Business leaders who happen to work in HR

Human resources is just one of many business areas that may be subject to outsourcing and whose responsibilities at times are vested in other management functions. HR consultant Jennifer McClure argues that to avoid extinction, human resources professionals need to deliver more than just the compliance and administrative side of their job.   

“Business leaders are looking to HR professionals for leadership,” she told delegates at the annual conference of the Cayman Islands Society for Human Resources Professionals.  

Despite the evident pressures that threaten to marginalize HR professionals in their organization, McClure believes the future is bright for anyone working in human resources because the number one challenge for senior management remains the question of how to attract and retain the right people for their business. 

But HR can only move forward in the future if the people in charge of personnel matters consider themselves experts whose job it is to solve business problems. This requires a better understanding of the business environment that HR workers are operating in and specifically how the business is making money. “We need to know how HR issues affect the business,” McClure said. 

Speaking the language of business, analyzing business data and translating staff matters into actionable recommendations for senior managers backed up by hard data are other steps to elevate the profession. The future of HR is tracking historical data with a view to predicting trends, according to McClure, who asked delegates whether they are looking into the future in their jobs and whether they are using data to tell a story. 

The HR profession has for years tried to “get a seat at the management table” and strategic thinking was advocated as the key to achieve this goal. But all the talk about strategic thinking leaves many people puzzled as to what it actually means, said McClure.  

She advised delegates to focus on how personnel issues can move the business forward, make it more profitable or improve customer service. Only by rising above the typical HR, compliance and legal issues can the profession overcome the danger of being outsourced. 

“You have got to find a way to relate it to money. How does it impact the bottom line?” 

In addition to knowing the business, thinking strategically and solving business problems, HR professionals also need to learn to influence change. McClure argued that one of the most common reasons senior HR people are replaced is because they don’t have an opinion. Instead they should be someone who has influence because management wants them to be involved and contribute. 

“Think of yourself as a business leader who happens to be in HR,” she encouraged delegates. 

Integrating Generation Z  

One of the business problems the profession will have to solve in the coming years is how to attract and integrate the latest cohort of employees into their organizations.  

Generation Z, the generation born in the mid 1990s or 2000s, is different from the tech savvy, well educated and idealistic Generation Y born a decade earlier, said Ryan Kahn, a career coach who works with college students and recent graduates. 

Last year, 94 percent of Generation Y members in employment were looking for another job in the pursuit of a higher salary, more growth opportunities and a higher sense of purpose. At the same time, 50 percent were either unemployed or underemployed. These statistics point to unique retention problems from a human resources perspective, Kahn said.  

Generation Z, in contrast, will have different characteristics. Although the oldest of the age group are only just turning 18, it is important to understand them, said Kahn, because they are expected to make up a considerable share of the workforce by 2020.  

Generation Z parents are interesting, he noted, because they lived through recessions, struggled with debt and encouraged their children to be realists. The result is the first generation that is born into a digital world – networked, highly connected and taught to be more individualistic and competitive compared to the group-oriented millennials, who were encouraged to dream. 

Kahn noted that Generation Z has seen people who have graduated but did not get the promised dream job. “They know that you have to work really hard to get what you want.”  

Because they were subjected to much more information than previous generations, Generation Z had to grow up faster and learn to multitask. Moving quickly from one task to another, however, caused the latest addition to the workforce to value speed over accuracy.  

The effect of having every type of information at their fingertips is that they have more time to be creative, but also that they learn differently. “They don’t memorize, they can just look it up. They learn visually,” Kahn said.  

Being tech-savvy, ambitious and socially minded, they want to work in companies that are cutting edge with a distinct and appealing brand identity that offer a clearly identifiable career path. Organizations have to build a digital presence or they will be invisible to this age group.  

However, the members Generation Z lack work experience since many typical jobs for teens, from parking lot attendant to paper boy, no longer exist. Employers need to be aware that they may need to teach some basic work ethics, and provide structure and feedback on the spot, Kahn advised. 

He recommended employers should in particular attempt to leverage the high degree of connectivity and creativity of this generation.  


Ryan Kahn