3 Ways Leaders Can Embrace the Next Evolution in HR

HR professionals talk during a video chat

ADP's Amy Leschke-Kahle shares three ways HR must think differently and evolve their practices to meet current challenges.

Let's get something out of the way right from the start: the next evolution in HR is not a "new normal."

Changes don't happen within a vacuum, even when they're prompted by specific and unexpected events like COVID-19. What's happening in the workplace is an evolution in how we work, not a brand-new way of working, and that's an important nuance to consider as we look at how the role of HR must change to accommodate this evolution.

We don't just need new solutions and new best practices; we need to evolve from the old way of doing business and lead organizations into a matured reality of work. Here are three practical ways leaders can embrace the latest evolution of HR to give employees the leadership they need to thrive during this time.

1. Embrace Critical Systems Thinking

HR practitioners have a responsibility to think holistically. They know their organizations inside and out, and they are often the most qualified to understand and raise awareness of mission-critical business priorities. And yet, many of us look outside our businesses for answers to organization-specific issues, hoping that the latest one-size-fits-all headline will hold the solution to our problems.

During the current evolution in HR, there is a pressing need for HR executives who are willing to take a big-picture look at the unique needs of their organizations. By proactively identifying areas of need, HR leaders can position themselves as key players in determining what changes can be made internally and whether the organization should seek external support.

Consider, for example, what it takes to design, develop, manufacture, market and sell a new product. At first glance these may seem like disparate steps where one team throws their work over the wall to the team responsible for the next step. Of course, this approach often leads to over budget, extended timelines and can even cause a giant miss in being first to market. The solve is to approach new product development as a single, holistic process, not a series of separate processes.

The same approach holds true for our work as HR practitioners. HR is not a series of disparate processes or policies. In today's fast-moving world of work we need to always consider how our approaches, policies and tools impact not just a part of the employee experience, but the entire employee ecosystem.

This takes so much more than saying your organization puts people first, it takes careful and intentional design with sustainability top of mind. Shift doesn't come from changing out the posters on the walls. It comes from doing things differently and in a way that is clearly visible for the entire organization to experience.

2. Shift Away From Big Data and Toward Smart Data

There are more than a thousand HR metrics you could collect today — too many to count as your organization grows. Big data can be comforting because it can make us feel as if we're tracking important metrics that justify big decisions and illustrate why wins and losses occur. But here's the thing: the next evolution in HR is showing us that big data is not smart data, especially when it comes to people.

The results of a hundred different pulse surveys, metrics and inputs cannot definitively reveal the best move to make next. Final decisions must always be subjective, and they need to be made with consideration for a variety of human factors that influence business. Big data rarely offers meaningful insights into these kinds of factors.

In the current HR setting, leaders need to zero-in on smart data, not big data. Smart data looks at a few targeted metrics that show the health of the business and inspire insightful, nuanced conversations. However, keep in mind that there's no standard set of metrics that will always qualify as smart data, as the best metrics for your business will likely differ from those that other organizations use.

3. Maintain a Healthy Skepticism About Hype

There are thousands of great minds at work in the HR space today, and many are bringing fresh wisdom and practical ideas to fuel the innovative work we all want to do. It is possible, however, to be swept up in the hype of different associations, vendors and authors urging us to buy products, software and services as if there were a guaranteed 1:1 relationship between our issues and their solutions.

It's important to remember that, while products and services can help organizations do amazing things they wouldn't be able to do alone, such offerings rarely fix problems outright. Rather, HR leaders must rely on critical thinking, problem-solving and regular internal communication to ensure they're doing all they can to support initiatives internally first before investing in the latest solutions suggested by authors or vendors.

Consider, for example, how this plays out in the bustling space of employee recognition. There are phenomenal products on the market that can support internal recognition, but purchasing one of these solutions is not the start or the end of the work. Truly prioritizing meaningful recognition requires an organization-wide commitment to encouraging and celebrating outstanding work in a personalized way.

Here's to the Next Evolution in HR

HR executives today have no shortage of opportunities to be courageous. There's just one question to ask: how will you adapt your perspectives and practices to the ways that work is evolving?

The stakes are high, but so are the rewards. Organizations that embrace evolution in HR will enjoy the benefits of effective leadership and approaches to problem solving that actually make a difference. Instead of reacting as bystanders to change, they will be able to make proactive choices that guide the future of work within their organizations and their industries.

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