There has never been a better time to be in HR, writes Dorothèe El Khoury, as the way we work evolves into more agile and autonomous practices.

Last year, it became clear to many HR professionals that the working world we had supported our entire career had fundamentally changed.  

The shift was about much more than remote work. Where employees work was only one facet of a larger shift in how organisations all over the world get the job done. In the most  advanced companies, work has evolved from an input driven by a manager’s command to an agile, networked system in which many skilled workers pursue their objectives with a high degree of autonomy.  


Managers need to change how they manage

As the nature of work changes, it stands to reason that the function which supports it will need to change too. Human Resources must reinvent itself to meet a new set of varied and urgent needs of managers, employees, and the business. Some of the key issues it must face include: 


  • Job candidates with the right profile and skills tend to be harder to find as business needs have evolved fast. The Hackett Group’s recent poll on Transitioning to a Digital Workforce, showed that digital transformation has transformed existing jobs for 48% of businesses, created entirely new jobs for 16%, and eliminated old jobs for 12%. The nature of working life has changed. Not only in the ease with which many employees can now work from anywhere, but the growing importance of multipurpose space, the reduced premium on physical proximity, and the greater reliance on technology. Not surprisingly, work goals are also more variable now, and smart managers are focusing much more on outputs and results. 


  • Command and control management is over. Many executives responding to our survey reported they were moving to a model that was more culture-driven, and centred on employee empowerment, with the talent and not leaders calling more of the resource shots, looking more for intrinsic rather than extrinsic awards, and a shift from one-size-fits-all staff policies to policies tailored to different groups of employees. 


Given so many developments, it should come as no surprise to anyone that HR will need to change too and reinvent nearly every single process it used to deliver. But what must be specifically transformed and how? 

 First, the skills mismatch noted above means that old school “post and pray” recruitment campaigns won’t be enough to thrive in this new world. Dedicated outreach will be the order of the day. In addition, the level of heightened competition means that people in HR will have to segment their employees into different groups, based on their value to particular processes within the organisation, and try to understand what kinds of benefits will matter to them most.  

Finally, to keep up with the strategic demands for talent, companies will need to automate much more of the routine activities of HR – particularly as we have only a very general sense yet of what tomorrow’s work model will look like. It will take careful work to see how the model should evolve and to respond both by mitigating risks and taking advantage of any opportunities that arise. 


Ready, Set, Go! 

 HR is now positioned to become the strategic, make-or-break function it always should have been. But to succeed, HR leaders will have to move quickly, making their transition under very challenging conditions – despite constrained financial resources, without the luxury of hiring more people, and at an accelerated pace.  

It won’t be easy, and for many companies, this shift will be fraught with risk. But some of the best CHROs in our network say there has never been a better time to be in HR. We agree. For the resilient, innovative HR executive, this is bound to be a fantastic opportunity. 


Dorothée El-Khoury is the European HR Advisory Practice Leader, The Hackett Group