What Is the Next HR Phase?

This is a post that asks a simple question.

What will the next phase of HR be?

Right now we’re in the “Engagement” phase. Everyone is focused on employee engagement as the panacea for corporate performance. We’ve been through a few phases over the years and I’m feeling that itch on my left ear means “the times they are a-changing.” Something new is going to come in and take the place of engagement pretty soon. Just like employee engagement took the place of employee satisfaction, and satisfaction took the place of meeting minimum legal requirements. And meeting requirements took the place of simply tracking compliance. And tracking compliance took the place of taking advantage of employees like they were rented mules. I’ve read that maybe we ought to be talking about “employee marriage” since it is the logical next step in the “engagement” process. I swear I did not make that up. That was a big-time consultant who thunk that up.

But here’s the point – like everything else in the world, the practice of HR WILL evolve.

What we thought was the solution yesterday won’t be the solution tomorrow. Mostly because the consultants will convince you that things have changed and we can’t do things like we used to. I mean – humans have changed soooo much since 1572 right? We’ve evolved haven’t we? I mean we use deodorant (some do – yeah, you know who I’m talking about) and iphones.

We HAVE to be different than we were just a few generations ago.

Except we’re not. We don’t evolve that fast.

But we will be looking at new ways to work with employees.

And I was wondering what that might look like.

It Will Be About 4 Things

Let me be really clear. I don’t have the answer. But I do know it won’t be employee marriage. I do think it will involve 4 things…

  1. Less technology
  2. Less “data”
  3. Fewer surveys
  4. More conversations

I know what you’re thinking. My list is the exact opposite of what you’re hearing and reading everywhere else. I’ve been on record before on some of these issues. I think we’re not only barking up the wrong tree with most of what is going on in HR, but we’re not even barking in the right forest!

I think we’ve tried so hard to use technology to make HR efficient that we’ve lost any hint of effectiveness. We are trying so hard to show we’re hip and “with it” like Marketing, we’ve lost sight of the fact that HR is about humans who aren’t logical, nor scalable. Technology makes human interaction less effective (we are trying to fix that with emojis but that just got us “Kimojis”.) Tech makes it faster but not necessarily better. Technology has a place – it is critical for getting the administrivia out of the way and allowing HR to do human stuff – but technology doesn’t do human stuff well.

And the data arms race is killing us. We’re measuring things because we can, not because we should. Does knowing how often I access the company intranet really help understand my engagement? Maybe I’m just not that interested in the Friday Refrigerator Clean-out discussion. Does knowing I was late three days in a two-week period mean I’m disengaged or does it simply means my kid has a virus? The data don’t know. And adding another survey to my already crowded email inbox doesn’t help you understand my engagement any better. I’m pretty sure that measuring my mood regularly will be as effective as simply giving everyone mood rings and checking them via optical recognition every week. More data through more surveys simply gives you more data – not more knowledge.


I truly think that we are on the cusp of a new HR age where we focus on training mangers about human beings and giving them tools to have better IN PERSON conversations. I know – it won’t be efficient. But it will be effective. We will teach managers how to have empathic discussions. We will help our managers find ways to connect the mission of the company to the mission of the employee in a way that allows everyone to grow and succeed. We will teach managers how to be less authoritarian and more empowering. Less control and more concern.

Will we need more managers? Probably. And we will be able to afford them. Because while I’m not bullish on tech and data for connecting with our human employees – I know it helps employees be more efficient in delivering value, which will free up money for better manager interactions. Or should I say conversations.

I know – old school right?

I started by saying I wasn’t sure what the next “phase” of HR is – I’m not, this is my guess.

What I’m really interested in is what you think about the next phase.

Trust me – there will be one. We’ve rung out most of the juice from this engagement lemon and we need to move on to new fruit. I’m betting your C-Suite isn’t going to stand for 30% engagement much longer.

Hit me with your predictions. And don’t say social media or employer branding.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Tim Gardner says:

    I think you are most certainly right about less data. The emergence of data tools in HR is only giving way to better planning, which, in general will not make people more effective. The conversation is what needs to happen. I estimate I have had 10,000 conversations with employees over the years, and I haven’t been a manager for most of these. But they make a difference, I believe. And, in general, talking to people is something that takes a lot of effort for me. It is much more about the quality and authenticity of the communication that matters. The employer brand lies in that exchange, not in social media presence or engaging recruitment websites.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks Tim. Appreciate the comment. I’m not anti-data – just that data is great about efficiency and managing “time” – which you mention when talking about planning. But I don’t think we’re using that freed up time to have more conversations. That’s what I’d like to see – maybe there should be a book about 10,000 conversations instead of 10,000 hours of practice!

  2. Graeme Creed says:

    HR needs to let managers “manage”. If they don’t have the skills (especially soft skills) find managers that do have the skills. This starts with the CEO. The day of the “head-kicker” is over. I have seen any number of great people leave “head-kickers” (they were not managers) to the detriment of the team. This left a team of people who had no where else to go because of skill-sets or age or whatever.

  3. Spot on. This jives with an interview I just did with the CHRO of a billion-dollar multinational that ended ratings-based annual reviews last year. So far so good, but according to the CHRO, the true test will come after the company puts managers through thousands of hours of training to – can you guess? – teach them how to talk to their direct reports.

  4. Ritu Parmar says:

    Security is of great concern when it comes to choosing a human resources management system. The data stored in a HRMS is highly profound, including proprietary company data and volumes of personal information about employees. Keeoing this in mind
    I think it is indeed a necessity for offices today to store organizational data along with employee data, and use them to manage the people related to the enterprise effectively.
    My office tried out this new HRMS solution Kwantify a few months ago and it seems to work really very well. I think you would see it here: http://www.kwantify.com

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