27 Sep

8 Strategies to future-proof HR

By Stella Voules & Jo Billing

6-minute read


In a previous article, we shared that Human Resources is considered by some, to be one of the fields most safe from automation.

Despite the evident need and purpose of HR in a changing world, the organisations they operate within need to constantly reinvent themselves to compete.

As HR leaders, it is our responsibility to highlight this to our businesses and drive agility and adaptability. The future of HR is about making the business better, not HR better.

In order to do this for our organisations, we need both disrupt our thinking, and that of our teams.

We’ve compiled 8 strategies to help you, as HR professionals, to stay relevant and thrive.

Consider these in the context of your work, and your organisation. Is this already a strong point, or is there more work to be done?


To make the business better, HR needs to go beyond acting as ‘catalysts and advisors’ and step up to become ‘innovators and creators’ (see image below).  To perform at this transformative level, a higher level of business acumen is required – you need not only some knowhow but a whole lot of bravery.

A lack of business acumen will hurt any business leader, including those in HR.

To gain the context for that business acumen, HR needs to be in the tent from the beginning around why business decisions are being made.  We also need to step into the space and lead the direction – this is the only way to connect HR innovation to business outcomes and to build confidence in the value of HR – from the front.

Innovators and Creators are HR professionals who have deep knowledge of external business trends and can translate and exploit technology into internal decisions and actions.

As an HR leader you need to understand the advances in technology and analytics, and the general business conditions that affect your industry and geography.  Your cross functional relationships with other functions and lines of business will allow you to connect this deep knowledge to ideas that will deliver innovation and creativity to your organisation, industry and sector.

Be a part of the conversation that determines the business direction – and in order to perform at this level, find out the answers to the following questions:

1. What is your company’s financial and business strategy?
2. How is your company going to lead in your market / sector?
3. Who are your stakeholders, both internally (e.g. c-suite, board, employees) and externally
(e.g. customers and investors)?
4. What conditions generate risks and opportunities for your business?
5. How will technology and analytics support the business direction?


Focus on the priorities for your organisation. As a Creator and Innovator who knows why business decisions are being made, use your relationship with your company’s business leaders to inform the insights you need gain from your data. What are your key questions? Engineer your analysis so that you can use your data to develop insights – don’t have a scattergun approach. 

Also, negotiate who should own Big Data, ensure that they share it with you. Weigh in on what’s needed as well as the ethical issues.


There is some technophobia present in HR. We need to be more tech savvy than simply having a self-service cloud-based HR system – that’s just low-level labour realignment.

Staying on top of the changing technology is too important an issue to leave to IT. If there is one capability that we need to develop in HR, it is to strengthen our mental muscle around technology. Make it a priority to invest in developing this further within yourself and within your team– do not get left behind.

There are many excellent online resources that are easy to access and provide economical learning and development opportunities.  There are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), social networks, communities of interest and learning groups. If you want to know more about artificial intelligence, you can join communities and groups that already exist.

Don’t wait for IT or your executives to ask you to build this capability, be progressive and passionate in embracing the future and it will reflect positively on the function.


Organisations can’t protect jobs that are made redundant by technology – but they do have a responsibility to their people. Nurture wellbeing (physical and mental health), agility, adaptability and re-skilling. Many large corporates offer re-skilling programs in areas such as coding and design thinking but experience low uptake by employees.  In this instance ‘build it and they will come’ will not work. Employees need an education program around the issues in your industry, they need to understand what’s happening and why it’s important to them.  Listen to them, inform and engage them and then led them to the support.


In a world where nothing is constant anymore, trust becomes one of the most valuable attributes. Many people are anxious about the future: anxiety kills confidence and the willingness to innovate. How your employees feel affects the performance of your business today – so support your leaders – help them deliver a consistent, positive and common narrative that outlines the opportunities and challenges. The research into trust is telling us that this is a major issue and a lack of understanding breeds fear.  We believe there is a call to action for organisations to lead the narrative and battle sensational and fake news around job loss and robotics.


It’s impossible to predict exactly the skills that will be needed even five years from now, so employees and organisations need to be ready to adapt. Think creatively about your organisational design – consider ring- fencing teams, self-organised teams etc.  It has even been suggested that the role of the traditional CEO should be divided to make space for a Chief Entrepreneurial Officer who also reports to the Board – now that’s adaptability.


Get the balance between progress and protection right. Be abreast of the issues, feel the pulse of people and, be the innovator in an ethical, responsible and sustainable way. Read our insights article on this issue here.


Within your HR teams, building the right capability to understand and contribute to the future is critical.  We know that roles are becoming more complex and interesting. In 2017 Gartner analysed 15 million global job ads from 2012-2016 and found a 60 per cent increase in demand for the capability to exploit technology—not create or manipulate technology. (See Capturing the Potential of Digital Innovation Through Skills Upscaling, 2017, Gartner).  Businesses are looking for the ability to apply technology to business processes. The challenge for HR is that this type of talent is limited – the war for talent will escalate. We need to be thinking now about strategies to build or buy the right kind of skills or knowledge within our workforces to meet current and future skills gaps.  Look at what you have, what you need in the next 2-3 years (no one can predict anything beyond that) and come up with a plan to bridge the gap. Get your leadership team thinking about it now.

Some final thoughts…

This is a time when emotional intelligence, creativity, empathy and persuasion are at a premium … and HR has this in spades.  

In the words of John Hagel III “…the only way to create value in a more differentiated and rapidly changing product world will be to redefine work at a fundamental level to focus on distinctly human capabilities like curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence”.

We get to deal with incredible change right before our eyes, and the possibilities that come with new environments and capabilities are sensationally inspiring.

It’s time to focus on creating more support for our peers in a time that –while exciting – can be incredibly tumultuous.