SHRM and CIPD: Two Approaches to Determining HR’s Future State

Have you ever stopped to examine the methods by which HR organizations determined what the future skill sets of HR should be? As you read this article, pay close attention to the approach. Readers with strong business acumen will see my point quickly.

The SHRM Approach

In 2013, the Human Resources profession recognized its need to change. In a study funded by the Society of Human Resources (SHRM) and the National Academy of Human Resources (NAHR), twenty CHROs were interviewed about their current expectations of HR, their future expectations, their opinion of HR’s ability to meet these expectations and any gaps that exist. The result was the formation of project teams to define the challenges facing HR and to make recommendations of how HR would meet the needs of tomorrow.

In June 2014, a Future of HR Summit was held to identify “pivotal challenges for accelerating the profession’s progress.”[1] The teams identified five forces of change that are predicted to emerge and create pivotal disruptive change in society, business and work. The five forces cited were:

  1. Exponential pattern of technological change,
  2. Social and organizational reconfiguration,
  3. A truly connected world,
  4. All inclusive, more diverse talent market, and
  5. Human and machine collaboration.

In the interest of brevity, I won’t explain each one here. You can read more about them in the book, “The Best is Yet to Come,” or you can read the SHRM reports from this project.

Based on the information above, the SHRM team envisioned five new roles to support the future of HR. The following descriptions are listed as they are described in the Future of HR Summit notes.

  1. Organizational Engineer: is an expert on new ways of working. He / she would be a facilitator of virtual team effectiveness, a developer of all types of leadership, and an expert at talent transitions. He / she is an expert at organization principles such as agility, networks, power and trust.
  2. Virtual Culture Architect: is a culture expert, advocate and brand builder. He / she connects current and potential workers’ purpose to the organization’s mission and goals. He / she is adept at principles and values, norms, and beliefs, articulated through virtual and personal means.
  3. Global Talent Scout, Convener and Coach: Understands new talent platforms and optimizes the relationships between workers, work and the organization, using whatever platform is best (free agent, contractor, employee). He / she is a talent contract manager, talent platform manager and career / life coach.
  4. Data, Talent and Technology Integrator: An expert at manipulating big data, understanding and modelling trends, and knows how to code to adjust the algorithms, as well as design work to optimally combine technology, automation and human conditions.
  5. Social Policy and Community Activist: A social responsibility leader. He / she produces synergy between the social goals of the organization, such as economic returns, social purpose, ethics, sustainability and worker health. He / she influences beyond the organization, shaping policies, regulations and laws that support the new world of work through talented community engagement.

I won’t comment on these positions other than to say that they seem a bit theoretical and not very “concrete” in their definitions.

As part of the Future of HR study, team members engaged a sample of HR professionals to ascertain the extent to which they agreed with the future vision. They conducted 22 interviews with CEOs, Directors and Board members on their perceptions of HR today and what they feel is needed for the future. The interviewees represented some of the largest companies and “some of the best and most highly regarded HR leaders in the world.”[2]

The summaries of these interviews were provided in a CHRO report card. I won’t list it here since it’s irrelevant to the point of this article, but I will say that the report card emphasizes many of the themes that we’ve been discussing for the past several years, namely, that HR:

  • Needs to expand its skill beyond its current capabilities,
  • Needs to gain experience to obtain business acumen, and
  • Needs to connect its actions to executing business strategies.

And now, the point of the article…

An important thing to note about this approach to determining the future needs of HR is that the initial interviews were conducted with CHROs, so essentially, a team of HR professionals interviewed HR executives. Later on, they presented the results to CEOs and we are left with the impression that the CEOs were not impressed.

From a business point of view, this approach was backwards. Having come from the engineering world where our company developed products, you don’t ask your engineering team about what new products to build. You ask your customers. SHRM did not interview its customers first. It interviewed itself (HR) first. That doesn’t align with the concept of “outside-in” customer service. It is not surprising then that the feedback from HR’s customers, conducted later in the study, did not agree with HR’s view.

The CIPD Approach

The previous study was conducted by SHRM, an American organization. As a comparison, let’s check the approach of an HR organization in another region.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), is the governing HR body in the United Kingdom. This organization released a report entitled, “HR Outlook, Leaders’ Views of our Profession.”[3] For this research, the CIPD surveyed 143 senior HR leaders and, more importantly, 152 leaders from outside of HR. As you can see, the participation in this study was much larger and they included the customer view from the beginning.

Irrelevant to this article, but if you are curious as to what the CIPD concluded, read the remaining text.

There are areas where the opinions of HR leaders and non-HR leaders align and there are areas which are certainly misaligned. Much like the internal study I once ran for a Fortune 500 company, HR views its contribution to the company to be more substantial than how non-HR leaders see it.

As the CIPD states,

Although there is general agreement about what the organization’s strategic priorities are, HR and other business leaders disagree about what HR should be focusing on to achieve them. Our findings suggest further examination is needed about why there is such a notable difference in views about the suitability of HR’s current people strategy to achieving the organization’s future goals.

Some areas of disconnect reflect HR’s core people remit, and therefore their unique contribution, but others signal the need for action. Achievement of some strategic priorities (that is, innovation and productivity) require HR to work in a systemic way across the organization in complement to the traditional alignment with specialist HR areas or best practice. HR needs to have a deeper understanding of the business to be able to develop and support new ways of working across the whole organization system.

As you can see, topics like business acumen, innovation, analytics and technology keep creeping into our conversations each time we try to assess the future requirements of HR.

One of the biggest misalignments identified in the CIPD study is that HR sees its contribution to the organization’s future priorities being much more than how non-HR leaders see it. In the survey, 72% of HR leaders agree that their current people strategy will help the organization achieve its future priorities. Only 26% of leaders outside of HR feel the same way.

Until next time,


Tracey Smith is an internationally recognized business author, speaker and analytics consultant. She is one of the most highly respected voices when it comes to business analytics and HR analytics. She is the author of multiple business books and hundreds of articles in a variety of publications. Tracey has worked with and advised organizations, both well-known and little-known, on how to use data analytics to impact the bottom line. If you would like to talk to Tracey about consulting work or speaking engagements, please visit  or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn.

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[1], [2] Boudreau, Ziskin, Rearick and Schmidt. Summary of the Future of HR Project Summit, May 2015.

[3], HR Outlook: Leaders’ Views of our Profession, Winter 2015-2016.