2013 – Testing HR’s Mettle

Posted By on Dec 31, 2012


2013A close confidant recently told me, “If I could summarize the year ahead, I’d say that everything I’ve learned over my 40+ years of HR is about to get put to work. Although I’m dreading it, I also believe this is the perfect opportunity to see how my team and I rise to the occasion. Do you think most HR departments are truly ready?

My answer? “Some are more ready than others, but I’m concerned most employers have yet to internalize what lies ahead.

The Background

The holidays can be the perfect time to pop out of the Whac-A-Mole hole, take a deep breath and catch up with those near and dear to you. Such was the case with an old friend and colleague who is the CHRO for a very recognizable Fortune 100 firm. The conversation above rang true to our symbiotic “no BS” styles as we started to discuss our personal and professional goals for the new year. She jokes that the sun sets a little faster at her age and an understandable melancholia drew her into reflection on what, by all accounts, has been a highly successful, interesting and life-changing career.

You see, 2013 is her final year in our industry, and although retirement truly presents a much-needed light at the end of a tumultuous tunnel, she wonders what more remains to be done. Like many of you, she wants to leave her industry and little better than how she found it, and despite her tremendous contribution to our field, she’s worried that the real challenges for HR are coming faster than we can handle them.

The Situation

The year ahead is going to be anything but simple for our industry. Change is an absolute certainty and the seemingly disconnected subdomains of human resources are going to forcibly intersect and co-depend in a way we have not experienced for some time. And although many of you may (perhaps rightfully) argue that 2013 represents “the same old, same old” juggling act you’ve dealt with your entire career, let me offer one specific example.

Regardless of your politics, health care reform is here to stay, and the implications of PPACA reach well beyond your benefits function. Here are some of the reform-triggered decisions and down steam impacts you are likely assessing right now:

  • Benefits: Who do we continue to offer coverage, in what amounts, based upon what eligibility criteria, through which carrier(s), in partnership with what outsourcers, including (any?) public or private exchanges, while addressing critical wellness issues, rising premiums, compliance, penalties and communication criteria?
  • Workforce Management: Based upon the thirty-hour rule, do we modify certain classes of employees to less than this limit, restructure our entire hourly workforce, deploy a more robust time and attendance system, provide a voluntary support platform, partner with a consortium of like-kind employers all while attempting to attract and retain employees as an employer of choice?
  • Talent Management: How do we quickly recruit hundreds or thousands of new part-time employees, retain those who lose hours, rapidly onboard, train to full productivity, assess performance, incent and manage what could amount to a massive increase in our total population?
  • Employee Relations/Communications: What is the best means of articulating all of this change while ensuring our position is clear and that we still believe our “employees are our greatest asset” (despite what some will perceive to be abandonment), all while ensuring we drive more self-service, increased portal/intranet utilization, manager-to-employee connectivity, a higher level of personalization and more leverage of social and mobile communication vehicles?
  • HRMS/HRIS: Do we have a system capable of providing real-time employee intelligence, managerial dashboards, integration to a litany of SaaS third-party providers, custom applications, BI tools, and complex analytic engines tracking every single employee action and reaction in the “big data” future (that analysts have told us is coming) despite compressed budgets and an ever-changing vendor landscape?
  • Payroll: Will the business have all of the decisions made so we can ensure fields are updated and processed without disrupting a predictive cyclical workflow in anticipation of dates when we must – I mean must! – meet new standards for pre-and-post contribution disclosures while ensuring tax treatment for the variety of individual scenarios are appropriately calculated, processed and reported?
  • Everyone: How do I lean on my professional associations, vendors and trusted peers so I don’t screw up something I haven’t had the time or luxury to study because of the 80-hour workweek I’ve struggled to maintain since the recession?

And that’s just one piece of legislation.

The Solution

There is no question in my mind that 2013 is going to be a doozie and there is no silver bullet I can credibly offer to stem the tide. Instead I go back to my conversation with my colleague as I asked her what advice she wished she had received earlier in her career.

“I wish someone had told me what this profession is really about. Every day we make decisions that impact people’s lives and more often than not we get it right. But here’s the thing Mark – I didn’t ask enough questions because I was afraid I either wouldn’t like the answer or might expose myself for not knowing something others already understood. The funny thing about HR is that no one person knows every single detail. I wish I had to courage to admit what I didn’t know and had spent more time networking with those who did.”

Amidst all the chaos it’s easy to forget the community that is HR. As you prepare for a safe and festive New Year’s Eve, just remember that we’re all in this together. Happy New Year everyone.

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