It’s the End of HR as We Know It

The end is near.

I’m talking about the end of human resources as the sole responsibility of HR professionals.

I know the demise of HR has been predicted before. I’ve heard the pet names people have for their HR departments. “Human roadblocks” is one moniker, according to an executive I talked to recently. It was one of the kinder nicknames.

But it’s not the frustration some feel about the state of their people practice that’s driving the end of HR as we know it. It’s the result of something forward-thinking talent managers have been dreaming of for a long time. It’s the much-longed-for day when managing talent isn’t the job of a corporate talent manager — it’s everyone’s job.

In this tantalizing state, finding a qualified candidate isn’t something busy managers outsource to their recruiting department. A struggling employee isn’t the responsibility of an HR manager to sort out. Plummeting engagement levels aren’t something the executive suite tasks the HR department to address.

In this elusive state, executives actively create a workplace culture that puts its money where its mouth is when it says people are the most important asset. Managers diagnose an employee whose high potential has lapsed into subpar performance. High-level discussions about internal talent and succession aren’t just something that happens once a year. They’re woven into the fabric of day-to-day operations.

Driven by technology and augmented by market forces, that state is no longer far-fetched. Managing talent has become the responsibility of everyone. But rather than getting HR that proverbial seat at the table, many talent managers may find they’re the last one standing in a game of musical chairs.

According to IBM’s 2012 Global CEO Study, people skills are the second highest priority for chief executives across the world. Despite a steady stream of news about precarious and volatile markets and ongoing global unrest, in bosses’ minds, the level of organizational talent outranked the market, regulatory concerns, ongoing globalization and geopolitical and socioeconomic factors when it came to time and attention.

More than 71 percent of the 1,700 CEOs surveyed said human capital is the key source of sustained value in their organizations, even more than the traditional bread-and-butter of corporate value: customer relations.

That’s not new. Study after study in the last few years indicate the real source of future value isn’t physical infrastructure or current market share. It’s the intellectual capital, creativity, knowledge and know-how of the organization’s human capital where real long-term value lies.

According to the IBM survey, the only thing that beat people skills when CEOs pondered the next three to five years is technology. It’s here where talent managers can see most directly the big push toward the end of HR as we know it.

Technology reshapes how people connect with one another and how organizations are formed. It allows people to collaborate and share in ways that are radically different than before. Activists in the Middle East deployed social media to help topple decades-old regimes. Technology is also reshaping how organizations manage their people. The socially connected enterprise puts a premium on collaboration in its people management. But that’s only part of the story.

Burgeoning analytical tools and platforms promise to put easy-to-use dashboards in the hands of executives. These tools put detailed talent assessments, gap analyses and succession plans directly into the hands of the managers who make the decisions. On-the-fly performance management tools make performance evaluation and conversation part of managers’ daily workflow.

Collaborative, experiential and on-demand employee development tools take employees out of classroom instructors’ hands and back into the field under managers’ vigilant eyes.

All of which begs the question: When everyone is managing talent, what’s the point of the talent manager? When HR as we’ve traditionally known it is no longer, it’s time to reinvent how we do what we do. Fortunately, there’s still time to figure it out. The end is near, but it’s not now.