Rethinking HR : Its Role In The Boardroom In 2017
It is not heresy to suggest that there might be resistance to change when it comes to the composition of the UK's boardrooms. The UK government has itself made that clear, by seeing the need for one government-backed review after another on just that subject in the last six years.
First we had one on the lack of women non-executive directors on FTSE350 boards, then we almost simultaneously had ones on the lack of women on executive teams in business and on the serious lack of ethnic diversity with a call for the end to all-white boardrooms.
Given that the world, with all its business customers, will increasingly be non-white , the late arrival to a call for action on ethnic diversity is striking. The link to the story about a non-white world is from The Guardian in 2000: so this should come as no surprise.
Consumers making buying decisions are already largely female, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the rise of female entrepreneurs is leading to huge growth in the creation of goods designed by women for women - more competition in the market for the big brands.
An important component in the mind-set that resists change is a refusal to re-think changing role functions for changing times - people do like their job titles to be self-defining. So let's look at the HR function, one that is still heavily occupied by women.
Research just conducted by the London-based boardroom consultancy Advanced Boardroom Excellence asks why it is that HR is largely absent from UK plc boardrooms when experienced HR practitioners often exercise considerable influence in other ways. Acknowledging that there is at present a wide range in the quality of HR, it uses its research to argue that the time has come for a shift in strategic direction. That direction, it suggests, includes re-defining, training and elevating the HRD role in order to make best use of its uniquely holistic insight for a business.
Given how many women occupy the HR function, it could of course also have the added benefit of adding to female numbers at the top. It might also be a step in the right direction to counter widespread perceptions of sexism in UK workplaces.
"HR has a vital role in preparing the organisation and employees for the new workplace. The pace of change requires a nimble, flexible and versatile workforce that embraces innovative ways of working as a means to optimising performance, rather than being fearful of the future" said Helen Pitcher, Chairman of Advanced Boardroom Excellence.
(I have mentioned on social media that Advanced Boardroom Excellence were to be the next sponsors of this blog. We decided that as I do quite a lot of work with them, it felt like a conflict of interest. Board Talk remains open to conversations about potential sponsorship.)
One of the reasons this research is interesting is its important link to the rise of automation and artificial intelligence. Boardroom recruitment in the UK has in the past focused overwhelmingly perhaps on financial aptitude and skills, to the exclusion of others that may be increasingly of more value.
"As the robot financial controllers take their place on the board, they will rapidly process in real time myriad pieces of financial information into an accessible, understandable and accurate financial and organisational picture of the business, with appropriate call outs for off-plan performance. Robots are good at this" says the report.
What are humans good for ? "Understanding the more fragmented and emerging frontiers for the business, where human intuition, interpretation and insight and connections can be readily leveraged and applied" to work out strategic direction, it suggests.
HR directors also need to get their heads around technology fast, and it will do away with all but the best of them. If any of them have not read PwC's 2017 HR Technology Survey, they should. HR analytics needs much better tech support - only 14% of employers are very satisfied with their HR analytics technologies, according to PwC.
It may be useful to look to a Mckinsey analysis of the oil and gas industry for the disruptive impact of three fundamental changes : resource abundance, demographic shifts and profound technological advances. Against this background, it looks at the future of HR in the industry.
"At a time of rapid advances in artificial intelligence, automation, and human-machine interaction, people will remain core to oil and gas companies (and their HR functions). In fact, at all levels of the organization, each employee will need to create ever more business value. Given this reality, and the wide productivity differences between average and top performers, HR’s strategic importance is increasing. In particular, HR will create value by identifying the right person for each job in a more fact-based manner, and supporting these people to perform to their full potential.
Thus, HR must shift its focus further toward its strategic role—with the CHRO emerging as a top adviser to the CEO" says Mckinsey.