Future Friday: What is the value in being an HR futurist?

by Michael Haberman on January 13, 2017 · 2 comments


Paying attention to the future is a necessary skill for the HR professional.

I read an article in Fast Company online, written by serial entrepreneur Faisal Hoque, where he outlines the Four Questions to Turn Everyone in Your Company into a Futurist.  Having myself written Seven Steps to becoming a practical HR Futurist, I naturally read Hoque’s article. He says that by getting people to think of the future, regardless of their roles, can improve the company by making more aware of the possible changes the company may experience. Naturally I think this concept can be applied to the HR field.

The first question

Hoque says the first question is “What’s our process for assessing the future?” You may not actually have one, at least not a formal one, but everyone makes guesses about what changes are going to occur. Look at the process, analyze the current work and its impact on the company, and ask “how can we improve?” Then evaluate your ability to make those improvements. Many larger firms have this as a formal process, but many small companies and smaller HR departments may not.

Second question

The second question is “How are we reading the news?” I have found that for some HR departments the bigger question is “Are we reading the news?” I am not talking about HR and legal news items, I am talking technology. That is the game changer today. Are you reading tech news stories? Hoque gives an example of a story about something called “smart dust”, which is the intersection of IoT (Internet of Things) and nanotechnology. Most people would scan right past that or might read it with some casual interest. Someone thinking like a futurist might think about ways that HR would be able to use such technology in the control of company property, location of employees, attendance technology or some other function. How would your HR department be altered by microscopic technology? He said that if the technology has no direct application it should make you think of what might be. The larger trend of the observation:

  • Anything that can be digitized will be.
  • Anything that can go wireless will.
  • Anything that can get smaller will.
  • And information will want to move more freely.

Third question

Hoque’s third question is “Are we constantly testing what we think is fine?” Many of us have the habit of once we get something working we hope it keeps on working so we can quit messing with it. But sometimes things are not doing what they should or customers or employees change their minds on what they want.  If we are not constantly testing what we have we will not know until too late that some process is broken, or some form could be improved or some application needs to be updated. Users will find a way to work around what you have that doesn’t work. Look at what has happened with performance appraisal.

Fourth question

Hoque uses the analogy of tearing down your walls to view the flow of water in your house to ask the question the flow of information in your organization. In HR when was the last time you reviewed how information flows in and out of the HR department? Hoque says “New ideas float along these ‘flows’ of information.” If you are not maximizing the flow of information you may be missing those new ideas. What filters do you have in place to capture these ideas? Have you automated this flow to better utilize the information?

The value

The value in getting yourself and the others in the HR department to thing like a futurist is the potential for capturing new methods, new technologies or new trends that might improve your HR department. In Future Friday: 6 Signs you are an HR Futurist and Future Friday: Can you develop the skill of envisioning the future? I offer some tips on how to develop this skill. In my Seven Steps program I offer, in the final step, a way you can implement this in your own HR department. Even beginning to think about it will bring value to your organization.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ramkumar Yaragarla January 17, 2017 at 1:59 am

Hi, Great post. Just like how business units improve their processes all the time for efficiency and effectiveness, even HR can start doing that. I agree with you. Nice points. Great learning for me. As a HR business partner or a HR generalist, the HR professional learns to scan the business environment for future HR development areas. And as such, the HR professional is exposed to a whole lot of process improvement programs, for process and business excellence. They get to interact with the quality teams as well and learning on various methodologies.
Such learning can be applied within the HR department as well to make it future proof.
Being a support function it needs the support and encouragement of the business as well.
The questions asked in the post were great. From assessing the future, to keeping ourselves updated with the current trend and news and capturing the information flow. I agree with you. There is a lot of value that can be derived out of this.
May be if we can package it as a method and a framework then we can use it within the HR function and propose it other business units as well.
I enjoyed reading through your post. Thank you. Cheers, Ramkumar

Reply

Michael Haberman January 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Ramkumar:
Thank you for the comment. I am glad you were able to learn something. I hope you continue to enjoy reading.

Reply

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