Changing and overlapping responsibilities plus diminishing staff have placed a burden on HR departments as they struggle to change with the times.

“The traditional role of HR management courses in the 21st century is changing into integrating HR into organizational business planning, which adds another dimension to the delivery of HR services,” says Frank Abbott, a corporate trainer program manager for Houston Community College’s Corporate College.

“In this new role, HR professionals who are managers and supervisors must take on the emerging roles of business partner, change agent, and leader in new organizational structures different from the past.”
This becomes more challenging, he says, as HR professionals try to meet this challenge while continuing day-to-day operational and political management of HR.

These new expectations and demands, combined with a steady decrease in HR staff (one-third of the HR community will be eligible to retire in the next five years, Abbott says), means a once-stable occupation is entering uncharted territory.

On top of these changes, he says, many HR departments must do all of this with a downsized staff that does not have the expertise needed to meet the demands.

“The question is: Are HR professionals capable of meeting those challenges and what must they do to meet those challenges?” Abbott asks. “Another question is: How do you prepare existing HR professionals for leadership roles when their current leaders are retiring or moving on?”

Among challenges faced in the 21st century for HR professionals are increased outsourcing, downsizing of HR departments, a conflict of 20th century HR functions versus more forward-looking responsibilities, a lack of understanding of “the business” among HR staff that keeps them away from the decision-making table and an increased emphasis on improving efficiency of HR services, among others.
“The major role of ‘strategic business partner’ for the HR professional is increasing substantially,” Abbott says. “They are now identified as a member of the management team involved with courses in human resource management, organization design and strategic change.”

He adds that HR execs are relying heavily on the Internet to educate managers about existing HR responsibilities and procedures, which is taking them away from their key role of providing HR services to employees and implementing policies and procedures.

There is also a growing concern among HR professionals on how to meet organizational needs with fewer staff, he says.

“There seems to be a new ‘mindset’ of ‘try to do at least better, if not more, with less,’ ” he says. “Narrowly focused specialists are being asked to grow into the new generalists’ roles in the evolving workplace. The HR generalists of the 21st century will have to have all the competencies necessary to have a place in the businesses of the future.”

Abbott offers the following ways to meet the challenges of the 21st century:

• Obtain all of the skills necessary to play an active role in charting the strategic direction of HR’s partnering within the company.
• Develop new competency models that refocus and revitalize the HR workforce. Newly developed competencies can offer HR practitioners an opportunity to define excellence and, even more importantly, demonstrate what they can bring to their organization. HR professionals that can demonstrate their value to their company will inevitably be rewarded with a “seat at the table.”
• Show creativity and efficiency by adapting some of the existing competency models and HR delivery systems and tailor them to fit individual organizational needs.
• Identify improved technology that facilitates HR decision-making by managers and reduces the workload for HR professionals. An effective and efficient on-line system, used in conjunction with a computer-based long-distance learning system, has received positive reactions from many managers. Check out the Air Force System, PERMISS, which is currently being utilized efficiently by many organizations.
• Make HR professionals aware of the competencies they must possess in order for them to be successful in the 21st century world of HR.
• Adopt new competencies, redefine roles focused on results and evolve into an HR professional that makes a bottom-line difference for the organization.
• After putting into place your new systems and competencies, develop an in-house marketing campaign that highlights the services HR can provide to the organization. Market this within the company and then market it outside of the company to HR professional organizations in public presentations and on-line company Web sites dedicated to this vision.
This can result in being asked to ‘sit at the table’ in a consultative role for HR departments in other companies as well as serve as an add-on competency for the HR department. This has a strong potential for generating revenue for the company and thus increase the value-added function of HR function to the managers within the company.

“In order for the HR professional to be a leader in the 21st century, they will need to increasingly embrace the challenge of serving in the role of ‘business strategists’ and ‘change agents’ for their organizations,” Abbott says. “What is important is that many managers in companies are desperate for such help from HR. In response to these opportunities or demands, the successful HR professional of the 21st century must emerge their roles along with the identification of new competencies needed to get the job done.”

Author's Bio: 

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