As workplaces battle with changing employee expectations of their employers following the pandemic, responding to the cost of living crisis and dealing with technological transformation, Gartner’s ReimagineHR Conference (11 September) reminded delegates that HR has a lot to tackle.
But, as delegates said, while the challenges might seem overwhelming, HR has never been better placed to tackle them.
Here are the five key themes from the day:
1. Tech is useful, but it is no silver bullet
AI was a key theme throughout the conference, as anxieties about the future of job security following the explosion of ChatGPT earlier this year permeated the conference.
But Sarah Ford, head of HR innovation at Diageo, warned delegates to not rely too heavily on tech solutions. HR is currently “overwhelmed” by the amount of resources on the market that claim to streamline efforts or increase productivity, whether that be tech or books, she said. They might present themselves as “the silver bullet that is going to solve all our problems”, but Ford said this mindset misses opportunities for growth. “We all know from experience that it doesn’t necessarily work out that way,” she said.
“I think we need to start thinking about it differently. So, rather than thinking of innovation as technology and having that kind of bias towards technology, we’ve found that just looking at a problem differently, like taking a step back, actually creates more opportunities for innovation.”
And, as Eser Rizaoglu, senior director analyst at Gartner, pointed out, the big tech trends of today might not still be around in a few years time. “HR has a massive role in technology decisions across your organisation, so don’t miss out on that opportunity,” he said. “And remember: some tech trends go away, but some stick around.”
2. Consider how innovation might impact talent
When adopting new AI technologies, Rizaoglu said HR needs to ensure it is implemented “ethically”. HR must also ensure it is “accountable” for AI, by “regularly reviewing it to make sure it’s working for us.
“With the current rate of adoption and investment going into AI, it’s essential that we don’t forget about AI ethics. One client said to me the other day that they’re focusing on AI ethics because of the impact on talent. So with that, when you approach any new tech, whether it’s AI or any technology, think about: ‘Will it have a positive impact on employees? Will it be human centric?’”
3. View change as something that is continuous
Ross Hill, VP of global services at Orgvue, stressed that “evolution takes years” and that HR teams should not feel “intimidated” if change is not happening quick enough.
Organisations should instead look to implement the mechanisms in place to be able to make continuous small changes, rather than implementing big changes every few years.
And HR should remember that the pace of change following the pandemic has far exceeded that seen in the years before it. As Brent Cassell, VP for advisory at Gartner, said in the opening keynote: “[Some firms] have reported more innovations in the past three years than in the previous 10.”
4. What is in it for employees?
Employees do not want to feel like change is simply happening around them, but that they are part of that transformation journey too.
Transformation is creating “anxiety” among workers, so support them through it, whether that be training or offering transparency over decision processes, Vincent Favre, OD director at Danone, said.
Helen Basford, global capacity lead for coaching at AstraZeneca, told People Management that employees want to feel like they are in conversation with the wider organisation, and this can be achieved through greater communication and coaching in the workplace. “As an organisation, you have to realise what people think about is what’s in it for them,” she said.
“People are still people. And so, for them, when it’s an equal give and take within an organisation, when they are contributing and doing great work but they equally feel like they are being grown and stretched and advancing in their careers, then that’s where you get that lovely dynamic where it becomes a partnership, rather than just a one-way flow.”
5. HR needs to show leadership
Ultimately, many employees are nervous about the future of the workplace after the cost of living crisis raised anxieties over pay at a time when technological advancements were leading people to question whether they would still have a job or not. Consequently, HR needs to show leadership and take ownership of these topics to ensure that workers’ concerns are at the forefront of change.
Speakers stressed that HR has never been in a better position to gain influence over decision making following the rise of the profession after the pandemic. Cassell pointed out that HR now has a “seat at the table” to influence decisions and put people – and HR – first.
Hill said: “HR’s influence is greater than it’s ever been. We have better data on people than we’ve ever had, and we have better technology to manage people and manage change than we’ve ever had. Therefore, our responsibilities have increased and our capabilities are increasing.”