HR transformation: What’s changing in the world of HR?

HR transformation is not just a buzzword. The HRD is transforming, slowly but surely. Richard Cowley decodes the transition, the challenges, and the future of HR.

HR transformation - lead the way

After all my years of working in HR, I’m certain that the average employee is not looking for the HR department to agree with everything they say or ask for. Line managers or supervisors are not looking at us to do their ‘people work’ for them, either. I believe it is much simpler than that.

Line managers, supervisors, and employees want something far more fundamental – a meaningful relationship with the HR team.

What does a meaningful relationship mean? Hopefully – just like the relationship you have with your family members, partner, friends or closest work colleagues – a relationship where you can express yourself openly, where trust is a given (if you share in private, then it stays private). One where you can get support when you need help, whether it be to solve a problem, to receive coaching or feedback, get mentoring or counseling if you are having personal difficulties or simply, a space to be heard. If we think of relationships as a bridge between individuals or teams, these are the foundations that make the strength of the bridge. In the workplace, the number, quality, and outcome of interactions might reflect this. It goes without saying – a strong bridge can sustain more weight.

What is formally expected of the HRD?

I believe it is important to understand the formal role and expectations of the HRD before we explore how the HRD will contribute in the future.

The formal role or contribution of the HRD varies, depending upon many factors such as the belief of the company leader about how HR can contribute, the company size, your organizational job level, your contract or engagement type, etc. However, I find that the biggest impact on the role of HRD is often made by the history and context of the country itself. For example, USA or Australia are very developed countries where labour law is key, technology is a given, and the contribution of the HR team is focused on being a partner to the business, helping drive company opportunities. Developing the team is via individual coaching rather than training programs. In contrast, India is a country that is still using the term ‘personnel’ to describe the HR function in many places – this term itself implies a more administrative expectation, instead of the global expectation of a business-focused HR.

Finally, I should mention the few HR people who are misguided and believe that their role is to ‘control’ the HR Processes, using their HR role as a platform to wield their personal authority, to feed their need for dominance or power.

The challenges for HRD

As you can see, the clarity of our roles is still developing, with different contexts and expectations prevalent around the world.

The current HRD is challenged by many factors, impacting their ability to truly contribute to the business and fundamentally support employees. The challenges are many and can be put into the following buckets:


A lack of clarity around how the company wants the HRD to support employees. More enlightened organizations are looking for a balance between being a major contributor to the business and being the ‘voice of the people’, while the less enlightened simply want the payroll to be made every month. When I worked with a major multi-national company, they expected HR to manage the HR process performance only, e.g. was payroll on time, and were the performance reviews sent to the managers on time? In contrast, a smaller multi-national I worked with demanded that I help drive the performance of the entire organization focused on delivery of the business opportunities.


Management’s role is to lead the relationship with employees and the delivery of the people processes. However, many struggle to manage these important areas – either through lack of belief, motivation, or generally, capability. Leaders are often promoted into leadership positions without any training, development or structure.


Like any department, the funds available are dependent upon the business structure, profits, and success. Small or low margin businesses seldom have the funds to support their growth plans, and often, investment in people areas are not a priority. In addition, how budgets are used affects the ability to contribute, e.g. spending most of the HR budgets on hiring instead of developing people.

What does a transformed HRD look like?

The scope and importance of the HRD contribution is becoming clearer to leaders. Expectations are being set accordingly, and the key focus will be on helping the organisations, leaders, teams, and individuals to achieve more in the workplace.

This will be enabled by building organisational and individual capability, improved, data-driven strategies, a focus on value added HR processes instead of antiquated ones, and building leaders to become great at what they do.

The HRD will find the balance between the role of being a caring nurse who nurtures relationships, and that of a doctor, who analyses situations and provides solutions.

The transformation has begun – business and HR Leaders are driving the new, assertive HR world. New global HR processes are being introduced that aim to ensure that the antiquated past is made ‘current’ and relevant. Leaders are taking greater responsibility of their team, and being developed to provide them with capability as technology underpins and drives their behaviour.

In summary, coming soon to an organisation near you, is a new world of HRD. You should start to feel the impact in the coming year, and I am hopeful that you will begin to have positive beliefs about the function I am committed to transforming.

This article first appeared in the online edition of Business World.

About Malathi Jogi

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