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Professor Dave Ulrich, the father of modern-day HR thinking and one of the world’s most respected business thinkers, has often said that “HR isn’t about HR—it’s about the business.”1 

The wisdom that an organization’s best asset is its employees has never been more evident than in the past few years. From the onset of the pandemic, employers have sought ways to retain employees and find workable solutions to everyone’s needs, while simultaneously ensuring profits and delivering value to stakeholders. 

The HR department of every organization has the potential to—and should be used to—drive growth through finding, obtaining and retaining the best talent to fulfill short-term and long-term objectives. 

But is the HR model still working effectively in the 21st century, addressing the digital age, pandemic and post-pandemic strategies and the ongoing work-from-home (WFH) revolution? Do modern HR teams focus on brand reputation and marketing to top candidates, ensuring they know what the organization has to offer them today and into the future? 

Let’s explore more about the vital role of HR today and in the future. 

How Are Organizations Changing from a Traditional to Modern HR Model? 

A February 2021 Balance Careers article from Susan M. Heathfield stated that “Some industry commentators call the function of Human resources the last bastion of bureaucracy.”2 

Since the traditional role of HR largely focused on serving as the policing arm and of executive management to handle employee matters, from onboarding and FMLA to disciplinary actions and terminations, the bureaucratic designation was warranted. 

However, modern HR does and should look quite different. Forward-thinking organizational leaders are looking to the HR role to promote equally forward-thinking practices that support important organizational decisions and actively facilitate profitability. The goal is to create a transformative environment for an HR department to grow and thrive to meet the needs of the employees and the organization. 

3 New Roles of the HR Professional 

A core idea behind changing the role of the HR professional is to reverse the idea that “HR is the enemy.” Organizations don’t want employees to fear encounters with HR. They want them to understand that HR does not solely exist to serve the needs of executive management, but instead, it is crucial that they see them as a resource for their needs to find professional fulfillment while serving the organization, customers and stakeholders. 

Essentially, many organizations are giving their HR departments a facelift by creating new roles that inspire positive engagement. 

Here are three new roles that can transform HR from a traditional to a modern role. 

1. Brand Reputation Manager 

While many feel that the marketing department solely manages brand reputation, it has become an increasingly important function for HR to “sell” the organization to talent. Amid the ongoing Great Resignation, it’s all hands on deck to find, attract and sign the best candidates available, and to let employees know what the organization stands for and how they will fit in and whether their talents will be appreciated.3

One way to reflect your brand value is to focus on building and fostering a strong organizational culture that inspires and reflects an upbeat, cooperative workforce and employee satisfaction. When HR teams do this, organizations experience a better brand reputation through positive social media engagement, online reviews and word of mouth. 

HR leaders and team members might enhance brand management with the following strategies: 

  • Becoming a storyteller, sharing positive employee stories and interactions in blog entries or social media posts. 
  • Investing in tech and software solutions that simplify the engagement process between employees, management and HR. 
  • Serving as an employee partner and advocate, finding and facilitating strategies for better work-life balance and work satisfaction. 

2. Data Analyst

An organization’s data is an essential tool in many processes and decisions. HR can rein the power of data, letting technology do a great deal of the legwork. Many organizations are investing in HR systems, according to the World Economic Forum, to help mine data about their workforce and use it to retain and hire the best talent for the role and the organization.

With the right data analytics platform, HR departments can stop relying on spreadsheets and manual reports to get meaningful, accurate results in an instant, avoiding employee turnover or losing high-quality talent to the competition. 

Gain deeper insights using data mining and analysis into HR functions such as:

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Retention 
  • KPIs
  • Engagement
  • And more 

When HR leaders understand why they are seeing an uptick in employee turnover or note that an otherwise talented employee is failing in some area, they can dig deeper, find answers, and ideally, correct the situation. 

3. Change Agent 

Maintaining the status quo, and in some cases stagnating, is no longer an option for organizations and their HR departments. The business landscape was changing long before the COVID pandemic, forcing executive and HR leaders to reevaluate the traditional HR model and reexamine managing the modern employee. 

Today, change has become the default for organizations trying to attract employees back to the workplace, leaving remote scenarios that worked in their favor while also benefiting the organization during lockdowns. HR leaders need to find ways to toggle the line between working on behalf of their employer and on behalf of employees and their changing needs. The tightrope has never been narrower for HR professionals trying to maintain a balance between these two forces and customers, stakeholders, and the organization’s brand image. 

HR leaders can champion strategic change to reflect the frequent evaluation of the organization’s effectiveness in all areas, listening to all affected, or potentially affected parties in a given situation. They can work to find the best move to address and reflect everyone’s needs while protecting the well-being of the organization and its strategic goals. 

What Does the Future Hold for HR? 

As the business world continues its recovery process after the peak of the pandemic crisis and the ongoing aftermath, it’s clear that HR plays a vital role in the health of organizations now and in the future. 

More than ever before, employees are experiencing a wider-than-ever range of job choices, empowering them to take risks amid high demand for talented labor.5 This fact means that, for the foreseeable future, HR will remain the organization’s linchpin of employee, management and stakeholder satisfaction.