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The New Role of HR: From Partner to Anticipator

By Rich Wellins, Ph.D.

Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D. In about two years, I retire from a vocation (and passion) I have devoted myself to for close to 35 years, although I am sure I will stay involved in some way. That vocation, of course, is talent management. One of the things long-timers have is perspective. When I joined the field, there were many organizations we worked with that still called their functional area “the personnel department.” We have seen a shift from personnel to HR, to the new kid on the block—talent management.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: Has our role evolved with the changes in the names of our departments or titles? Our new Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 addressed this very issue (as one of 18 major findings).

From Partner to AnticipatorAt least a decade ago, we began hearing the term “business partner” as the aspirational role the C-suite wanted to see HR play. The idea was that HR should have a “seat at the table.” The concept implied that HR would be closer to the business, recommend and help implement the right talent solutions, and serve as a talent advisor to the business it supported. We labeled this role the partner. This was in contrast to HR’s older role which we called the reactor. As you can imagine, the reactor was largely a tactical, compliance, and administrative role. The good news first. Only 22 percent of the HR professionals we surveyed labeled themselves as reactors. Of course, that is still almost one in four, so there is room to move up the value chain. Just over 60 percent classified themselves as partners. Finally, progress!

So by now those of you sharp at math are wondering, where did the other 18 percent go? We actually defined a new role we labeled the anticipator. In this new role, talent management executives are far more strategic. They are looking ahead and taking greater accountability in ensuring the organization has the talent it needs to succeed in the future. Ram Charan, one the world’s leading business management gurus, likes to call the new role one that moves from being at the table to setting the table. Brilliant!

We found that the missing 18 percent put themselves in the anticipator category. There are two major things (among others) anticipators do differently than either reactors or partners. First, they are much more likely to be involved early in their companies’ strategic planning processes. In essence, talent planning is an integral part of strategic planning and not something that comes after. The second thing they do differently? They are much more likely to use predictive talent analytics to guide their people decisions and solutions. They are using data to both show impact and, more importantly, help them look ahead. The real bottom line: Anticipators ensure their organization is preparing the talent today they will need to run their business three to five years out.

To find out more about this new role, go to Evolving HR: From Partner to Anticipator.

Rich Wellins, Ph.D., is a senior vice president at DDI.

Posted: 11 Aug, 2014,

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