ChapmanCG’s Abby Walters, Director for Middle East & Africa, welcomed HR leaders from across Dubai to join an engaging roundtable discussion on keeping the role of HR business partners alive in the digital era. Warmly hosted at the Johnson and Johnson offices, the group enjoyed listening to Zakaa Farhat, Senior HR Director for Emerging Markets, who led an inspiring and thought-provoking discussion by highlighting the new role of HRBPs in an age where automation has infiltrated most business decisions.

Self-Service HR Systems – Relief or Concern?

In an age where data, BOTS, apps and self-service HR systems are at the fingertips of business leaders, where does that leave the HRBP who has previously guided stakeholders on the nuances of talent acquisition, performance management, compensation & benefits and change management?

On the one hand, our attendees embraced the hours and effort saved on some monotonous tasks. By way of example, one leader spoke of a recent performance rating BOT which answered 7.5 million questions on performance ratings from 250,000 employees in its first trial run.

On the flip side, a concern was raised about how quickly self-service apps and BOTS have replaced what has traditionally been the domain of entry-level HR work. This layer of work has typically provided a great training platform from which many of today’s senior HR leaders launched their careers. With the growing influence of artificial intelligence, businesses will need to provide more agile training grounds for HR leaders of the future. On a positive note, there were examples of some junior HR professionals stepping up in the absence of declining operational work, and self-directing their roles as drivers of company transformation, even at the early stage of their careers.

null

A Tiered Approach

Many leaders agreed that tiering the level of importance and urgency of HR support needed by the business could prevent the significant loss of human touch. When trying to promote the people agenda through technology and processes, there is the potential danger that personal and bespoke HR services could disappear.

It was agreed that self-service HR systems in global services teams are well-utilised, but high-level strategic business support is another issue. For the latter, there is still a strong requirement for competent account managers with the credibility to influence key stakeholders who can play the role of diplomat and negotiator.

Joining the Dots

The discussion continued on attaining the right combination of artificial intelligence and the human touch. How do we co-work in sync with machines? The group agreed that the efficient use of data analytics, robotics and self-service apps is critical. Not embracing this automation, or indeed implementing it properly, has the potential to leave businesses exposed, and dangerously so.

Nevertheless, the best businesses ensure that talented HRBPs can very much join the dots and ensure that this data is utilised in ways that ensure successful business outcomes. HRBPs can work as the glue where their objective is to shape and sculpt the business outcomes.

Mixing Up the Traditional Background of the HRBP

The role of HRBPs will be integral to the success of digital transformation and there may be a need to upskill in the areas of data analytics and managing digital change.

The attendees discussed an increased requirement for senior HR leaders who have not necessarily risen through the traditional HR ranks and training. Instead, the group felt that marketing or technology experts who have switched to HR bring an excellent, broad array of technical skills, a fresh business mindset and can be more aligned to the digital environment.

This led to discussions about the HRBP title and whether moving forward ‘business consultant’ would be a more apt description of the role? The boundaries seem to be merging more and more, especially with the disappearance of heavy operational HR work.

Nonetheless one leader commented that there are actually more niche roles with defined strategic impact in the HR function, as the emphasis switches from volume to impact e.g. the prevalence of talent scouters and social media experts.

No Space for Egos

Trying to maintain total control in this age of automation will serve to frustrate those business partners who are accustomed to diving in to help their stakeholders at the click of a finger. It is time to gracefully relent, embrace the technology, give up the ownership to some degree and use precious time to really agitate and disrupt the business strategically instead.

To conclude, this was a fascinating topic for discussion and consideration. It provoked thought, concern and lots of ideas from our audience. Thanks to everyone for their active and positive participation.

Related HR Networking