The future of HR: What you need to know

The future of HR: What you need to know


By Ian Hopkins –

Everyone knows that there are some key capabilities that HR professionals need to be across to be effective and successful. These capabilities include the ability to  influence, manage relationships, think critically and commercially, and demonstrate resilience.

David Ulrich (probably the most quoted person in HR… and now the richest) has also developed a range of additional capabilities. These marry with his HR model, which is now the HR structure used in the vast majority of large companies.

But will these existing capabilities be enough to equip HR professionals for the challenges they will face in a radically changing environment? This month, we ponder some of the future capabilities that might be required for HR career success in years to come.


As reported in the February edition of Boss Magazine, two researchers from the Institute of the Future in the US, Dean Findler and Marina Gorbis, identified capabilities that will apply to the future. Many of these apply directly to the HR market. So what are these future capabilities?


All disciplines deal with an abundance of information. With shrinking teams, increased complexity and higher expectations of performance, HR professionals are often in ‘information overload’. The first capability identified by Findler and Gorbis is Cognitive Load Management, which is all about the capability to filter information  and focus on what’s important. It’s all about absorbing the ‘white noise’ and prioritizing the big ticket items.

Some may say that there is nothing new about the challenge of prioritizing in HR, but that would massively underestimate the challenges of the future HR Business Partner role. As the key single points of contact acting as business consultants to business groups, the HR Business Partners of the future will be buried unless they can deal with a massive amount of data and information.


As HR teams are being more geographically spread, technology improvements are enabling communications to continue, ideas to be shared and productivity to be evaluated. However, leading and harnessing a distributed HR team’s efforts is a challenge.

The ability to motivate, develop and lead HR communities with a range of local geographic challenges will become a more commonly sought-after capability.


Creating, presenting and manipulating information visually with credibility for organizations in the forms of video, blogs and podcasts will be a key HR communication strategy in the future. At this point, most HR professionals aren’t thinking beyond LinkedIn in terms of social media.


The ability to respond easily and quickly to different cultural contexts will be a key future HR capability. Findler and Gorbis illustrated that research has shown that different working and thinking styles are truly powerful if harnessed appropriately.

In any conversation with an experienced HRD who has ‘real’ responsibility for large numbers of contributors in different markets, they will say that their key contribution and passport to success is translating and adapting the business drivers across different cultural settings.


Big data and the capability to use analytics (through user-friendly software packages or not) to hone decision-making will be a key capability in the future for HR professionals. This capability is what Findler and Gorbis described as Computational Thinking.

The importance of Adaptability has also been identified as critical. It’s all about not coming to the game with a prescribed play book and being able to deal with each situation on its merits.


As HR Business Partners are expected to build organisational capability through consulting to the business, the capability to confidently communicate in the languages of other disciplines will be a key.

As described by Howard Rheingold in his T-model, it is about having depth in the one discipline (being HR), combined with the ability to communicate across a broad range of other disciplines. He described that there is a requirement to achieve this by being curious and having a willingness to continue to learn.


As everyone knows in HR, the pace of change and the pressure to perform are constant. There is a clear focus on HR Operating Models being redesigned to ensure the best HR services are being delivered for the lowest cost available. Some of the capabilities described by Findler and Gorbis could become key success factors for HR professionals and their careers in these new operating models.

Understanding the direction of future trends and staying relevant is really the only option for HR professionals who intend to build a career on being able to build both organisational and leader capabilities.

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