HR’s new playbook: what are the rules of the game?

Traditional assumptions about the makings of great HR are being challenged, which is giving rise to a new playbook for HR

Traditional assumptions about the makings of great HR are being challenged, according to strategy expert Rita McGrath, who said these are giving way to new models which are more adaptable in line changing workforce dynamics.

Changing employment expectations are behind this shift, and McGrath said multiple models will exist in the future which will allow for people who are entrepreneurs at heart and who don’t want to move up an organisational hierarchy.

“Maybe they don’t want traditional career progression and just want to work from project to project,” said McGrath.

“So I think this is something we’re going to have to get more skilled at managing.”

A second contributing factor is that the traditional trade-offs that people used to make between what a job gave them and what they did for the company are beginning to break down.

Traditionally, McGrath said a company offered their employees stability and a predictable kind of reward for a predictable set of outcomes in exchange for loyalty to the company, helping the company realise return on its investments and following the company line.

“That’s starting to break down now, and what we’re seeing is a shift towards more of a mutual benefit deal where employers benefit from certain skills and capabilities, in exchange for a work environment which allows individuals to do and benefit from things they couldn’t do on their own,” she said.

“HR will need to have its ear to the ground outside their company, figuring out where the sources of talent are and where to be looking for really good people”

A third element is a shift to what McGrath calls the “tour of duty” workforce, where people are employed as long as a particular project runs for, and then they move onto whatever’s next.

“There are some companies which are already organised like this,” she said.

“If you think about most big project-based firms and construction companies, people don’t sign on for a job for life anymore.

“They sign on for a project and the company pulls together the talent for that particular project, and when the project is done they reshuffle the deck and people move on.”

McGrath also predicted that HR will be at the nexus of more external networks in the future in order to understand where potential talent pools may lie.

“HR will need to have its ear to the ground outside their company, figuring out where the sources of talent are and where to be looking for really good people,” she said.

“So how does HR source these people? How do you find them?

“How do you convince them that they’re going to leave what’s probably a great place where they are right now, to come and work for a company like yours?

“What can you do to help your company become a talent magnet? I think we’re going to see much more husbanding of alumni networks in this process.”

McGrath said McKinsey was a good example of this, as it cultivates a network of alumni, many of whom become useful resources, clients or come back to the firm again in some way.

For the full interview with McGrath and story on how HR can put its new playbook into practice, see the current issue of Inside HR magazine. Image: Lisa Berg