Curators of the new business landscape - HR's role in preparing leaders.

In the face of the changing business landscape, HR have a clear opportunity to drive the strategy of the business and support the leadership team through this. They have a seat at the top table, if they are prepared (and able) to take it that is.

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From meeting many HR professionals at the HR Director’s Summit and during my workshop, it was clear that more needs to be done by HR. Busy doing the day-to-day, future planning often takes a backseat. We HR professionals need to innovate with the landscape, or risk losing that strategic seat. Here’s a roundup of what we unearthed in the workshop.

What is the new business landscape and what will it look like?

The pace of change in the workplace is speeding up. Every week we are faced with new software that pressures businesses into re-evaluating their strategy to stay competitive. Innovation in technology may naturally fall under the remit of IT, but it can impact the way an organisation runs, influence the way staff work and potentially lead to a business restructuring – all of which have HR implications. Accommodating and anticipating these changes will only happen if HR has an eye on the future. 

Flexibility and agility were discussed in terms of hours and places of work along with the fact that work is ‘speeding up’. Thus, ensuring leaders are abreast of the latest trends and are open to the changes this might require is something HR can help with now.

In addition to digitalisation, business structures and decentralisation, ‘we don’t know’ was also a popular answer when we raised this question in our workshop. It can be hard to know exactly what the future holds, but it is vital for HR to be forward-thinking in its planning and make time to ‘get out of the trenches’ of day-to-day delivery. If you are unsure of the direction of your business, you’re at risk of falling behind. If your HR team are serious about providing strategic input into the future of the organisation, then it is important to understand the direction of the business in its entirety and align your strategic planning with business goals.

What will leaders need in this environment?

Anticipating the needs of your people, especially your leadership team, is essential to your strategic planning. With the business goals in place, what skills will your leaders need to accomplish those future goals and be prepared for the new landscape? ‘The ability to deal with change’, ‘resilience’, ‘clear personal brand’ and ‘innovation’ all cropped up in the workshop. These are skills and tools that every leader needs.

In addition to these soft skills and ‘adapting to change’, the room also suggested ‘better communication tools’ and ‘inclusion’. To help leaders thrive and indeed understand  the reason for change, better communications are needed to build the collaborative relationship between leaders and HR/the business. This means improving how they convey their messages, ensuring they do so in multiple ways and via a broad range of communications channels. In addition, more collaboration was suggested as an important way forward for leaders.

‘Inclusion’ in this scenario means leaders need to be better at being all-encompassing of different generations, religions and different demographical needs. In order to represent and drive the business, they themselves should embody a holistic outlook and approach. As the landscape evolves, what leaders need will differ from business to business. However, HR must plan ahead.

How can we in HR help them achieve that?

‘Understanding the business’, ‘innovating in our HR approach’, ‘being a mirror to the leaders’ and ‘being honest’ all came up in the workshop. While all leaders and businesses are different, it’s HR’s role in developing the right solution that marries the people with the business goals. When discussing this, we all agreed that this must be a collaborative effort in order for it to succeed. The time is now for HR to demonstrate its strategic importance to the future of the business. This can be  demonstrated through HR’s understanding and knowledge of the business’ imperatives.

Following on from this, the need to change how HR operates was discussed. There was consensus that HR needs to innovate, be less risk adverse and move away from the technical focus of process and procedures and into the strategic focus the organisation demands. This also included a move towards more learning and development. 

Working in partnership with your leadership team will help encourage engagement and uptake. Some leaders will be happy to have this help, but others may need more coaching and encouragement. Being a ‘mirror to the leaders’, and being honest and open about their need to change is a key role for HR. This will mean helping leaders to understand what and how they need to do things differently. To help them recognise that change is needed can be difficult, but it is a hard line HR may

need to consider if they are serious about helping the business succeed and will be far easier if HR is taken seriously for its strategic role.

What challenges will HR face in helping leaders get there?

While the older order are regarded as more loyal, they can be more resistant to change. This poses many challenges for a business looking to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. How can businesses adapt if their leadership teams aren’t on-board, let alone driving the future direction? Change of any magnitude can be difficult for the older generation to comprehend, so we must find compelling reasons for it and work with them to embrace the new.

A key challenge identified for HR concerned removing the hidden agendas and fixed mindsets by giving leaders some quick wins and creating time for them to ‘think’. HR also need to get ahead of the game which is challenging given the uncertainty of the future. However the more HR takes the initiative on its strategic approach the more they will focus on the possibilities that might arise.


Despite not knowing what the future will hold, HR must demonstrate its strategic role as part of the leadership team rather than simply delivering technical processes. HR should start planning now for what will come. Key among that is starting to prepare leaders for the challenges they will face in their roles in the future. Communication, new ways of working, skills development and keeping pace with technology are foremost amongst those.

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