How to Design a Future-Ready HR Leadership Development Program for Your Organization

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How to Design a Future-Ready HR Leadership Development Program for Your Organization

HR leadership development programs within organizations are rare, but the past year has taught us that strategic HR leadership is needed for a future that is upon us. The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted organizations into a future for which many were not ready. However, it provided greater insight into the type of HR leadership that is and will be needed. That’s why this is the right time to put an HR leadership development program in place at your organization.

Most HR professionals have met the challenges of the pandemic with poise, expertise, and resilience. Still, more than half of C-suite executives still view HR as a primarily administrative function despite their strategic role in the ongoing pandemic. A well-designed HR leadership development program (LDP) can alter this perception. But more importantly, an HR LDP is crucial to meet the challenges of the future of work.

What is an HR leadership development program?
Why does your organization need an HR leadership development program?
What future trends does HR need to prepare for?
Best practices for HR leadership development programs
Steps to design an HR leadership development program

What is an HR leadership development program?

An HR leadership development program is a strategic program within organizations aimed at upskilling and transforming HR professionals into organizational leaders ready for an uncertain and disruptive future.

There is a specific emphasis on developing core HR competencies, leadership skills, and self-awareness. HR leadership development programs entail a combination of various types of training. Moreover, participants complete challenging assignments to test and enhance their skills and their ability to work independently, in teams, or lead a project. They also rotate through specific HR functions and business units to develop HR competencies and business acumen. Successfully graduating from such a program usually leads to participants being assigned to a specific leader function within an HR department.

HR Leadership Development Program
Through developing HR core competencies, leadership skills, and self-awareness, a solid HR leadership development program prepares future-ready HR leaders for your organization.

Why does your organization need an HR leadership development program?

The workplace of the future is still unfamiliar to HR professionals, yet they will be expected to lead it. HR tipped their toes into the waters of these worlds due to the COVID pandemic. However, there is still so much to learn and a lot more that is unknown.

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How do we prepare current HR professionals for a world where work (including HR work) is being automated or done by AI? In a world where there might be fewer traditional full-time employees and more transient workers, how do HR professionals re-architect work and help employees reinvent themselves?

What type of preparation do HR professionals need to repurpose and elevate their HR skills so they remain relevant to the business, even if the function does not exist in the next decade, as it does now? How to prepare them for HR roles of the future?

These are challenging questions with answers that are not readily available. However, investing in an HR leadership development program is an excellent place to start. A program that equips HR professionals to function effectively now, but also to seamlessly transition and pivot during whatever the future of work holds.

Predicting what the future of work will look like is difficult. It raises a question: How can HR professionals prepare for the future in the VUCA world?

Deloitte and PwC have identified certain human capital and workforce trends. These can help HR picture what skills, competencies, and expertise they will need to navigate the future reality.

The Future of Work

According to Deloitte, “The Future of Work” is defined as a result of many forces of change affecting three deeply connected dimensions of an organization: work (the what), the workforce (the who), and the workplace (the where):

  1. Work – What work can be automated? With increasing robotics, cognitive, and AI technologies, what work can be done by – and with – smart machines?
  2. Workforce – Who can do the work? With new talent platforms and contracts, who can do the work? How do we leverage the continuum of talent from full-time through managed services to freelancers, gig workers, and crowds?
  3. Workplace – Where is work done? With new combinations of collaborative, teaming, and digital reality technologies, how are workplaces and work practices reshaping where and when work is done?

Deloitte’s Insights’ report, “The Social Enterprise in a World Disrupted,” identifies the following as the 2021 Global Human Capital Trends:

1. Designing work for well-being: The end of work/life balance 

Organizations are taking well-being beyond work/life balance by starting to design well-being into work—and life—itself.

2. Beyond reskilling: Unleashing worker potential 

Organizations need a workforce development approach that considers both the dynamic nature of work and workers’ equally dynamic potential to reinvent themselves. 

3. Super Teams: Where work happens

COVID-19 has taught organizations that teams are even more critical to thriving amid constant disruption than they might have thought before. 

4. Governing workforce strategies: Setting new directions for work and the workforce. 

Organizations are looking for forward-facing insights about their workforce. These can help them quickly pivot and set new directions in the face of uncertainty. 

5. A memo to HR: Accelerating the shift to re-architecting work. 

Thanks to their handling of COVID-19’s challenges, HR organizations have earned the right to expand HR’s remit to re-architecting work throughout the enterprise. 

Workforce of the Future – The Competing Forces Shaping 2030

In this report, PwC takes a futuristic look at four potential worlds that may exist in 2030. It is important to note that research for this report began in 2007 and was published approximately three years ago. However, its findings are still relevant today despite the global impact of COVID-19.

A common characteristic throughout these worlds is Automation & Artificial Intelligence (AI) affect every level of the business and its people. The digital transformation many organizations are going through now, especially as a result of COVID, confirms the need for deeper insight by all leaders into the digitization of work. The roles of HR (or lack thereof) in these potential worlds of the report are interesting.  

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  1. Innovation Rules in the Red World of 2030 – While innovation and people are inseparable in the Red World, HR does not exist as a separate function. Entrepreneurial leaders rely on outsourced services and automation for people processes. Workforces are lean, but there is still intense competition for critical skills.
  2. Corporate is King in the Blue World of 2030 – The Chief People Officer is a powerful and influential figure, sometimes known as Head of People and Productivity, and sits on the Board. The people risk agenda is one that the board takes seriously – as a result, the CPO and HR become more influential.
  3. Companies Care in the Green World of 2030 – The CEO drives the people strategy for the organization. The HR function renamed ‘People and Society’ embraces a broad mix of HR, marketing, corporate social responsibility, and data analytics. Building and maintaining trust with employees and broader society, especially when it comes to the use of automation, is essential.
  4. Humans Come First in the Yellow World of 2030 – HR rarely exists as a separate function as organizations rely on outsourced services, specialist suppliers, and automation for people processes. Guilds support workers to builds skills and experience by providing training and career development support alongside other help and advice.

So how can organizations help prepare HR leaders of the future?

Best practices for HR leadership development programs

While there aren’t many HR Leadership Development Programs in general, leading organizations like Johnson & Johnson or Cisco Systems have such programs in place already. The most robust of them focus on challenging assignments, rotations in different geographic and business locations, innovation, analytical skills, and of course, strategic leadership and management skills.

However, a leadership development program that seems to possess a framework upon which you can build a solid HR Leadership Development Program is EY’s Leadership Development Program

“The initiative pushes people out of their corporate environment and into the startup scene, where they must connect with other EY colleagues, build new relationships with their own clients, act as motivators to those around them and quickly grow and develop alongside the companies they’re working with. Whilst working with the startups, they develop soft skills such as building networks, establishing client relationships, motivating and engaging teams, sales training, running meetings, and other day to day leadership qualities.

Before people progress to becoming partners, EY wants them to possess a wide variety of skills, so their work with these companies is key. Additional skill sets, a wider business knowledge of their clients, knowing who within EY can offer specific services, and the ability to build bridges between different expertise levels and across networks are all important. The program pushes people out of their typical working surroundings and into the startup scene where they can both take motivation from and give it to the companies they’re paired with.”

Leaving the traditional HR comfort zone

HR Leadership Development Programs are critical to pushing HR professionals out of their comfort zone. By all means, there is an increasing need for HR professionals to develop the ‘hard’ skills like data analytics. Then again, they also have to develop that “ability to build bridges between different expertise levels and across networks.” More and more HR roles are seeking candidates with skills in different areas. These include Lean Six Sigma, project management, analytics, marketing, IT, and UX.

There is also a growing need for HR professionals to be more entrepreneurial in the workplace. For example, an entrepreneurial HR professional “has an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset to:

  • be proactive in identifying ways to drive better business, not just HR, performance by looking for opportunities to improve external delivery.
  • suggest lean initiatives which deliver maximum ROI for minimum resource and manage risk effectively by reducing process where possible.
  • focus on delivering what the organization needs strategically to sustainably improve for the future.”

Forbes identifies five trends within Leadership Development Programs:

  1. A focus on applying and sustaining behaviors
  2. Mobile learning for millennial managers
  3. Group coaching & democratization of leadership development
  4. Alignment to the engagement survey
  5. AI becomes invisible

In summary, these trends suggest HR leadership development programs should ensure that participants can continuously apply and sustain skills and behaviors. It is important to avoid the program becoming a box being ticked.

Therefore, it is essential to set specific performance goals that mirror the change desired, as well as continuous feedback and assessments. This helps support the desired transformation in HR professionals.

Executive coaching is usually a key component of leadership development programs. To minimize the cost of this, the Forbes article suggests group coaching. The best way to improve engagement survey outcomes and the employee experience is to change leadership behaviors. That’s why it’s important to assess and measure HR leadership behaviors in the engagement survey.

Finally, AI can provide targeted information to customize and better utilize an HR leadership development program. It can provide critical data such as which track in your rotational program “correlates to higher engagement scores and which leadership development experiences correlate to faster promotions.”

So how can you design an effective HR Leadership Development Program to nurture strategic and future-oriented HR leaders equipped for the disruption and subsequent future of work, and managing the workforce of the future? The following steps provide some guidance in the process.

Steps to design an HR leadership development program

1. Consider strategic and future-proof skills needed for your organization. Explore the type of HR leadership skills required to address future organizational challenges. Some still less common, but critical skills for HR leaders are the ability to lead a digital HR transformation, design thinking, agile leadership & management, and cultural intelligence.

2. Identify essential leadership competencies. Which leadership competencies are crucial to fulfilling your goals? Think about competencies such as coaching, social & emotional intelligence, influence, and problem-solving. The need for these will not expire but, on the other hand, will intensify.

Once you’ve identified what skills you need, work on uncovering your skills gaps. You can conduct a leadership skills gap analysis within your HR department. Focus also on the level of HR core competencies your employees possess.

Similarly, creating and managing a skills inventory will help you understand who has the potential to become an HR leader at your organization. You will also recognize what skills gaps you need to bridge.

3. Prepare a leadership development plan for your future HR leaders. This plan should be personalized and provide detailed steps on how your future HR leaders will develop the skills they need to succeed.

4. Build a rotational program based on the T-shaped HR Professional framework. A rotational program built with this framework in mind equips HR Professionals to meet the challenges of the future of work. Give your HR professionals an opportunity to get exposure to different HR functions. This will enable them to get a good understanding of different aspects of HR like talent acquisition, L&D, or compensation & benefits.

Consider expanding ‘Business Acumen’ to include taking HR professionals out of the HR department. They could work in and partner with other functional areas over an extended period of time. Tthis would help them get a more holistic view of the business and understand how they can support the business goals from their position of an HR leader.

5. Implement online self-paced learning. This type of remote training can be an effective element of your leadership development program. It will give HR the opportunity to gain future-ready skills in People Analytics and Digital HR, as well as in different human resources functions. They can learn anywhere, anytime.

You can support your future leaders in learning by encouraging them to dedicate time to it. For example, suggest blocking time in their calendar for a couple of hours every week.

6. Create a space to gain knowledge, skills, and experience. Competencies are built through a combination of gaining knowledge, skills, and experience. There is theoretical learning, then knowledge application to develop the skills and then mastery of the skills through practice.

For example, being proficient in People Analytics is increasingly in demand. First, HR professionals will have to acquire the knowledge and the necessary skillset, for example, through a dedicated professional development certification. They will then apply and practice the knowledge and continue developing their People Analytics skills on the job. This allows them to gain sufficient experience and become truly competent in People Analytics.

Building Competence

7. Support networking opportunities. The above-mentioned rotational program is a good opportunity to build connections across the organization. Having such a network is key to a leader’s success. Mentorship programs, secondments, and job shadowing will strengthen relationships during the HR LDP.

Over to you

HR leaders have been competently designing and managing HR and people strategy that aligns with business objectives for decades. However, 2020 ushered in a decade where organizations must develop and nurture a new type of HR leader.

Organizations need HR Professionals who are equipped to lead and manage the future of work and navigate its disruptive nature. According to the World Economic Forum, “the impact of technological, demographic and socio-economic disruptions on business models will be felt in transformations to the employment landscape and skills requirements, resulting in substantial challenges for recruiting, training and managing talent.”

To overcome these substantial challenges, develop a comprehensive HR leadership development program that encapsulates the breadth and depth of the transformation taking place, and that pushes HR professionals out of their comfort zone. This will ensure the continued success of your organization and the continued relevance of HR Professionals who drive that success.

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