The events of 2020 have accelerated the discussions around HR’s roles and responsibilities and have made it into a hot topic for many companies. What will the future look like for HR? How can HR professionals prepare for the expectations of tomorrow? These were only some of the topics discussed during Sympa TALK 2020, an online event with more than 1000 HR professionals participating from all around Europe.

The changing landscape of international HR

During an inspiring 20-minute panel discussion on the topic of “The changing landscape of international HR,” four HR leaders from across Europe shared their thoughts on the future trends and how HR professionals should relate to them. We’ve gathered their valuable insights in three short blog posts for you to read.

The panel consisted of Morten Jakobi, representing Dustin – a leading online IT partner from the Nordics. Marte Alvfalk, representing The North Alliance – A Nordic design, communication and tech network. Wouter Hofstede representing Matrix Fitness – a global leader in commercial fitness products. And finally, Björn Lorentzon, a thought leader in Nordic HR trends.

Meet our panelists:

Increased HR influence

Do you agree that HR has significantly more influence, organisational power and therefore bigger responsibilities than ten years ago?

“Actually, already about five years ago, HR guru Dave Ulrich mentioned that the HR officer has all the competencies and qualities necessary to become the next CEO. This is the result of a more holistic view HR nowadays has on people, business and customers alike. I think that this year of COVID-19 has actually even sped this process up, because topics such as remote leadership, change management and collaboration are currently high on the CEO’s agenda,” Jakobi opened with.

When asked what HR should do with its newfound responsibility and role, Lorentzon answered that HR needs to be as close to the business as possible. “To me personally, the natural consequence of HR being closely involved with the business might be that we will not continue to see the HR department the way we see it today. The HR department will eventually be part of a bigger entity or broken down into separate functions that span across the entire organisation, depending on the need.”

Lorentzon continued that in the future, HR will likely even be part of the branding strategy. In his opinion, particularly in Scandinavia, we are moving into a direction where people are becoming synonymous to the business. “This means that in the future, HR could not only be responsible of the employer brand, but also of the commercial brand,” he continued.

Hofstede had a clear recommendation for HR. “You need to create a foundation for discussing the strategy and implementation of the business community,” he answered. “HR is able to include different perspectives when giving advice and providing recommendations. HR can see the bigger picture and should thus take their place at the table when discussing organisational development and sketching the preconditions.”

Proactiveness is something that Alvfalk would also recommend to HR. “Don’t sit and wait for a new strategy to be written down. Be a part of crafting it!” She continued that in the end it’s about growth – both growing in your role as an HR professional, and supporting the growth of your organisation. “Everything that is happening now and the situation that we are living in opens up new opportunities. The companies that are able to capitalise on these opportunities are the companies of tomorrow.”

Hofstede could not agree more. “I am sure that HR has proven their added value to the business over the past years. Right now, it is time to take the step forward and claim our position at the table.”

From trusted advisor to the corner office

2020 has been a strange year for most people, resulting in rapid change that nobody could have foreseen. When the virus hit the world in 2019 and 2020, it had many CEOs scratching their heads and turning to their HR directors for advice. This could be a development that we might start seeing more and more of in the future.

“I strongly believe that we will see more and more CEOs with a background in HR. It’s a trend that I see among my peers,” Lorentzon said. “First they were HR advisors, HR business partners, HR managers or directors, but these roles quickly turned into business development managers or CEOs and even CFOs in some cases.”

 While Jakobi agreed with Lorentzon’s statement, he added that for HR professionals to get there, they need to pull themselves out of their comfort zones and stop being the CEO’s police officer. “In order to win our seat at the table, we sometimes might need to cut some corners and adapt to the business needs.”

In order to keep up with change, new skill sets are needed in order to handle brand new responsibilities. What is HR going to need in order to do better, or to be different?

“The other important factor I would like to mention is digitalisation. In my experience, some of the available HR tools are extremely old-fashioned, making it harder to drive that change and do better,” Alvfalk said.  “Being able to manage and cope with change is very important, as is knowing how to capitalise on it and drive it.”

Jakobi fully agreed with Alvfalk and added that HR needs to show and document that it’s able to act on the current situation. “Digitalisation is absolutely a must, but it is a long-term commitment. Handling the current situation by helping the CEO, management teams and leaders in setting up remote leadership and change management is equally important.”

“Digitalisation and IT improvements over the past years have given us the space to develop ourselves towards a new position,” Hofstede added. “It is a great benefit to have extra time to be a business partner on a new level. And that’s the skill set that we actually really need to develop more and bring with us into the future when we are becoming that trusted advisor. And to have the skills to take the organisation, the employees and the board along in a plan,” he continued.

Lorentzon agreed and concluded that in his opinion, HR doesn’t really need any new skill set – it’s more about how the current skills are being used. “I think that most HR professionals already have all the needed skills. We simply need to develop them and be brave in how we use them.”

Access the entire panel discussion

Check out the recording of the Sympa TALK 2020 panel discussion or read the other blog posts in our series.