3 Key Predictions For the Human Resources Department of 2020

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First of two parts

The human resources department is doomed.

There is no viable future for the HR function, and HR professionals will inevitably be replaced by software. At least that’s what some are saying.

They’re wrong.

Without a doubt, software is changing how HR functions. But rather than spell the end of human resources, the nine experts I interviewed predict these changes will provide growth opportunities for HR professionals.

Here are three predictions about what will change and why, as well as how HR professionals can prepare. I’ll have three more predictions tomorrow.

1. In-house HR will downsize, outsourcing will increase

This prediction may seem somewhat, well, predictable. But the reasons our experts give for the change might surprise you.

Industry analyst Brian Sommer, the founder of TechVentive, claims a shift to smaller HR departments will be caused by new technologies and increased employee participation in HR processes. As he claims, “Many businesses are going to get a lot of capability done by better technology, more self-service and the employee doing a lot on their own.” For instance, employees will increasingly input their own data into self-service systems.

In addition, many transaction-heavy HR jobs will be outsourced entirely to HR agencies or specialists. Dr. Janice Presser, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, goes so far as to say, “Entry-level HR jobs, as they currently exist, will all but disappear as transactional tasks are consigned to outsourced services.”

Elizabeth Brashears, the director of Human Capital Consulting at TriNet HR, as well as Scot Marcotte, Barry Hall and Steve Coco of Buck Consultants, believe benefits administration will be particularly impacted as a result of increasing regulations and a globalized workforce. Brashears says, “As regulations surrounding employment, and particularly benefits, become more and more complex, I believe that companies will turn to field experts to help navigate through the landscape.”

Elaborating on this point, the experts at Buck Consultants say, “With employees taking on increasing responsibility for their benefits, we’ll see not only the administration of benefit programs but the entire benefits department become outsourced. Service firms will offer ‘benefit-in-a-box’ models that will offer cost-effective, bundled health and welfare, wellness and retirement plans to organizations.”

Nonetheless, the internal HR function will survive.

As Chip Luman, the COO of HireVue, explains, “Given the ongoing regulatory environment, the need to pay, provide benefits, manage employee relations issues, and process information will go on.”

2. Strategic thinking will be HR’s new core competence

The leaner version of HR that remains will need to reposition itself as a strategic partner within the business. In fact, the trend toward smaller, more strategy-focused HR departments was predicted 11 years ago in SHRM’s 2002 report, The Future of the HR Profession.

More recently, an Economist Intelligence Unit report stressed the need for C-suite executives to partner with HR to drive growth. In support of that, over half the experts I interviewed mentioned that HR needs to increase its strategic value to the business – or else.

Dr. Presser says, “This includes the ability to make accurate projections based on understanding the goals of the business and using metrics that describe more than lagging indicators, such as how long it takes to fill a job or the per-employee training spend.”

This strategy role cannot be outsourced. As Dr. Presser says, “Strategic planning requires in-house expertise.”

In fact, Brashears predicts the trend toward a more strategic HR function may even drive the creation of new job titles. As she explains, “HR Professionals will likely transition into HR Business Professionals who not only understand HR implications but also business operations and strategy.”

3. The pendulum will swing back to the specialist

Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations, observes a cyclical shift in the HR field. As she explains, “Every decade or so we fluctuate back and forth from the paradigm of the independent contributor/specialist to the generalist practitioner. We were in a ‘generalist’ mode and now I think the pendulum may be swinging back toward the specialist.”

Luman puts it more bluntly: “HR generalists as we know them will disappear.”

Brashears agrees, noting that “There will be more specialized roles. I believe this to be the case as the employment landscape becomes more complex with changing regulations around employment law and benefit compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”

Tomorrow: Analytics & Big Data, managing remote workers, and how HR will become more like Marketing.

This was originally published on Software Advice’s The New Talent Times blog.