Here at ChapmanCG, we are in a unique position as global cross-sector HR search experts to see how job titles in the human resources function are evolving around the world. It is evident that as the HR function continues to innovate and strives to become more progressive, some organisations have attempted to reinvent the traditional ‘human resources’ title to help rebrand and achieve a new persona. Just as ‘Personnel Director’ was largely replaced by ‘HR Director’ 15-20 years ago in an attempt to further professionalise the function, some HR titles are now evolving to the next stage.

Does HR or ‘human resources’ have negative connotations?

In many organisations, HR still has to fight hard to have a genuine seat at the top table. This can be down to individuals, reporting structures, or the positioning of the function. Therefore, the decision to rebrand HR and specialist functions within HR can sometimes help to tackle any negative pre-conceptions by repositioning itself and injecting a new impetus. We witnessed this over the last 10 years with the ubiquitous rise of the ‘Talent Acquisition’ title rather than ‘In-House Recruitment’. The jury is still out whether this has made a tangible difference to how the function is perceived or how strategic it can be. However, this rebrand demonstrates a conscious shift away from ‘recruitment’ and what the perceptions are with the label.

Still not the norm?

Whilst changing titles can give employers and HR professionals the opportunity to innovate and reposition the HR brand, the majority of organisations remain comfortable with 'HR' and have more pressing priorities for advancing the function. We are, therefore, seeing the real innovation occurring in start-ups and more disruptive companies. Such companies who have no legacy of what an HR function should look like have a blank canvas to innovate how they design the function and which titles they use. Away from this, changes are driven by new heads of specialist areas or CHROs who have a new vision for the function and feel they can get the best out of it by repositioning it as something slightly different. It usually coincides with a broader HR transformation.

Talent evangelists?

In the specialist areas of talent, learning, culture and OD, different organisations will still have different classifications of what is included in each bucket. An L&D Director role in one organisation may be the Head of Talent and Leadership in another. In a different organization, talent will be holistic including both talent management and acquisition. The range of titles is widening as more specialist siloes are created. We are seeing a rise in the ‘employee experience’ specialism, which is a blend of talent, employee engagement and the EVP, incorporating some digital themes. It even has some cross over in some organisations with internal communications and marketing. Some of the more flamboyant examples we have seen recently include Vibe Manager, Talent Evangelist and Chief Happiness Officer. The latter replacing the CHRO title. Whether these are early adopters and this is a glimpse into the future is up for debate!

Digital: The new normal?

New areas will of course bring new titles. People analytics and big data are fledgling areas that are front of mind in a lot of HR organisations. Whilst they are not new areas per se, more HR functions are now really investing in these spaces and evolving their remits to include AI and robotics. There is experimentation in these areas, and this has led to an array of titles being born. Many are ambiguous and can be down to individual choices—which is why it is so important to ‘deep dive’ and define what people are actually responsible for and what the key deliverables are, particularly when evaluating talent in this space.

There are some parallels here with the embryonic ‘Chief Digital Officer’ role we have seen in many organisations. These roles can be nebulous in scope and the approach tends to be experimental. As one HR friend in insurance puts it: ‘We need to hire one from a Google or a Facebook, but we are not sure what their exact remit/ deliverables are.” In HR, there are similar issues with defining the digital agenda and where it sits. I spoke to a group of HR analytics heads recently, and they are skeptical at the mention of digital HR experts. As one put it, “This is a buzz word at the moment, but we have yet to decipher what it means within an HR function. Is it looking at AI, predictive analytics, better systems and technology, increasing the use of apps and mobile, cloud-based technologies or more around social media?” Each of these is arguably a specialism in itself, and we should be reluctant to group all of them under one umbrella of ‘digital’.

Whilst the function toys with new ideas in this and other areas, what is almost certain is that as titles evolve, the skills required to be a successful Chief Employee Experience Officer or Chief Happiness Officer in 10 years won’t be the same as the skills required of today’s CHRO.