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Sunil Puri: Is your company’s HR function future-ready?

In this two-part series, Sunil Puri discusses how it’s time Asian HR leaders get with the programme.

Only one in five leaders claim that their HR function is “future-ready”.

“The human resource (HR) leader of the future will be much like a Marvel superhero.” This was an analogy one chief HR officer (CHRO) made recently to Sunil Puri. Unfortunately, the reality is that most practitioners in Asia today are polar opposites from those much-admired comic book characters.

The statistics speak for themselves.

In a research paper co-authored by Puri, it highlighted that only one in five leaders claim that their HR function is “future-ready”. “In most enterprises, it is unable to keep up with the pace of change in business environment. Moreover, it is undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts, not only due to technology and tools, but also from incremental expectations CEOs have of the HR function,” he points out.

Puri is the APAC Head of Research, Innovation and Product Development at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which published his study titled CHRO 3.0: Preparing to Lead the Future HR Function in Asia. He says that to stay relevant in the future, incumbent HR leaders will therefore need a different mindset, skill set and toolset.

Through the CHRO3.0 research study, he made it an objective to identify mindset shifts HR leaders need to make, and areas they need to work on from a skill standpoint. The key highlights are:

1. Being open to adopting technology and make it a best friend
2. Harness the power of the multitude of data collected and turn it into insights that matter
3. Thinking about the HR leader role differently by keeping employee experience central
4. Being selective about taking on new responsibilities – do only what matters most
5. Thinking differently about how HR and the business interplays (through having an outside-in perspective)
6. Being equal partners with the business rather than a rule-enforcer
7. Playing the proactive or “doctor” role to solving HR-business issues

To understand how to get there, it is first imperative to understand how the HR function became what it is today. Puri says that traditionally, business leaders would draw out the business strategy based on the projected future business environment, and the HR or talent strategy was designed to fulfill that strategy.

“In the current environment however, HR leaders do not have the luxury to have a business strategy to work with as they plan talent strategies, because CEOs are grappling with the constantly shifting business environment and multitude of disruptions. Since they are constantly ‘playing catch-up’, there is a lack of direction for HR or talent initiatives,” he explains. 

At the CCL, its research points to four big shifts that are impacting the business world in Asia: volatile-uncertain-complex-ambiguous) is the new normal; changing geo-politics, new (disruptive) business models, and digital transformation.

“One of the APAC CHROs I spoke with pointed out that business itself is grappling with the changing trends around globalisation, technology disruption, global power dynamics, and these are some of the reasons that expectations for the HR team have become sky-high,” he says. “She added that business leaders are asking HR leaders to help them decode the uncertain environment to enable them to get ahead of the competition.”

Unfortunately, HR leaders are not ready either to deal with this increased ambiguity. The primary reasons are due to the lack of nuanced business understanding, inability to deal with technology changes, little understanding of analytics, having a process-driven mindset, and a general unwillingness to change.

Part 2 will explore the solutions to overcoming these challenges.

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