher productivity, different role profiles. The centricity of this process makes HR a trusted partner on the executive team.

And as the competitive landscape intensifies, the role and remit of the HR function is broadening. Human capital is no longer just about units of production – our people are now clearly identified as the most important element of success. Customer service is a good example. In a world of total price transparency, why do customers buy from one business rather than another? Better service, through our people, is the key to competitive advantage.

So an HR leader is now not only involved with organisational alignment and pay and rations, but also with ensuring that the competitive cutting edge of our organisations – our people – is more effective. Our quest is to engineer the discretionary effort that will make our companies more successful. We know this is achieved through higher levels of engagement and this is leading to a greater emphasis on the importance of corporate culture as a route to driving overall company performance. It’s a central part of transformation strategies and regularly on the executive agenda. While seemingly a simple shift, it is actually a new remit for us that is complex, is difficult to orchestrate effectively, and requires commitment and leadership.

To achieve all that is required of us, HR professionals must embrace the concept of lifelong learning. Often we focus this responsibility on our colleagues, who will need to adapt their skills as they travel between employers in a portfolio career. But we too must adapt and extend our areas of expertise to stay ahead of the curve. At the same time we must ensure that, in a function that is light on comparative measures, our counsel is trusted and recognised for the calibre of advice and guidance we provide.

So where is the route map and operator’s instruction manual for today’s HR departments? Some areas have established practices, but for others the journey is just beginning. There is a new rulebook to be written, for instance, on pay and reward as we grapple with different generational expectations. There are new practices to be developed and new professional standards to be recognised.

These pressures point to an emerging opportunity of leadership for our professional body, the CIPD. It has the cross-industry perspective necessary to shine a light on the areas of professional capabilities for focus and the right standards of achievement. It can facilitate discussion and consensus across our dispersed discipline, certify the current practitioners, and nurture the next generation. Meeting this challenge, though, requires modernisation; just as workplaces are being forced to adapt, so must the CIPD to remain relevant in the future. 

This is a process we should all want to contribute to. Too often we are dismissive and critical of the CIPD. We are quicker to find fault than to add weight – a behaviour that diminishes the standing of our profession. If we want to be taken more seriously, we must act as victors, not victims. The gravitas of the CIPD is central to this. Developed correctly, we can establish the same reputational benefits for our profession as doctors and lawyers, which many of us yearn for. Membership and participation also lends professional oversight and status, endorsing and supporting our growing role as a key partner in boardrooms across the country. The changes that surround us provide this momentum for progress, and it is a task I believe deserves some of my time and commitment.

Nick Ulycz is group HR director at Domestic & General