HR and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In a previous blog I reviewed the history of industrial revolutions in the U.S. and the proposition that there is a real need for bolstering social connections and collaboration (aka teamwork) in today’s workplaces, and that HR plays a key role in filling that gap.

When I graduated high school, it was my intent to become an engineer like my father. I finished my undergrad education in Industrial Engineering and found my first job as a manufacturing project engineer. Industrial Engineering is focused on optimizing the interaction of people and processes. What I discovered in that first job was that I was much more interested in the relationship of people (employees) and the organization. Workplace safety, pay and benefits, work environment, engagement, etc. What was known at that time as Personnel Management or Employee Relations.

This early experience led me to return to school to work on a masters degree in Industrial Relations, and I then landed a job as a Personnel Coordinator in small-town Kentucky.  I coordinated company-sponsored events, safety programs, the company newsletter, as well as entry-level recruitment and new-hire orientation.  I loved that first job but missed the big city, and in 1976 I moved back to Cleveland to continue my HR career.

Around that time, Personnel Management became known as Human Resource Management. According to a post by Bright Hub Project Management entitled  “Are You an HR Manager or a Personnel Manager?”,  the scope of Personnel Management broadened into Human Resource Management.  The difference is that “…. personnel management includes functional activities such as manpower planning, recruitment, job analysis, job evaluation, payroll administration, performance appraisals, labor law compliance, training administration, and related tasks. Human Resources Management includes all these activities plus organizational development activities such as leadership, motivation, developing organizational culture, communication of shared values, and so forth.”

Whichever label is applied, the traditional role is about managing human resources rather than engaging human resources.

I see HR as a representative of the employees, whether unionized or not, to ensure that the workplace is conducive to worker engagement, fostering optimum productivity, teamwork and individual development.  As noted in my previous blog, HR’s role should be focused on the needs of the employees and how to keep them engaged in the best interests of the organization, which is what drew me to a career in HR. This is a much more difficult task than it was when I started out, given the current trend of remote work locations (telecommuting) and an on-demand workforce (part-timers, temporaries, independent contractors, etc. versus full-time employees).  Difficult but necessary.

It appears that corporations are beginning to recognize a new role for HR in the success of the enterprise.  In the current SHRM newsletter (May 10, 2018), the lead article is “Should New CEOs Have HR Expertise?” (by Aliah Wright). According to some experts, “the path to the CEO suite should run through HR….especially now that organizations are realizing that sweeping societal, economic, technological and demographic changes are heralding a new era in management that centers on the people who are doing the work—and how they are treated.” It’s about time…..

Published by Dave Waldorf

Former Human Resource and legal professional specializing in HR compliance advisory services. Finding my new life in Arizona with my wife of 43 years and our two shelties.

One thought on “HR and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

  1. Hi Dave – interesting post. I’m wondering about the different views of HR within public companies versus closely-held companies. I think that many public companies are unwisely reacting to short term pressures from the stock market by doing every thing they can to cut cost. In that labor costs are typically the biggest number on the spread sheet, this is what gets shortchanged.

    I’ve never heard it described better than the way the founder of Panera Bread tells it in his interview on, “How I Built This with Guy Raz” see and look for: APRIL 30, 2018 Panera Bread/Au Bon Pain: Ron Shaich.

    Nicely written!

    Liked by 1 person

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