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HR in 2021: How technology and culture have reinvented purpose

HR has earned a seat at the table, but how can it keep it?

Louie Lugo


Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Unleash Your Curiosity Cultural and technological changes have altered the purpose of HR globally for good. But what should HR professionals be focussing on today and what should be the primary goal of the function overall?

  • Advances in technology, changes in cultural awareness and organizational philosophy have catalyzed a major shift in the purpose of HR.
  • The function now needs to concentrate on how it can have a greater positive impact on the organization’s ability to reach its primary goals.
  • HR needs to drive organizational effectiveness in the public sector, as well as positive business outcomes in the private sector.

Throughout my 18-year career, I have noticed a wide range of interpretation regarding the purpose and function of human resources.

I find this both fascinating and intriguing. The interpretation varies depending on who you ask. Perhaps there are many variables that affect the answer such as industry, organization size, business model, culture, and company philosophy. This is a point of professional curiosity worth exploring further.

The Evolution of HR’s Purpose

The evolution of HR over the past 40 years is pivotal to this narrative. In the early 1980s, Human Resources was almost purely transactional, largely limited to the organizational basics of day-to-day administrative tasks, compliance, employment law, and recruiting. Part of this evolution is due to advancements in technology, the internet, changes in cultural awareness, and organizational philosophy.

It is worth recognizing some of the most significant elements that we have gained in that 40-year evolution. This includes a wide array of relevant electronic or online platforms such as LMS, HRIS, HCMS, ATS, CRM, and BI created to streamline a litany of tactical functions and streamline a myriad of administrative tasks that used to serve as the sole purpose of human resources.

The landscape in 2021

The landscape of HR in 2021 is vastly different.

Much of the field has embraced broader concepts outside of the transactional realm. Compensation has evolved into Total Rewards.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is becoming a core element in the comprehensive HR support model to create more effective organizations. Many functions of the past that were entirely completed by manual paper processes are now completely online, automated, and paperless.

Discussions of workplace and organizational culture are now a topic of priority in many organizations. Globalization has created a world in which the speed of communication and the sharing of ideas has built a more dynamic, faster-moving world. Because of this broad evolution, the field of human resources has transmuted into something quite different than it was four decades ago.

There are other relevant parts of this evolution around semantics. We have seen a shift of titles and verbiage from ‘human resources’ to ‘people’. This has been especially true with titles.

As we move forward in time, we have seen titles such as ‘VP of HR’, and ‘Chief Human Resources Officer’ supplanted by ‘VP, People Operations’, and ‘Chief People Officer.’

Also, the term ‘HR’ is sometimes referred to as ‘people management and strategy’ to encompass a broader, more comprehensive approach to the field.

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Finding your individual purpose

These changes aside, I have also noticed the question regarding the purpose of HR is also relevant to the role of the HR professional, the individual.

In terms of alignment, there are times when the individual must ask themselves three questions:

  1. What does this organization need most?
  2. What are my professional passions? Present and future.
  3. What is the alignment of the needs of the organization and my professional passions?

These can be important questions when one is contemplating career trajectory and avenues of professional development.

The purpose of HR is a little different depending on the needs of the organization. And although I have heard of several philosophies on the subject, it is my humble belief the following is most true:

The primary function of Human Resources is to facilitate the success of organizations and promote the ability for people to thrive.

All functions, tasks, goals, and objectives fall within this single ethos.

We now take a broader look into how HR can contribute more effectively and essentially to the primary goals of the organization, to drive organizational effectiveness in the public sector, and positive business outcomes in the private sector.

With every passing year, transactional HR is becoming an item of the past. We continue to integrate every piece of internal and external data to be more adaptive in the global market, more versatile, and more competitive.

Discussion of culture has shifted away from the organization and focused more on the individual, their wants and needs, and what makes people intrinsically fulfilled.

It is largely believed that fulfillment in the workplace is the most effective path to employee engagement, and a fulfilled, engaged workforce often promotes organizational success. Human Resource’s role is to support people and organizations to be their best!

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