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In an economic sense, it really is a ‘new world’; the pressures and challenges of a floundering global economy have forced organisations and individuals to change. Looking back to the years and decades before the recession, it seems clear that the vast majority of the organisational problems we are experiencing now were always there, but hidden by the strength of consumer demand and the ready availability of finance. When that came to a sharp halt in 2008, organisational and individual failings became simultaneously more obvious and more pernicious. The impact on the economy was unexpected, devastating and wide reaching.
So, where to next?
Our new world demands a new set of skills, a new way of approaching challenges, and a new appreciation of the so called ‘big picture’. But while we’re thinking of the big picture, we’ll increasingly be under the microscope. All functions are expected to contribute to the recovery, and HR has the challenge – and opportunity – of leading the way. The HR ‘renaissance’ of the last 20-30 years has, to a large extent, been model-driven. Best practice has been defined by well-publicised ways of doing things and the widespread application of accepted functional norms that span sectors and industries. Now, there is the potential that over-reliance on those popular models will impair our ability to show the flexibility, adaptability and entrepreneurialism required in a more exacting environment.
Together, the HR profession needs to re-examine practices and models in the new economic context. There is a clear need for pragmatism, and a move away from ‘straight line’ ways of thinking and working that are often ingrained in the way we do things. The function needs to ascend to the strategic engine
room, offering ‘organisation-level’ solutions, rather than piecemeal strategies. However, at the same time as broadening our focus, we need to narrow and refine our measurement paradigm to ensure that we are more regularly and effectively analysing – and promoting – the impact and effectiveness of everything we do. Of course, many principles remain valid and applicable: getting the vital basics right is the crucial foundation to HR effectiveness, and will set the platform for the function to move away from a process focus, concentrating on outcome driven thinking.
Our world changed so fast, and moved so far, that it’s hard to plan for the future. In the coming weeks, months and years, the new skills we’ll need to acquire and deploy will have a ‘macro’ focus. We’ll need to demonstrate judgement, guiding our own activities with no one telling us what to do. We’ll need to tolerate – and even embrace – ambiguity and constant change, since the economy is no longer running in a straight line. We’ll need to be flexible and adaptable to internal and external drivers alike, as they manifest themselves with increased frequency.