The Uncertain Future of Human Resources?

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We are continually surrounded by messages on what the future may or may not be like. What will and won’t happen in 2020? Recently that debate has turned to organisations, and the future fate of different departments or traditional specialisms. Human Resources has been one of those scrutinised.


Some believe that HR is doomed, due to reasons such as:

  • Increasing specialist skills gaps between experienced HR professionals and those entering the field
  • Systems-enabled employee self-service (finally) taking over areas HR have tried for so long to preserve
  • Those within HR not seeing their evolutionary problem and continuing down the same path they always have


But others are more optimistic, and see HR in 2020 more like this:

  • In-house HR will down-size, and outsourcing will increase
  • The new core competency of HR will be strategic thinking
  • HR specialists will be more prevalent, against the recent trend in generalist practitioners


There are some very interesting observations we can make on this debate. Firstly, 2020 is ‘only’ 6 ½  years away. If we think about the general pace of change we experience in organisations, will HR have vanished? It’s very unlikely. Secondly, what is strategic thinking? And surely that is the core competency of the Strategy team?


People have spent the last 20 years becoming recognised as organisations most important assets. We currently see more investment in Talent Management, Learning and Development, Employee Engagement and Incentive Schemes than we ever have. We have worked out that while we can continue to measure our financial outputs, we need to measure our inputs – our people (to steal a bit of Kaplan and Norton’s thinking). We have seen this because organisations want to – or want to be seen to at the least – take care of their people.


The future of HR is much simpler. Yes, technology will have a different, arguably increased role, in the future. So will outsourced contracts. But organisation will still want to take care of their people. Probably even more so than now.


The custodians of this ‘care’ are HR. So, far from being doomed, HR have the opportunity to understand their future role – how to care for growing and demographically changing workforces. This is an exciting future, and maybe the detractors need to look through a different lens, and not jump on the ‘HR is doomed’ bandwagon too quickly.


Elliott Coles

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