The Managing Director, SHRM, Middle East and Africa, Mr. Brad Boyson, spoke to journalists on the need for human resource professionals to be ready to contend with the role technology is playing across sectors in the current global economy. Raheem Akingbolu brings the excerpts:
This conference is holding in Nigeria at a time when the economy has been challenging and experts tell us it is beginning to recover. Is there a silver bullet HR can use to help the country back at on its feet?
Around the world, when economic times are difficult, usually, the first activity organisations cut is training or reduced investment in skilling people. But business history shows that the organisations that go against this trend and sustain or increase their people investments during times of economic downturns, eventually turn out to be better positioned and take advantage of newly emerging opportunities when the economy turns for the better. The significance of an event such as this, therefore holding in Nigeria, is its timeliness, with the right content to help HR prep their organisations to deal with the challenges of operating in Nigeria today. For instance, HR people need to be the advocates for sustained investment in the area of talent development, even in difficult economic times as the country is currently passing through. This will ensure their organisation’s competitiveness as things take a turn for the better.
The focus of this 2017 conference is around future-readiness of HR professionals. What does it take to run a HR department that is truly future-ready?
It starts with the HR talent running your HR department or division. At SHRM, we believe that the foundation of professionalism in the Human Resource function is an ability to demonstrate mastery in core HR disciplines while being able to translate these into real value for the business or organisation you work in. To demonstrate mastery, you need HR Competence and the universal depicter of HR mastery and competence today is experience, supported with the right professional qualifications because with these two, you are proving to the professional community that you understand the right ways, tools, processes and methods to make HR work for the organisation, not the other way round. SHRM’s emphasis on demonstrable competence can also be understood from the perspective that the HR world is fast evolving. Today every single business decision generates a corresponding HR action or reaction. What is needed to be a success in HR today is different from what was needed in the past. To be a success in HR today and in the future, you need to be able to use data and analytics, you need to understand technology; you need to understand cultural changes in talent and the dynamics of people generally, you need to collaborate more across non-HR boundaries, you need to use metrics and benchmark more often. These are some of the things that are indicative of a Future-Ready HR professional of HR department.
Coming to your presentation at the conference with the title: ‘Business and Human Capital Challenges Now and in the Future’, can you provide a recap of the key issues you discussed in the course of your presentation?
Often we HR people use a lot of clichés and clichés can sometimes undermine. Non-HR people don’t often connect with clichés. So, at this conference, I have tried to present some of the issues without the cloak of clichés such that delegates are able to focus on the real issues that prepare people working in HR as future-ready HR professionals. Sometimes, we HR people use buzz words, meaning nothing to the people in the business that we support, this leads to HR being seen as a cost rather than a value adding function. So, in my presentation, I tried to give examples of things that are evolving, not to scare people but to let them know how the dynamics of HR profession is changing very fast. I have discussed some of the things that are changing and some of the things that will happen in the future. There is no speculation about this and professionals need to focus on those issues. Today, so many HR people are reactive when they should be proactive. They are reactive to employee issues; they react to funding issues among others, which should not be. HR people need a change for the future they want to develop and we need HR people that will be thinking and making forecast on what will happen in that future. We need HR people to be able to make statements that are evidence or empirically-based. Today, a good indicator of HR that is working well is one that doing things that affect productivity, like doing away with traditional performance reviews and yet achieving better employee engagement with people, causing overall productivity to rise. That is creative HR; that is what we call future-ready HR.
What are the opportunities SHRM is offering for its members?
SHRM welcomes HR professional from all cadres. Our members are from the Executive suite as Chief HR Officers (CHROs) and HR Directors, to entry level positions, even non-HR people whose jobs contain a bit of HR, are already embracing SHRM membership in great numbers. A good example is Administrators. SHRM members come with different backgrounds, many are in the different industry segments in Nigeria, and most serve in organisations of 50-100 staff size, and some are in organisations with 500 or more staff strength. As you can expect, their needs vary so we work very hard to meet the needs of many of our members globally. SHRM advocates for the profession, stressing the importance of human resources. Through our programs and initiatives we act as ambassadors for HR people, setting the agenda for developing standards in the practice of the profession. We are the go-to resource for everything human resources. When our members and HR professionals need professional guidance, we provide that, they want resources? We provide resources. It is just like a partnership in the career journey. We are a global association with support for the full spectrum of the HR value chain. We do one thing only and do it well. We do not focus on IT, finance or the likes. We focus just on the HR practitioner. SHRM opens doors. Our research, knowledge base and intellectual properties help our members give their best today while at the same time being ready for the changing landscape in HR practice. If you are an employer of labor and you employ someone with SHRM Credentials the difference shows immediately. Our members consistently deliver value to the organisations they work for; this is what our research continues to show.
What is your perception on the use of data analytics in Middle East and in Africa?
One fascinating thing about data analytics is that it has nothing to do with technology but today, we have to incorporate technology into doing it. Analytics has been important before the technology was important. Data analytics give facts, objective opinions and figures. When applied in HR, it is not an accounting or mathematical procedures. One of the easy examples is insights to common questions as: do we recruit some roles internally or use outside recruiting firm? And how do you know which option is right or wrong? For data and analytics to work for you, you have to start with collecting data, you measure activities. What is happening to HR now with data and analytics is that just by introducing a little science into HR, we are getting a lot of AHA! moments, we can see reasons why certain things work, and also achieve some levels of predictability that wasn’t there before for HR. Google is a fascinating case study. In anything it does, it involves data & analytics. No one makes decision in business based on just instinct anymore, but more of facts and insights.
Is it easier today to be an HR professional than it was 20 years ago when it was simply referred to as personal management?
Interesting question! I think it is more difficult now because HR practice is now very diverse and the environment very complex. Successful HR practice would require you to be first, a business person, then a counselor, an advisor, activist, finance specialist, a bit of a parent, also an advocate – all rolled into one. And of course being passionate about people makes it worthwhile and enjoyable. Twenty years ago, being in HR for many was largely accidental, some people ended up in HR because they had no where else to go, or simply because they had great people skills. Others arrive on the wings of exposure and how kind-hearted the person could be without doing any real job. That is the universal approach to people working in HR 20-30 years ago. Organisation cannot afford that any more. Things have changed. The key attributes and competencies you need to succeed in HR are now known.
As SHRM executive, what would you consider the topmost trend in the Human Capital Management space that C-level executives should track together with HR?
I am not answering this based on just evidence. I am drawing from the multitude of interactions I make at the C-level and with a lot of different experts on the subject. I think technology is the trend to embrace and watch if you run a business and if you work in HR. It is changing the landscape in ways that humankind has never before thought possible. Whether it is Artificial Intelligence (AI), social media, blockchain technology, machine learning, etc. AI has reached such levels today that certain work done by humans can now be done by machines with a high degree of accuracy. It is no longer the future; that future is here now. At SHRM, we are investing heavily in how HR can be at the fore front of figuring out the implications for a business in the new frontiers of man-machine interaction at the workplace. HR is an essential part of managing all of these changes.
Globally, automating HR processes is replacing the old way of practicing HR. How best do you think practitioners can brace up to this trend brought about by advancement in technology?
This is my personal answer to that question. Anything that can be automated was probably never HR in the first place. That thing could possibly be classified as administration, albeit HR Administration. Just because an HR person did some work doesn’t just make that work HR work. HR embracing technology is not even an option, it is a do it or suffer kind of scenario, which is why SHRM is supporting our members with resources on how to start and sustain the technology journey. From having a HR Technology strategy, to selecting and implementing a Human Resource Information System (HRIS), the best professionals pride themselves in the systems they have put in place to handle routine administrative HR tasks, freeing them up to do more creative and strategic HR work, which is where value is best delivered to our organisations. So do not fear technology, get guidance on what will work best for your organisation and start the journey. If you don’t have technology employed in your HR environment certain productivity aspirations may not be possible.
Nigeria has humongous human resources that can be adequately harnessed to make us a competitive nation. What are your thoughts on how to activate the power of our human capital for national advantage?
I live in a region that is probably more challenged than Nigeria – The Middle East. The Middle East has the largest ratio of young people unemployment in the whole world even more than Africa. In the United Arab Emirates, the government has embraced the youth. Embracing, sort of a more open attitude towards globalisation and soco-cultural revitalisation of the youth.
Nigeria is a unique country, her people are some of the most talented the world over. And I think there are a lot of opportunities to see that the vast amount of youthful talent the country is blessed with can be harnessed for national advantage. I feel that government should enable more people in the youth segment to turn their creativity into capital because they have proven with music, entertainment and the movie industry for instance, that without government intervention certain productive work can be birthed. But this is just one aspect.
For a problem as big as that we find that government can enable, act as a catalyst and get out of the way, then individual entrepreneurial spirits will drive the rest. Environment is important and as more and more of the right environments are created, people will find work, start meaningful careers and contribute to national growth. I hear the government now has a focus on the ease of doing business, and this is encouraging because the index is an essential part of creating that environment and atmosphere that will let people thrive. A country with an open policy that embraces globalisation and also tries competing at the global level has a better chance of engaging the youth competitively.