HR professionals should be "more critical of whether we need to exist", and look at ways to improve HR's value proposition, says emeritus professor Roger Collins.
Speaking at a recent breakfast in Sydney, hosted by Directioneering, Collins pointed out that over the past 20 years many organisations have had to re-invent themselves, so "why is it that occupations haven't done the same thing?
"I think it's time for new occupational groups to be formed, and to be a little bit more critical of whether [HR] needs to continue to exist. If we are going to exist, what's the value proposition that would justify that?"
Blacksmiths have "virtually gone", he says, and in 2030, "we won't have fighter pilots; we'll have drones". Other occupations have made "fundamental changes" (for example dentistry, which needed to shake its 'drill and fill' tag following fluoridation in the 1960s), and Collins says HR could learn from the farming model of "hybrid vigour" (essentially, taking the best attributes of two parents to "create something that is greater than the sum of its parts").
He says: "The problem in business school is that we structure stuff about finance, and people, and marketing and operations, which are not the problems managers have. They have complex, multi-disciplinary problems which require trans-disciplinary skills."
Under the hybrid vigour model, he suggests, HR should "breed" with:
marketing - organisations need an external brand for their clients or customers but an internal brand for their people, "because if you don't offer them a value proposition that enables them to behave in the ways that offers the value proposition to your clients, you'll never have a successful business model".
"There's a great opportunity there to have a set of thinking, and a set of actions, which leverages both of those so that by bringing them together we create more value than we might separately."
finance - Collins questions why "so few HR people are quantitatively orientated" and whether HR is "attracting people with enough intellectual grunt into this space".
"Why is it that most HR people... are qualitative in our orientation, when so much of the work in organisations is quantitative?
"If we set values on our learning and development budget, we then might be able to put the case in a language that would be more persuasive to chief executives and boards. And if we were really robust in our cost-benefit analyses, we'd know if we were actually having impact."
Without financial and accounting skills, he says, HR is being left behind because "we're just using words, often, to justify our case".
IT - "We're now doing a lot more data mining; a lot of artificial intelligence, and complex problem solving. Computers are moving into that space. Why is it that we can't bring together people with people skills and IT skills to leverage that as well?"
Collins also made some "more conservative" suggestions for improving HR, which included "rotating line managers through HR" and "moving HR people out into line".
He adds that HR should look critically at where it spends its learning and development budget, and "reallocate it in new directions".
Collins draws a comparison between HR and the women's liberation movement, quoting his feminist mother, who said: "the problem with this whole issue around the women's movement is that about 50 per cent of the population never get the message. Why is it that women spend so much of their time working on themselves when if they could work on the male side of the population they could change male behaviour, and roles and expectations in ways that would allow women to do the stuff which they can do, and do often as well and better than males?"
Too often, he says, "we invest in our HR people when we should be investing in our line managers, boards and CEOs".
Finally, he said, HR principles need to be taught "earlier in people's lives".
"Why is that we don't we feed this into the curriculum of the High School Certificate? There is a business stream there. Why is it that in engineering and accounting and law and medicine and science we aren't feeding them stuff saying 'at some future point in your life you will be responsible for other people'?
"Too often at the age of 35 we say, 'well now you're a manager and a leader', and at that stage they're corporate concrete. It's all over red rover.
"If we're able to get into people's lives, enabling them to manage themselves and manage others much earlier, we'd make a lot more progress in this area."