CEOs are finding that every corner of their business is transforming in this rapidly digitizing world. A new kind of HR function is crucial and urgent to help successfully execute, manage and optimize this disruptive change.

HR can no longer be the workforce enforcer, policing others and acting as solely reactive to what is happening in the world of work. Instead, with significant churn expected in the workforce and with technology racing ahead; we believe this function must be at the cutting edge of reshaping and reskilling the workforce. We call such HR functions and their leaders Pathfinders. Pathfinding HR is rare, we estimate about 10 percent of organizations have Pathfinding HR functions based on our Future of HR global survey. But they are needed more than ever before.

The architect, not the follower

It’s generally accepted wisdom that a business lives and dies by its people, but perhaps this truth has been less conscientiously acted upon, until now. Organizations and their employees are changing, the HR leader should take point on reinventing the enterprise workforce. The workforce is, after all, the business’ most important asset and Pathfinding HR leaders are navigating a route to the workforce of the future.

Gone are the days of setting a three-to-five-year workforce plan and delivering this plan at the behest of colleagues. The old talent management playbooks, from the last century, are well and truly out of date. The challenge is that there aren’t new playbooks to replace them - yet. What we know is that the Pathfinders are charting their course with assurance based upon fundamental principles rather than the application of ‘well thumbed’ best practices. These principles include the primacy of evidence and analytics, the need to reinvent the workforce for a new strategic agenda, the importance of the ‘S’ in ESG and the need to design a compelling, high performing and nurturing experience for all categories of employee and contingent worker.

As an example, the old world often had a talent function that was separate from learning and they operated in relative silos according to a relatively fixed view of jobs, competence frameworks and organization structure. The new world emphasizes dynamic ‘skills ontologies’ and a market-place for skills enabled by a learning in the flow of work technology platform.  

Those that bring this type of fresh thinking to the role must also bring the ability to influence, and a flexible mindset – ultimately, the new leader must move from policeman of the present to architect of the future.

Data for hypotheses, not hyperbole

The people leader as architect is a vital role, it will be challenging to influence their C-suite colleagues without evidence to support their approach. Therefore, the new HR leader must embrace, understand and bring together an ecosystem of technology in order to provide data-rich insights. In fact, analytical expertise is paramount for the HR function of the future, as demonstrated by the elite group of ‘Pathfinders’ – visionaries who are emerging as more likely to invest in leading technologies and are more proficient in using data analytics to recruit and develop the future workforce.

Analytics is no longer just focused on what is happening but also on what will happen. It isn’t just about predicting attrition but also about how to close performance gaps between teams, how to promote inclusion and diversity, how to optimize the skills within teams and how to boost innovation and collaboration across internal boundaries.

A word of caution: all this data may be useless without the ability to consider it, to use analysis to strategize and hypothesize for the business. Data must be usefully and skillfully interpreted to ultimately tell a story for change. Reports that merely highlight or champion a set of statistics will just end up on the cutting room floor unless they bring value.

It’s clear to us that the HR leader of the future must be a skilled data user, rather than a data gatherer. As a consequence, these leaders should become  internal consultants, applying data learnings to the success and transformation of the organization, and sharing that wisdom with their C-suite counterparts.

Bringing value and loyalty through employee experience

The final crucial facet of the new HR leader, and the one that ties this all together, is the ability to deliver the best employee experience in market. This leads us back to technology enablement, such as migrating to the cloud and the creation of an easily accessible eco-system of services.

But it goes further than technology, and in our experience, technology for technology’s sake is not the answer. Employees are seeking an experience that empowers and engages them to be more productive and collaborative. They want help and guidance to develop their careers; they must be upskilled, not just performance or talent managed.

We believe that an effective HR transformation that brings with it an optimum employee experience, can only be achieved via a new, business-focused operating model. The HR function should rebuild with a structure such as that from KPMG Powered Enterprise, that considers process, people, centers of excellence, insights and governance. It’s only in taking this holistic, cross-functional and thoughtful approach, that the employee experience will be improved. And the upside? A more engaged workforce can lead to more data and more insights, which are, of course, vital to the success of the new, strategic HR architect.

A regenerated HR leader for an uncertain future

And so, we come full circle. In a nutshell, as your organization develops in this accelerating world, we urge HR leaders to get ahead of their business’ information, data and insights, so they can make informed strategic decisions. Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable, and to use technology to pivot, because your current workforce isn’t the one you’ll need in just a few years’ time – and you and your employees must be ready for that.

Throughout this blog, “we”, “KPMG”, “us” and “our” refers to the global organization or to one or more of the member firms of KPMG International Limited (“KPMG International”), each of which is a separate legal entity.