Peering into the future, Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal at human resources consulting firm Inflexion Advisors, sees changes coming. No matter if alterations are big or small, he says the biggest mistake HR leaders can make is stopping and waiting to see what happens.
Stelzner talked with HR analyst, brand strategist and podcaster Meghan M. Biro about how HR can build a more resilient workforce. He contends HR should lead the charge, updating the way organizations work to survive and thrive in their new reality.
From the start, Stelzner said HR leaders need to create a common language that everyone can use to talk about work. Such a common mindset is good preparation for whatever lies ahead.
“HR must be prepared for the relentless pace of change,” he said. “This speed should align directly with the pacing of the overall organizational shifts.
“In regard to burnout, HR must acknowledge their overt role in the cause of the problem in addition to treating the effect through emotional wellbeing programs,” Stelzner said.
He wants HR and the rest of management to be smart before encouraging more training.
“Do we think about tours of duty and instead allow employees to ‘graduate’ and return later with additional skills?” Stelzner said. “If HR is ubiquitous itself, how do we lead through demonstration? Start with what we can control.”
This means HR needs to adapt to the needs of new hires.
“We need bespoke offerings that are unique to the individual,” Stelzner said. “That is what we expect as consumers, so why should it be different at work?”
Entrepreneurs need to view HR as crucial to company strategy, but he added “a slight caveat.”
“HR does not own culture or engagement,” Stelzner said. “This is the responsibility of everyone to foster and maintain, and it was rarely universal.”
Biro also cautioned about needlessly inducing stress.
“HR can play a major role in reducing burnout among employees,” she said. “Reducing burnout is only going to become more important.
“Talent development is going to be big in the next few years,” Biro said. “Start in-house and focus your energy on developing the talent you have.”
Time extracts a price.
Rather than doing too much all at once, HR can make small changes now to better prepare for the future. In Stelzner’s words, “If you do wait, it’s too late.”
“The first step is not waiting,” Biro said. “Make a plan. There’s a reason that saying ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ has stuck around so long.
“Make sure everything you do — and every decision you make — is tied to your organization’s key priorities,” she said.
Overreaching will be counterproductive for the entire company.
“Insofar as small changes, HR must start with what you absolutely control — your processes, your providers, your own teams,” Stelzner said. “This requires a well-socialized prioritization model. This guides the operationalization of your strategy and allows ‘start, stop, continue’ in an emotionless way.
“Skills are the currency of the future,” he said. “We need a common language and taxonomy because of this very fact.”
Entrepreneurs need not look far to find the answer to their challenges.
“The lens of your internal customer — the employee — is the most critical design factor,” Stelzner said. “Move from ‘learn, do’ to ‘learn, do, rest, reskill, do…’”
Biro sees tomorrow’s HR as the ultimate change agent.
“I know one thing for sure: Reskilling is the future,” she said. “The more things change, the more they will continue to change.”
Stelzner was reticent about the prospects for change, not believing “the balance sheet of the future will benefit the worker.” This is in light of more artificial intelligence and automation integrated throughout organizations.
“The question becomes, what is critically human-centric and human-powered,” Stelzner said.
Meanwhile, he envisions gig and project work fitted together on a global scale.
“There will be a more dynamic, team-based approach to work with dynamically assembled workers to power key initiatives,” Stelzner said. “The future is here.
“But do we understand the skills needed?” he said. “Have we proactively engaged with those worker classes ripe for elimination and automation to focus on retraining now?”
Stelzner then posed “a controversial question. If managers were truly proficient, would you need HR in the future?”
He left the query hanging with final advice: “Start small and think big.”