When companies release the next major version of software, it’s easy to mark the transition. We know when Product 2.0 gives way to Product 3.0, and how the new iteration changes the way we’ll interact with the software.
The next wave of human-powered business iterations is much harder to predict and understand. We often don’t realize a paradigm shift has happened until it’s upon us.
For Dr. Karie Willyerd, workplace futurist at SAP human capital software company SuccessFactors, analyzing emerging trends and advising business leaders on the next iteration of business functions is not only possible – it’s her job.
The co-author of The 2020 Workplace and Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace works with businesses and individuals alike to understand how the workplace is likely to change for employees and executives.
Drawing on insights from the comprehensive Workforce 2020 report from Oxford Economics and SAP, Willyerd sees the human resources function in business at an “inflection point.” As told to HC magazine, Willyerd says that if HR 1.0 was marked by labor and personnel relations and HR 2.0 “was the Dave Ulrich model with business partners, a strategic focus, centers of expertise and so on. I think we’re [on] the verge of an HR 3.0.”
This impending shift to an evolved role for human resources in business will be marked by the entrance of the Millennial generation into higher echelons of the workforce.
What Do Millennials Have to Do With It? The Generation Shaping the Future of HR
There’s been a lot written about Millennials in the workforce, from the gushing to the unflattering. What’s undeniable is that the Millennial generation now makes up a significant portion of the workforce, passing the Baby Boomers as the largest working population. By 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce.
From a human resources point of view, Willyerd sees the emerging trend clearly: Millennials – and especially those who are high-potential employees and executives – simply expect more from HR.
Oxford Economics and SAP’s study was one of the first large-scale studies to look at Millennials in the C-suite. The findings showed a “super dramatic” 30-point difference between common opinions among Millennial executives and non-Millennial executives. Said Willyerd to HC, “What they’re saying is that we’re not innovative enough. There’s a big emphasis on diversity. Millennial executives…say we don’t collaborate enough.”
Future-Proofing HR Through Integrated Mentorship, Recruiting and Retention Efforts
So what exactly defines HR 3.0? How will this next iteration of HR “future-proof” the business function to serve the next generation of business leaders?
Willyerd sees a few major departures from the more distributed model of 2.0, which featured “centers of expertise, business partners and biz ops [sitting] in different places,” with “no integrating thread.”
A couple factors that will mark successful organizations:
More integration for a stronger strategic voice
If Millennials expect HR to serve as their voice in strategic business decisions, the responses from executives in the Workforce 2020 report indicate there’s still some work to be done.
Barely half of respondents indicated that HR helps to “drive strategy at the board level,” and almost a quarter of respondents said HR was an “afterthought in business planning” and consulted only after high-level decisions had been made.
Source: Workforce 2020 report
Keeping HR separate from the centers of decision-making in business is one trend Willyerd expects to change with the growth of Millennial executive leadership. “If you look at the Millennial workforce,” she told HC, “there are lots of indications they want to take advantage of some things that HR can bring to the table.”
Emphasis on mentorship
Millennials want to be coached. Raised to value collaboration, Millennial employees are less engaged in traditional employer-employee relationships.
A previous SAP and Oxford Economics study in 2014 showed this type of support as a major factor for Millennials.
HR will play an enormous role in ensuring that both mentors and mentees feel prepared to navigate those relationships in the current and future workplace.
Mentorship programs can create a competitive advantage for companies as a whole. As Willyerd writes in a piece on the World Economic Forum, “high-performing companies were nearly 10 percent more likely to have a mentoring program as compared to underperformers. Additionally, high-growth companies are 16 percent more likely to have a formal mentoring program than underperforming companies.”
Successful workplaces will embrace the Millennial desire for feedback and reinforcement, and will be rewarded with better retention of higher-performing employees and less turnover.
Success in the Future Workplace
In the foreword of Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace, Willyerd and her co-author Barbara Mistick write:
“Last year we had the opportunity to dig deeper on workplace trends in a massive global survey in collaboration with SAP and Oxford Economics. The hard data from our research uncovered a tremendous tension in the workplace. Respondents told us that their biggest concern about their jobs, by far, was that they would become obsolete at work.”
This, too, represents one of Willyerd’s main professional goals as a futurist – to help people stay relevant and engaged in a constantly evolving job market.
And this, too, represents a function for HR 3.0 – the reality of balancing a rapidly modernizing workforce and the needs of the individuals whose roles are shifting or disappearing entirely.