There used to be a perception – albeit a false one – that the role of HR consisted largely of administrative tasks. In recent years, however, the discipline has begun to gain greater recognition for the role it plays in corporate strategy, particularly through effective talent management, and now that old perception is increasingly distant. The impact of a worldwide skills shortage, the hangover from a global recession and a corporate world moving faster than ever before, has meant that talent management is not just an HR buzzword but a business imperative.

This was one of the key topics at our recent Cielo Talent Rising Summit which involved senior HR representatives from leading employers such as Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Telefónica and British Airways. During the event, Christopher Sanderson – founder of the Future Laboratory – suggested we are now in a time when the pivotal impact of talent has been fully recognised and, as such, HR has become one of the ‘sexiest’ of professional disciplines.

According to Sanderson, the workplace has already gone through a huge amount of change. The hunt for a job for life has been replaced by a longing for lifetime learning and new experiences. There has also been a clear shift from competition to collaboration, from presenteeism to productivity and from inhibition to invention. Where HR was once tasked with keeping employees happy, now it is asked to find and incorporate the latest generation of diverse, digitally talented future leaders.

But what are the key drivers behind this new change?

One of the reasons for this shift is the desire for a greater degree of flexibility in the workplace. Sanderson enforces the idea of a ‘freelance fraternity’, where self-employment and fixed term contracts are the ‘new normal.’ This has placed less emphasis on financial rewards and more on a willingness to embrace work-life balance.

He also suggests that there has now been a ‘feminisation’ of the workplace, where attributes that are commonly associated (rightly or wrongly) with women have risen to the fore. The financial crisis has inspired the collapse of the “work-hard, play-hard” culture and it has been replaced with one where collaboration and engagement have become more important.

So, what does this mean for HR professionals?

Clearly, as a result of these developments, HR has become a more complicated discipline than it was in the past. Indeed, as Cielo’s own Andrew Manning stated at the event, we are now operating with a workforce made up not only of multiple generations, but also of permanent, temporary and contract staff. In order to get the best out of employees, HR must tailor its support to each of these specific groups. Rather than applying the same incentives, management style and motivation to the workforce as a whole, HR needs to connect with employees on an individual basis. Talent is much more diverse and flexible than it was in the past, and a company’s talent management strategy should be a reflection of this.

The summit also examined the importance of ‘bleisure’ for employees – i.e. the blurring of lines between work life and social life. Rather than simply looking at the salaries and bonuses that a company offers, candidates now value the overall experience both inside and outside of the office. This is something which human resources must embrace – through organising extracurricular events or arranging flexible working hours, for example– to make sure both current and future employees get the best overall experience.

As I outlined on the day, public image has always been crucial to the business world. Now, however, companies are realising the importance of their internal image and how they promote themselves from within when it comes to talent attraction. This is increasingly falling to HR teams, and as a result professionals in the discipline are having to liaise more closely and meaningfully with their internal communications department.

The key question then, is how can HR maximise its people strategy in this new business world?

As the majority of delegates at the event acknowledged, HR must now be innovative in supporting the workforce rather than relying on traditional models. This means embracing new concepts such as ‘bleisure’ and flexible working patterns so that they can satisfy their best talent. Businesses have realised that you cannot keep a workforce motivated simply with financial incentives – it now takes much more. Just as in-house recruiters strive to achieve a positive candidate experience so should HR professionals seek this for existing staff.

Most importantly, companies must constantly engage with their employees, interacting and getting as much feedback as possible. Although this has arguably always been the case, it is now emerging as one of the most important parts of the role. HR departments that can embrace the change and make a genuine connection with the workforce are those that will be able to make the most positive contribution to their organisations.       

Article by Sue Brooks, who is Executive Vice President at Cielo