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HR Evolution: Past, Present & Future

HR Evolution: Past, Present & Future

As the HR function continues to undergo rapid development and changes due to technology and globalization, it might be interesting to take a short trip to the past and discuss how the role has evolved and what implications it holds for the HR professional in the present and the future. 

The Past: A Backend Support

The modern form of Human resources has arguably started from the early days of the industrial revolution in the 18th century where factories first introduced programs to enhance the satisfaction of workers so as to increase their productivity. It was only another century after that that organizations introduce the Personnel Management department to take care of employee related issues and compliance to labor laws. Human resources at this point in time played a largely administrative and supportive role. 

With globalization and the emergence of MNCs in the 70’s, personnel process and procedures revolving around the globalized workforce became more complex and the demand for increasing competent and skilled knowledge workers intensified, culminating into  what was coined the war for talent by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & company. 

This ushered in time of HR Management and Development where human resources managed complex HR information systems across the globe, ensured competitive and equitable compensation and benefit systems and orchestrated the training, development and     placement of the right talents in the right position and the passing of the leadership baton through its talent management and succession planning strategies. 

The Present: A Strategic Ally

As HR continued to add value to the organization and deliver better results, its position slowly morphed into what is more commonly known as a HR business partner role where HR professionals add greater value through a strategic focus with their business knowledge. Instead of a purely supportive role, HR now partners the business to provide holistic, long term and results focused solutions as a strategic ally.

As a case in point, we can look at the recruitment or talent acquisition function. It’s no longer about filling headcounts now. It’s not even about finding good people. It’s about find the right people who are not only good in their job but can also fit into the organization culture. It’s about finding the right people who are passionate and have the potential to take on bigger roles in the future. It might even mean tweaking the job sometimes to fit the job to the talent in certain cases. And this can only be done by a HR professional who knows the business demands well by working closely with the line managers.

As the expectation gets higher, naturally, the demand for the tools, skills and knowledge of the HR professional scales up accordingly, as its role becomes more collaborative and advisory. HR might even need to take the lead at times, such as when driving cultural changes or during implementation of new business processes and models like shared service centers.  

The Future: Accelerated Changes

If past trend was anything to go by, we can all be sure that the HR function will evolve at a more accelerated rate. While it took more than a century for when employee welfare program started to the launch of the Personnel Management function in companies, it only took several decades for the metamorphosis of the Personnel Management into the Human Resource Management and Development functions. And subsequently, for its evolution into the current variation as a strategic business partner, it took barely two decades.  

As digitalization, technology, internet and social media continue to shape the world, it is certain that HR will continue to play a more strategic role and manage more complex functions. This present diverse opportunities for HR to add and create value through its data analytics, management of a generational changes in workforce to Gen Y & Z and also the advent of new learning technologies such as e-learning, mobile learning and gamification, just to list a few. 

Thus, it is timely and heartwarming that a website such as came to fruition as HR professionals alike now have a very useful platform, community and resource centre to share ideas and thereby accelerate their learning to keep up with the accelerating evolution of the HR function.


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