At the end of 2019, with the 2010s about to draw to a close, many of us were reflecting on the significant changes to the people profession in the recent past. Wellbeing and health had risen fast up the agenda for businesses, AI and automation were no longer ideas far in the future but real opportunities relevant to the present day, and monitoring, surveillance and workforce data were more important than ever post the GDPR. Like many in the people profession, we were curious about what the future holds – if these trends will continue, and what new ones will come over the horizon.
We decided to try to understand what trends may shape the profession – and the impact of these over the long term. While there are countless examples of Future of work research, the CIPD wanted to look at the challenge from a different angle by going deeper into how the profession is likely to change over the next ten years. We chose 2030 as a point in time to plot towards – a decade ahead of us in which to explore the ideas, issues, challenges and opportunities that people professionals might face. And as we moved into 2020 this was the perfect moment to reforecast our understanding of the future, and to connect with others from across the professional community to create our 2030 vision. Little did we know that COVID-19 would disrupt 2020, further highlighting the importance of looking forward to anticipate key risks and challenges.
People Profession 2030: emerging ideas from senior leaders
When the new CIPD Profession Map was launched in 2018 it established a new set of capabilities, skills and standards which better reflected the needs of the modern profession. The map is designed to support professionals as the world of work evolves. It is built with adaptation and evolution in mind, and as different trends change shape (for example, ageing workforces, increasing global skills, evolving technology) so too must the profession.
To understand what that means in practice we started to develop the People Profession 2030 project by speaking to senior leaders from across the profession to understand their views on which trends will play a key role over the next ten years. We explored how professional practice might change, how organisations may need to adapt, and how there may be new capabilities that will need to be built through professional development. Here are just some of their reflections:
Meeting the needs of the future workforce
A key trend of the future world of work is the changing needs and expectations of workers, and the importance of adapting professional practice to attract and retain individuals. It has long been accepted that careers are changing as individuals move into different forms of relationship at work. Therefore job design will need to evolve.
‘We need to design roles that fit the changing needs of the workforce, for example incorporating more personalisation into roles. We have to re-think jobs to accommodate new ideas. People now expect different experiences from work and careers – we need to think more about the blended workforce of the future.’ CHRO Public Sector
As well as job design to meet new needs, the working practices of line managers will also need to be shifted by the people function of the future.
‘People expect now to work flexibly in a more agile way – and in the public sector this benefit can be valuable as public sector firms can’t compete on pay… people want to earn money on their own terms now more than they used to… this impacts how we manage people. Individuals require more voice to do their work the way they know best. So, job descriptions need to change to enable people to move more freely and to provide autonomy.’ HR and OD Director Public Sector
Working across boundaries to create value
Another clear theme from across the interviews was the need for the profession to incorporate multiple-stakeholder perspectives into decision-making by looking beyond the boundaries of the organisation into networks across organisations and communities. This is particularly true for firms with large models based around outsourcing.
‘The future has to be about partnership working, for example, working with people outside of the organisation to deliver value. Working with other stakeholder groups, other organisations. We can’t do this as one organisation, we need to build excellent stakeholder relationships and excellent stakeholder management skills.’ CHRO Public Sector
This was also thought to be an important factor in delivering long-term value to the business. The profession will need to shift its focus to delivering value over the long-term but retain its roots of engaging people in work in a meaningful way. This was an exciting opportunity for some we interviewed.
‘The profession will need to shift again to focus on performance and productivity, but this time incorporating technology to deliver work more effectively. The role of the profession in this world will be to make it warmer, more real, more human. The profession will therefore need to take more responsibility for how people use technology. It needs to become smarter at understanding the tools and understanding the psychology.’ CHRO third-sector organisation
Evolving current skills, and developing new ones
As well as the changing nature of the function, there were also reflections that the skills base of the profession will need to evolve. This includes updating current expertise which is high value-add by embedding new skills and capabilities which are in high demand.
‘We have a massive shortage of skills around data and analytics more generally. We need to move the profession away from “I want to work in HR because I like people not numbers”. Feels as if HR is playing catch-up with the capabilities of technology and what value it can bring.’ CHRO Public Sector
‘The HR function will need to tap into different talent pools to enable full systems change. There are core skills and capabilities that are needed: strong generalist skills, HR technology and HR analytics skills, better partnering, plus new ones such as a deep understanding of colleague experience.’ HRD hospitality sector
This will also require a change in the understanding of people professionals to know the ins and outs of the business, and in particular its strategy and business model. To do this, there is a clear need to up the skills and capabilities of mid-career and senior leaders to understand the business and how it operates.
‘When we’re recruiting into the profession we not only want people who care deeply about the culture and values, but also strong financial acumen and commerciality. It amazes me when I talk to people professionals about their organisations – they tell me how many people work there, but they don’t understand how the organisation makes money.’ CHRO third-sector organisation
Next steps with the People Profession 2030 research
Across our initial interviews there was a great desire to understand how the changing workplace is likely to take account of broader issues such as sustainability, economic uncertainty, and increasing applications of technology in organisations. These are just some of the themes we will be exploring in the next stage of the research.
There are many important themes we must explore, and the next stage of the project will be to explore in more detail the insights and information that has already been published, before then working with professionals from across HR, OD and L&D to try to understand their views on the future of the profession.
Therefore, this summer we will be launching an online hackathon, an online engagement event to explore these themes and more with people professionals – to try and uncover, explore and co-create our vision for the People Profession 2030. The hackathon will enable people professionals to share ideas, debate, connect and collaborate with each other to define the future of the profession. These ideas will then feed into a shared vision for the future and will enable all people professionals to see how they can contribute to realising the future of the people profession.
The hackathon will take place 10-20 August 2020. Follow updates on the People Profession: now and for the future site and the CIPD’s social media channels for further details. Read the articles and blogs on our Latest insights page and prepare to share your vision of the future for the people profession.