Organisations must discover what’s really driving the behaviour of their networks of staff, customers and suppliers. The economic crisis only postponed the war for talent: it’s been simmering and is starting to heat up again. The demographic bust of baby-boomers leaving the market now threatens to escalate the war into a global thermonuclear conflict that HR looks a little unprepared for.
Since the 2008 crisis high global unemployment has been juxtaposed with organisations experiencing an acute shortage of workers with the right skills. Education reform is a long-term corrective measure but in the short-medium term organisations will have to balance the need to secure and retain critical talent with increased attendant costs and a deteriorating productivity dividend themselves.
If HR is to meet this challenge it must perhaps relinquish its treasured ‘seat at the main table’ that threatens to ossify it. Getting back into the evolutionary gene pool will accelerate its symbiotic development with Marketing (another traditional laggard). HR will of course protest its uniqueness and importance - but to paraphrase Tywin Lannister, ‘if you have to tell people you're important; you’re not’.
Fundamentally, HR and Marketing have the exact same aims in our complex modern world - attract and retain key people. It is increasingly irrelevant to distinguish customers from staff. Many are becoming both, but more importantly, both have valuable resources (purchasing power and knowledge) organisations need and are part of the same interlocking, integrated networks themselves - using the same tools to interact. Marketing has been struggling to get ahead of this curve for years. Are CEOs now really going to give HR the same time, resources and indulgence to work the same things out?
The history of HR is an evolutionary one - it’s current form is merely its latest metamorphosis. In the early 20th century ‘welfare officers’ focused on making industrial practices less harmful to workers; as manufacturing levels increased ‘labour managers’ coordinated communication; while the emergence of the service economy gave birth to the ‘personnel department’ to ensure the means of production and now delivery were suitably serviced. The modern incarnation of ‘HR Business Partner’ completes the evolution of the function rather than a need.
HR has moved as far as it can from its core constituency - getting and keeping key people - and the backlash will start once CEOs recognise that, not only do HR and Marketing have the same aim, but now also employ the same engagement, communication and measurement tools. As neither do it particularly well, (though one has more practice at failure) it won’t be long now before they seek synergies from these efforts - in the form of Network Directors: who, in a hyper-connected world, will seek to occupy multiple intersections of knowledge flows to detect key signals earlier, speed up innovation feedback loops and execute the leading-edge responses a generation impatient with the status quo will reward with their time, attention and money.
A functional merger of HR and Marketing will reduce admin costs, management complexity and silo barriers. But organisations that are early adopters will also have the pick of the best professionals and the best professionals themselves will be able to define their new areas of accountability. We are entering the Age of the Pull Through. Network Directors will drive alignment in this age, but not of people to organisational ideas, but of organisations to their espoused values, carefully constructed to meet the expectations of a more discerning market - and intensely monitored to seek signs of dissipation.
The key question is - are you ready to surf this wave?