7 ways HR’s changing

Jess Fuhl
Published on 2nd October 2019
4 min read

How many times have your priorities or to-do list changed today?

It’s a huge cliché, but so often in HR it really does feel like change is the only constant.

After all, you’re ultimately dealing with people. They have changing priorities, desires and wishes too.

The changing nature of HR was in fact the single biggest theme which emerged from our recent research from 500 global HR and People leaders on the challenges and priorities they’re facing in the sector and their roles.

These changes aren’t just day-to-day, however.

HR, the workforce, and the world of work is changing. Seismic shifts in the way organizations operate, manage their people and work are occurring as a result – with huge implications for HR and People teams.

The changing face of HR: About Sage People’s new research

Our research set out to find out what these changes mean for HR and People leaders.

We asked them how they’re adapting to the changing world of work, what they’re doing differently, and what’s on the horizon in the coming years.

Finally, we asked them about the impact for their teams and their own professional careers: how prepared are they and their teams for the continued changes ahead?

Their answers uncovered some revealing findings. Here’s what we learnt, and what they mean for HR and People leaders today.

1. HR is changing to People – but most organizations haven’t fully transformed yet

Just as Personnel evolved into HR in the 1980s, it’s now changing into a ‘People’ function. 94% of respondents echoed this by anticipating changes in the next three to five years as part of this transition.

However, just 18% of HR leaders feel they’ve made the transition from HR to People already. Most are in it for the long haul, with 86% expecting the transformation to take up to 10 years.

2. Over a third of HR leaders have adopted new ways of working across the board

On average, over a third of HR and People leaders have adopted new ways of working across all areas, our research revealed.

For example, seamless onboarding and automation in recruitment; data-driven decision making; enhanced employee experiences; holistic wellness programs; flexible and remote working; and employee-driven learning.

The research report breaks down in full, for each of these areas, how far HR and People teams are in their adoption of new ways of working.

Interestingly, a huge 95% of HR and People teams are either already offering flexible working—or plan to in the next two years.

3. Employees’ expectations of HR are shifting

Changing employee expectations are also driving some of these operational changes as HR teams continue their HR to People journey.

A whopping 69% of respondents said they expect employees’ expectations of HR to completely change in the next three years.

4. Technology adoption is slow

Our research found that top priorities for HR and People teams are cloud and mobile technology, with 43% and 36% of organizations adopting them respectively, followed by analytics (26% adopted) and self-service (24%).

HR and People teams are also showing early signs of experimenting with technologies such as AI (13% adopted) and gamification (12%), but there’s still more to do.

A third of HR leaders have fully automated HR ––with a further 28% planning to adopt this in the next two years.

5. HR leaders are concerned organizations won’t be able to keep up with changes

Worryingly, 43% of HR leaders believe their organization won’t keep up with changes in technology over the next 10 years.

Furthermore, there was a striking message from respondents that, despite there being appetite for change on their side, HR and People leaders are facing barriers in their organizations.

Over half (53%) of HR and People teams are delaying change because they have too many competing priorities to focus on, and 57% of HR leaders told us they can’t invest in new technology because of resourcing restrictions.

6. Critical skillsets must change – and urgently

Surprisingly, fewer than one in three respondents we polled would rate their HR skills and competencies as expert level today, with 86% of respondents believing HR skillsets need to change.

HR and People leaders feel they are weak in areas such as behavioral sciences, technology knowledge, People analytics, and communications.

In addition, a huge 82% of HR and People leaders anticipate that the role of HR director will be completely unrecognizable in ten years’ time.

7. Over a third of companies plan to hire non-traditional HR roles

With a global skills crunch almost inevitable within the HR sector, it’s no surprise that a third (34%) of respondents are planning to hire non-traditional HR roles. Over a quarter (25%) also intend to bring in external consultants.

How can HR and People leaders can get ahead?

Firstly, address the skills gap. We found that while recognized, the challenge of plugging the skills gaps within HR has been vastly underestimated.

Identify skills gaps in your team now, and where they could be in the future for your organization, to get ahead in the HR to People transformation.

Second, drive agile ways of working. It means you can implement changes faster. They can get quicker feedback and take remedial action.

By continuously re-designing better ways of working in this way, they can see a quicker impact on productivity. Our research found that less than a third of HR leaders currently operate an agile HR model today, though. Do you?

Thirdly, get ahead with technology. Technology such as automation and analytics enables HR to work smarter, faster and more strategically. With 43% of HR leaders believing their organization will not keep up with changes in technology over the next 10 years, however, there’s still a lot to do.

Finally, make the business case for investment effectively. 53% of HR leaders told us they can’t make the business case for change.

Investing in your people is one of the most important business decisions an organization can make. Get it right and your business will thrive. Building a robust and comprehensive business case is the most powerful tool you can use to get that all important slice of budget.

Ready to be the face of change?

Our research found that HR leaders believe the HR to People transformation to be real; the way HR operates is evolving; technology used in HR is changing; and, the role of HR is shifting and new skillsets are required.

As a result, new applications and technology for this new world are required, to help HR leaders on their ongoing journey from HR to People.

In short: everything’s changing. It seems change is in fact, right now for HR, the only constant. It may sound daunting or exhausting, but if any sector can not only survive amongst change, but thrive – it’s HR.

If HR teams can transition from being process-focused to truly people-focused, imagine the impact that can have on working lives across the world.

After all, we spend so much time working—isn’t it time things changed and work for employees felt less like… hard work?


Discover what 500+ HR leaders said about the future of HR. Download our new research ‘The changing face of HR’ today.

Get the research

Browse more topics from this article

HR Strategy Technology Workforce Experience
Exit popup

Take an Interactive tour of Sage People

Discover how Sage People can transform the way you hire, manage, engage and retain your workforce, in this interactive product tour.