by Laura Phelan, Managing Director cut-e Ireland, an Aon company
If you’re looking to get ahead of the curve in the HR industry, you need to look beyond what’s happening in the HR space itself.
If you could forecast an early trend, you could capitalise on it because you’d be one step ahead of everyone else. This isn’t just true for investors in the stock market, it also applies in HR.
A trend is a pattern of gradual change – or the general movement of ‘data points’ in a certain direction over time. Trends occur in all walks of life, from music and fashion to society and business.
Often, a trend will be sparked by an innovation or an idea. Influencers and trendsetters will pave the way and ‘early adopters’ will enjoy the kudos and benefits of being in vogue.
For HR teams, an opportunity exists to differentiate your organisation if you can identify and adopt a new and more beneficial way of working before your competitors do. However, you can’t implement every new-fangled idea that is conceived. Instead, you need a reliable way of determining which trends will be valuable in the long term and which will be short-term fads.
Statistical tools and trend analysis offer a way to calculate risks and predict future outcomes from a mathematical perspective. But these are largely based on the belief that what’s happened in the past provides an indication of what will happen in the future.
This may apply to small linear or sequential developments. However, if this was universally true, we’d all be wealthy stock brokers. The truth is that plans and forecasts are easily disrupted by new technological innovations or fluctuations in demand. As an old Danish proverb proclaims: it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
Or is it? I’m not advocating the use of a crystal ball here. Quantitative analysis is driven by data rather than subjective managerial judgment. But ‘future thinking’ is one area where a rich knowledge of your subject may actually be more valuable.
So here are my four pieces of advice on how to become an HR trendsetter.
1. Get curious about the HR environment
Read HR news stories, subscribe to journals, attend relevant conferences and presentations. Proactively look out for new developments or changes that could impact on the HR services that you deliver in your organisation.
Look at what is happening in other countries or regions. The US sometimes neglects HR trends that emerge in Europe. US companies then get swamped by those trends when they eventually and inevitably capture attention. By this time, these companies have forsaken any real benefit that they could have gained from spotting those trends earlier.
2. Take a broader perspective
Some trends that impact on HR will have shown up first in other disciplines. It’s worth monitoring the developments in other fields, such as technology, marketing and finance to see if new driving factors in these disciplines could be applied to HR.
Gamification is an example of a trend which was evident in the entertainment and marketing arenas before it featured in HR and recruitment applications. Consult with your colleagues, watch TED Talks and find ways to stay abreast of interesting developments in different fields.
3. Consider global changes
Developments in the HR sector will undoubtedly be influenced by generic global trends, so you should try to take these into account.
Generic trends include the move towards convenience, simplicity, digitisation, personalisation, connectivity and artificial intelligence.
4. Connect the dots
If you have a good understanding of HR, you should be able to apply your knowledge and expertise to make connections from all of the above. This will help you to judge and determine which potential ideas will have traction in HR and which won’t.
This isn’t an exact science; it’s a judgement call. If you collect evidence – and if you can spot connections and form opinions about the potential of an idea – you should be able to make an informed judgement about how HR practice might evolve.
This isn’t just about predicting radical, game-changing developments in HR. It could simply mean finding a slightly better way to recruit, onboard, manage or engage people.
Small improvements that enrich the lives of employees can make a big difference to the bottom line. So try this: think about what you believe will be the key people challenges for organisations in the future. Have any similar challenges been resolved in other areas, sectors or countries? What can be learned from that? What technological or other developments might help to resolve the key HR challenges you’ve highlighted? What more needs to be done?
By stepping back from your daily distractions and thinking through questions such as these, you might start to see a bigger picture. You may even be able to make some ‘educated speculations’ about how HR practice might unfold – and whether or not you can take advantage of this in your organisation.
The dual challenge here is to be more aware of the changes and opportunities in the HR sector, while also being astute enough to envisage how developments and breakthroughs from other areas could be applied in HR.
To truly differentiate your HR practice, it’s not enough to just read about new HR developments in the media. If something is being written about, then others will already be doing it.
To get ahead of the pack, you need to consider what developments are noteworthy and what impact they could have on the management of people in your organisation.
When you think something will have a positive impact, find a way to trial it. If you can do your own research and your own pilot testing, you could be adopting the ‘next trend’ before others have even heard about it. You’ll then be reaping the rewards while others are playing catch up.