The Future of HR is Autonomous

Laurie Ruettimann HR Vendors, Laurie Ruettimann, Trench HR, War for Talent

I haven't read the book HR Champions because there are much better things to do with my life. I need to finish the first season of Homeland. I would like to travel to India. I still haven’t finished Moby Dick.

(Don't tell my English teacher.)

I have bigger aspirations for my life than reading a book about Human Resources, but I do have access to Google. So I looked up an interview where the author of HR Champions, Dave Ulrich, discusses his seminal book and talks about the four roles of HR.

You’ve read some of this before. Ulrich suggests that HR should be one or all of the following:

  1. A strategic partner to the business. Our work in HR should build organizations that create value, whatever the hell that means. We all know HR doesn’t build organizations.
  2. A change agent. This is where we help an organization move fast and make changes quickly based on external market forces. I think that’s hilarious because I always associate the words Human Resources with fast.
  3. An employee champion. This is different than being an employee advocate, which is akin to being a communist sympathizer in the 1950s. Ulrich wants you to champion high-performing employees and help the organization nix the rest.
  4. An administrator. This is the only one that really rings true for me. HR needs to be fast, cheap and invisible. We still have to shovel poop for the CEO and make sure the employees have snacks in the vending machines.

Hmm. T

his all sounds really great for a 1990s style of Human Resources leadership, doesn't it? The problem is that this model is still the only real model we have to define HR, recruiting, benefits, compensation, payroll, compliance, etc.

There isn't much else.

I wonder: Haven’t we evolved beyond being business partners and consultants? What’s the next, great HR model? And who do you know that’s doing it? Because everyone I know who is doing great HR is actually trying to work herself out of a job and into something better.

  • She is leading the automation of 'personnel management' and solving problems with cloud-based mobile tools.
  • She is tracking everything — from staffing to the exit process — so that she can use metrics on the employment life cycle to teach leaders how to lead in her absence.
  • She is hyper-focused on revenue and profitability, which means she is focused on reducing the cost of labor. This includes her own labor.
  • She is eager to implement ideas and concepts on crowd-sourcing, transparent management styles and self-directed teams to ensure that her workforce stays union-free.

Yes, she is still replacing the candy in the vending machines with apples. But she is also doing so much more. The best Human Resources professionals are no longer business partners, strategic consultants or administrators. They are autonomous leaders.

And I suspect that the person who transcends Ulrich and defines the next great HR competency model will have a thirty-year career selling that model — over and over again — to HR associations around the world.

It won't be me, though. I will be too busy catching up on what's happening between Carrie and Brody.

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Laurie Ruettimann is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur based in Raleigh, NC. She’s working on her next book about fixing work due out in 2020.