A new era for human resources: Systemic HR has arrived

Systemic HR is here, and it is indispensable for the new reality of work, write leaders from The Josh Bersin Company.
By: | December 8, 2023

In a rapidly evolving business landscape, where talent is scarce, employees are empowered, and transformation is the norm, an organisation’s human capital has become the most crucial competitive advantage. This means HR is now at the helm, steering organisations into the future.

HR’s role has expanded beyond basic recruiting, payroll and compensation. Today, HR needs to attract the right talent, develop skills quickly and at scale, reward and recognise desired behaviours, cultivate a winning culture, foster an inclusive environment, support productivity and wellbeing, create an irresistible experience, promote effective leadership practices and continuously redesign work, jobs and organisations. HR today, unlike the personnel function of the past, is a profession of design, consulting, technology and data.

From back-office function to critical business driver

The evolution of HR has seen it move from a back-office function focused on administrative tasks to a strategic partner that plays a vital role in shaping business outcomes. This shift has necessitated a move away from the traditional service delivery model towards a more integrated and holistic approach, which we call Systemic HR.

Systemic HR views the organisation as an interconnected system, with HR playing a pivotal role in aligning people strategies with business objectives. This approach enables HR to address business problems holistically, leveraging talent intelligence to determine the most viable solutions. It also emphasises the importance of employee experience, with HR technology initiatives focused on creating a superior employee experience rather than just improving HR efficiencies.

Studying the craft of HR

Today, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in HR towards a more integrated and holistic approach. So, what does this mean for HR? And where do organisations stand?

We studied the world’s largest dataset on the HR function, with over 1,000 organisations globally that cover 26 million employees and their 107 HR strategies and practices; 12 definitive guide studies across all areas of HR (TA, L&D, DE&I, EX, rewards, leadership, organisational design, HR technology and much more); 92 HR capabilities of more than 9,000 HR professionals; and data from our study partner LinkedIn from 7.5 million people, millions of job postings, 250 HR jobs and 400 HR skills.

The depth of the problem

Here’s what we concluded from this research: While systemic HR is indispensable for the future, most organisations are still stuck in legacy approaches, struggling to adopt leading practices and strategies. Specifically:

  • Only 22% measure HR success through business success metrics
  • Only 17% of organisations have a process to prioritise resources for problems
  • Only 15% of organisations believe their HRBPs can redesign work or organisations
  • Only 11% of organisations practice design thinking to build and deploy solutions
  • Only 7% have a formal professional development programme for HR teams
  • Only 4% have a well-defined strategy for AI in HR

Overall, only 11% of organisations have systemic HR organisations, but those far outperform their competition financially, delight their customers, innovate better, and create outstanding results for people.

Pacesetter in systemic HR

How can organisations advance towards systemic HR? There are many elements to consider, and pacesetter organisations are leading the way in implementing systemic HR practices, showcasing others how to advance:

  • Creating a business-aligned HR strategy and measurement system: New York-Presbyterian Hospital has established a people strategy that aligns with its business strategy. The organisation is focused on improving the talent pipeline, especially in clinical areas, developing skills and capabilities for digital, AI and technology; and redesigning care teams for improved patient experience.
  • Breaking down COE silos: LinkedIn is integrating the talent acquisition and L&D COE, bringing together HR capabilities and creating more closely aligned HR functions. This approach of a combined “talent COE” is a hallmark of organisations moving towards systemic HR.
  • Changing the operating model: TomTom transformed legacy COEs into problem-solving HR teams with a laser focus on supporting the organisation’s transformation. Guided by data and analytics, the teams can now address the most critical business problems through full-stack HR capabilities, breaking down domain silos.
  • Elevating the CHRO role: Australia global real-estate organisation REA Group has added two critical capabilities to the CHRO role: employee communication and environmental, social and government (ESG), amplifying the importance of the CHRO.
  • Redesigning the role of the HR business partners: Lego is focusing on skilling HRBPs in change management, organisation design and business acumen to support their roles as senior consultants to the business, building full-stack capabilities.
  • Deeply understanding problems: When SAP aimed to solve the pay equity issue, the HR team did not just give increases to people who were underpaid. Instead, it determined where the inequities came from and worked across various domains in HR to provide systemic solutions.
  • Applying a systemic approach to problems: In response to declining customer satisfaction and financial performance, Taj Hotels changed the performance management programme to reward every employee for the team’s collective success, leading to increased employee engagement and improved financial results.
  • Using human-centred design approaches: IBM uses design thinking in HR. When a new problem occurs, the HR leadership team assigns an agile team of HR specialists, line leaders and software engineers. They build a prototype solution, leading to innovations like IBM’s cognitive career coach and cognitive pay advisor.
  • Leveraging a flat, agile organisational structure for HR: Australian teleco Telstra moved to a completed agile organisation structure for the entire business, including the HR function, eliminating hierarchies and breaking down silos.
  • Strategically introducing AI in HR: Walmart developed an AI copilot to navigate a wide range of associate and manager questions, ranging from “I need to take the day off tomorrow” to “I need to hire a store representative.” By leveraging AI, Walmart is not only automating administrative tasks but also generating insights that drive strategic decision-making and improve the employee experience.

About the author: Josh Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. Kathi Enderes is Senior Vice-President and Global Industry Analyst at The Josh Bersin Company. The article was first published on Human Resource Executive.