Buck Bond Group

Understanding the Past, Building the Future: Human Resources

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By Sharlyn Lauby

(Editor’s Note: Sharlyn worked with us last year on an article for her blog, HR Bartender. So we asked her to be a part of this year’s 100th Anniversary Celebration. She was compensated for her time, but her thoughts are completely her own.)

Economist John Commons first used the term “human resource” in his 1893 book, “The Distribution of Wealth,” and in 1916, organizations were just starting to understand that employees brought value to the business and should be viewed as a key asset.

Today, colleges and universities offer coursework specifically for degrees in human resources. A defined set of competencies have been developed for human resources generalists and professional associations exist that have established ethical standards to guide the profession. This is a long way from a little mention in a book.

"When we think about HR and its role, it all comes down to culture. " Sharlyn Lauby,

“When we think about HR and its role, it all comes down to culture. ” Sharlyn Lauby,

Not only has human resources evolved, but the tools we use to accomplish our work has had a profound impact on business. If we simply think of the technology that has been developed over the past decade, it’s a clear example of how fast the profession is changing.

Mobile technology launched to create an “app” culture that allows us to purchase our favorite items, play games, make doctor’s appointments, and book our next vacation, all from a smartphone or tablet. These innovations can also help us apply for jobs, monitor productivity, and process paperwork using HR technology solutions. It’s this kind of technology innovation that allows HR professionals to spend more time building positive working relationships and less time on administration. Thus, paving the way for HR to evolve even more.

HR still has work to do

While the human resources function has come a long way, we still have work to do. It’s interesting to think that a century ago organizations were coming to realize the value that employees bring to the business and today, many organizations are facing talent shortages and skills gaps. Maybe not exactly the same thing, but a clear indicator that talent is a critical driver for business success.

The strategy an organization uses to find, train, engage, and retain the best talent has a huge impact on the business. In a white paper released by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), 87 percent of respondents reported that the skills gap was affecting the growth of their business. When the business isn’t running smoothly, it can impact the drivers that create employee engagement.

The recent data from Gallup shows that engagement has remained stagnant. HR plays an important role in helping the organization create a culture that allows engagement to thrive. It’s not an easy task. Employee engagement lies at the intersection of maximum contribution for the business and maximum satisfaction for employees. It’s a sustainable level of high performance that benefits both the company and the employee.

Disengaged employees will not stay. A report earlier this year from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that more workers are quitting their jobs than at any other time over the past decade. Organizations will need to focus on retention if they want to grow profits and market share.

The good news is that technology can help HR and business professionals with many of these challenges. It does involve staying current with technology advances and accepting at times an early adopter mindset.

The future of HR is exciting

The next century of human resources is shaping up to be an exciting one. The gig economy is creating opportunities for both organizations and individuals. Estimates are that more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers by the year 2020. In addition, many older workers are turning to freelancing as part of a semi-retirement strategy. This can be an effective way for organizations to leverage the best talent for the work.

The gig economy is also producing an entrepreneurial spirit that is transcending the organization. Some companies are taking creative inspiration from their favorite consumer features and using them within the company. For example, having the company’s learning and development program mirror the online shopping experience.

However, when we think about HR and its role, it all comes down to culture. It’s the organizational culture that drives the brand. Culture drives the role HR has within the organization. And culture drives HR’s ability to get things done. One of the most exciting trends we’re seeing in HR is the partnership between human resources and marketing to create a singular brand for the organization. One brand that speaks to consumers, candidates, and employees.

It sounds very cliché to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. But maybe there’s an ounce of truth in it. The past, present, and future of human resources is focused on talent. The strategies to hire, engage, and retain the best talent might change with the benefit of technology. But HR is a talent function. Always has been and always will be.

Sharlyn Lauby, an HR pro turned consultant, is behind HR Bartender, a blog consistently recognized for its casual tone and practical content. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) named it one of the Top 5 Blogs read by human resources professionals.