Summary: HR leaders are moving away from traditional operating models. Andy Young explains how Modern HR leaders are connecting people results to business results—and using the CHRO as a catalyst for change.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of work was changing. Automation and AI were forcing organizations to consider how they would address a growing skills gap; people wanted to work for organizations that operate and lead responsibly; and flexibility was increasingly a tool for recruiting and retaining workers. Across industries, there was fierce competition for talent with data science, machine learning and digital skills—as well as the very human skills of empathy, creativity and innovation.

Within banking, restructuring, divestments and mergers were prompting many banks to decrease headcounts. Across business units, and especially in payments, digital innovation was forcing banks to digitize capabilities, leverage cloud as a transformational tool and re-focus on creating customer value.

And then, of course, COVID-19 hit. If HR didn’t already have a seat at the proverbial table, it needed one. Suddenly, workforce strategy became an inextricable part of business strategy.

The pandemic may have put a spotlight on the need to modernize HR models and practices, but it only amplified what was already happening. The role of HR has changed from one that sets rules or delivers services. Today, HR plays a pivotal role in unlocking the potential and performance of the workforce. If job roles used to be the currency of an organization, today it’s job skills.

The most resilient organizations understand this seismic shift in the role of HR, work and skills and how it’s driving business performance. To adapt to this shift, they’re adopting a Modern HR mindset.

Half of HR leaders believe they will need to reorganize in the next three years, and only 17 percent of CHROs believe the traditional HR operating model will be relevant in the future of work.

Modern HR leaders

If you’ve read the earlier parts of this blog series, you’ll be familiar with Accenture’s Care To Do Better research. We’ve looked at the six components of Net Better Off that account for unlocking 64 percent of a person’s potential at work. We also dug into five sweet spot practices that can help organizations work toward Net Better Off and achieve the biggest impact. (And if not, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the previous blog posts. I’ll be here when you get back.)

Okay, so we’ve identified these sweet spot practices. Now what? Well, let’s look at companies that are leading in at least one of the five sweet spot practices. What makes them tick?

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Modern HR leaders are fundamentally different from their peers. First, they feel much more responsible for leaving people Net Better Off than their peers—2.3 times more responsible, to be precise. They’re more likely to prioritize capabilities that enable people to drive continuous innovation and growth. They’re enabling employees to work creatively with new technologies. And they can connect people results to business results.

So how do they do it? Our research found three ways that Modern HR leaders approach their work differently.

Modern HR leaders have a new ethos

Modern HR leaders adopt a new mindset and accountability toward their people, their business and the communities they serve. Their focus has shifted from expecting people to be worthy of the organization—instead, their organization has to be worthy of the best individuals. And they are 1.1 times more likely to strongly believe that organizations should publicly report on the wellbeing of their people.

Consider that 76 percent of the banking workforce believes in the importance of having a supportive environment to do their best work. In addition, 76 percent believe their employer is putting people first as part of their COVID-19 response and 69 percent report feeling cared for by their leader or manager.

Modern HR leaders foster new skills

Modern HR leaders understand the importance of developing new skills to support the future of work. They do this by modeling and fostering a continuous learning mindset. That is, they develop their own skill sets to prepare for emerging roles within HR, while also upskilling their workforce. And they are 1.4 times more likely to make significant investments in upskilling their people.

Consider that 62 percent of banking workers say their senior leaders prioritize investment in targeted digital education and training for the workforce and 62 percent of workers say remote work has made them consider the need to reskill or upskill themselves.

Modern HR leaders facilitate new collaborations

Modern HR leaders practice agility and adaptability by teaming up with people across their organization. This boundaryless approach is essential for an organization’s competitiveness, as talent strategies and opportunities extend far beyond the walls of HR—or any organization. And they are 4 times more likely to initiate and drive collaborations across their organization.

Consider that 67 percent of the banking workforce is enthusiastic about using digital collaboration tools, and 66 percent say they add value to their work. What’s more, 66 percent say their companies support knowledge sharing through technology platforms, 74 percent say leaders encourage interaction and knowledge sharing between team members, and 60 percent say leaders foster an environment where it’s okay to take risks, make occasional mistakes and learn from them (one element of a growth mindset).

The CHRO can be a catalyst for change

By now, I hope it’s clear that taking care of your people—making them Net Better Off—requires a different approach. More than ever, the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) plays a critical role within an organization and can be a catalyst to help an organization become a Modern HR leader (and within this I am including the wider HR leadership team and the business executive).

Modern HR leaders have shifted their focus from expecting people to be worthy of the organization—instead, their organization has to be worthy of the best individuals.

CHROs use their voices to shape their organization’s path forward. They help the C-suite reconcile financial constraints and disruption with the need to unlock people’s potential and performance. And they help the C-suite set and stick to a compelling vision and purpose, making it relevant, actionable and real for people and the way the business operates.

CHROs also advocate for employees and external workers, and make changes to improve work, workspace and working lives. Crucially, they are stewards of the organization’s overall health and its culture—especially essential factors like trust, belonging, collaboration and lifelong learning.

  • Modern CHROs understand how work and the workforce are changing. They take action to attract, develop and retain the human skills that are needed to work in a digitally and data-driven world. At a time when organizations need to simultaneously transform their core business and scale a new business, CHROs facilitate the vision, leadership and trust that’s needed to be successful.
  • Modern CHROs use data to make more informed decisions. They use data and evidence to learn, adapt and improve performance. For example, the C-suite is typically (and rightly so) focused on shorter-term financial and operational demands. CHROs can help leaders spend more time on also considering long-term strategy and social capital.
  • Modern CHROs enable leadership teams to be better leaders. They coach people to improve how they lead people and manage change. This often includes working with the CEO to change the mix of senior leadership teams to include people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and to develop healthy and diverse succession plans.

In other words, a good CHRO can thread people performance with business performance.

Getting to Modern HR

Here’s the kicker: in our survey, only 20 percent of respondents worked at organizations that are Modern HR leaders. In other words, taking action now can create a competitive advantage for your organization.

There is no single path to achieving modern HR. However, some questions can guide you on your journey:

  • How do we ensure that our people become Net Better Off as a result of working here?
  • How do we create and enable a culture that unlocks the sweet spot practices?
  • What must we unlearn in order to adopt new roles and skills?
  • How do the decisions we make about our workforce and workplace benefit the broader community?

To truly unlock people’s potential, your organization needs to foster this Modern HR mindset—characterized by a new ethos, new skills and new collaborations. You need to empower your CHRO to connect people results with business results. And you need to infuse a Modern HR mindset throughout the organization, making it the purview of the entire C-suite and the Board.

This is especially important when banks are targeting a hybrid workforce that balances in-person and remote work. How do you design collaborative, inclusive work that works for people at the office and at home? How do you facilitate critical elements like trust and psychological safety when people aren’t physically together? How do you account for people’s holistic wellbeing in the good times and the not-so-good times?

Next week, I’ll look at recent Accenture research on Modern Boards. I’ll also step back to connect the dots from throughout this series, with an eye toward how high human care can be the key to sustainable, responsible business performance. See you then.

To learn more about how to foster a Modern HR mindset, contact me or on Twitter at @andyyoungACN.

Many thanks to Ellyn Shook, David Rodriguez, Ph.D. and Eva Sage-Gavin for your leadership in this area.

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