In a recent discussion about his company’s plans for 2013 and beyond, a much admired CHRO said to us that ‘HR needs to be more provocative’. This is a comment that the majority of HR leaders would likely agree with, but something that does not necessarily come easily or naturally to all. It’s also clear that in order for Human Resources to be more ‘provocative’ (in a good way), it needs to be very close to the business so that it can be in a position to challenge it. Within global HR circles, there has been much recent discussion about HR Transformation and Business Partnering. However, behind the scenes are CHRO’s feeling confident in their ability to get closer to the business than ever before, and close enough to confidently challenge their leadership team peers (and bosses) on key business issues? This brief article summarizes a few recent trends we have noted in our discussions on this topic with global HR leaders.

Greater Specialization as the HR Profession Matures

One clear trend that we are seeing today is the move of HR towards more functional specialization. As HR matures and becomes more segmented and specialized, its role is increasingly being defined as a true partner and advisor to the business. In the area of talent, for example, we are seeing distinct pockets of expertise develop (TM vs. OD vs. L&D) and we are seeing new functions emerge to allow companies to plan their businesses into the future (e.g. Workforce Planning; HR Analytics). This increased level of specialization is creating subject matter expertise within HR on a higher level than has been seen in the past. This can only be good for the overall stature and positioning of the profession.

A New Age of Measurement

Also due to this increased specialization within HR, we are seeing new and sophisticated metrics evolving across the profession — notably in areas such as Talent Acquisition, Performance Management, Succession Planning and Change Management. As a new generation of HR professionals move away from the administratively oriented activities of the past, they are becoming increasingly adept at developing and refining sophisticated benchmarks and metrics — as they measure (and learn from) success.

‘If it isn’t measured, it isn’t valued’ is an old phrase we’ve heard recently—but it takes on a new and more exciting meaning in the context of some of the cutting edge work that is being done by leading multinational CHROs and their teams. This work is often being done within Centres of Excellence (COEs). The COE concept is not new. It’s been around for a while. However there has been much change in terms of what the COE mission is. In the past, COEs were generally very inward looking and focused on technology, process and systems. Today, the head of a COE is more likely to be asking his or her team to look at key objectives and strategic challenges of the business.

Through their HR Business Partners, COEs are being charged with developing tangible solutions which enhance workforce performance and productivity and create real commercial value for the organization.

HR Strengthens the Link Between People and Business Performance

The coming years will provide HR with significant opportunities to not only challenge businesses but to play a key role in leading them. The domain of HR is the crucial link between people and business performance. With increased levels of specialization, subject matter expertise and new, cutting edge tools and analytics to work with, it is clear that the HR profession can look forward to playing a pivotal role in shaping and driving business strategy through people in the coming years. No doubt more than a few HR leaders will relish the opportunity to take a more provocative approach for the good of the businesses they serve.