Managing People

We spoke to leading people strategist Josh Bersin about how HR is evolving -- and how to keep up

July 2, 2018
February 22, 2024
Lattice Team

Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, spoke with Lattice’s Co-Founder and CEO Jack Altman about the ways the department HR is evolving. Check out the Resources for Humans video here.

Bersin emphasizes the importance of HR departments staying relevant today, with the new array of tools available for performance management and more in-depth understanding of what different generations, such as millennials, want in the workforce.

HR has changed a lot since the recession hit a decade ago. In 2008, HR was about doing less, Bersin says; it focused on compliance and administration. Now it’s about “understanding the employee experience, improving employee engagement, watching and monitoring the employment brand and making the company a better place to work.”

There is more focus on being an attractive employer: culture, listening, transparency, work environment, better benefits, and free food. We’re entering a new era, in which it is not enough for management to function as “curator,” Bersin says, but rather management needs to be a “coach,” by really understanding how work gets done and the tools needed to get that work done.

One of the ways HR is doing this is by “upscaling itself to be more business relevant.” Ideally, the HR department aligns with the CEO and can focus on tasks that are not necessarily the most important for CEOs, including taking some accountability for growth, profitability, innovation, revenue, and customer service. Furthermore, the more that HR departments think about things like employee engagement and retention, the better off they will be, says Bersin.

Leadership that uses new tools for engagement

Employee engagement now involves a set of new tools, such as Lattice, and is a continuous process of listening to employees -- it’s the ebb and flow of energy in a job. “Every company is in the people business whether they know it or not,” says Bersin. Engagement is essential to a company’s growth. Bersin points out that some high growth companies are not great places to work. “If the people aren’t engaged and trained and aligned, that particular thing that you’re selling won’t be productive, customers won’t be happy.”

Smart companies have senior leadership who continually listen, trust, and invest in people, including during bad times. Performance management in most companies is negative, says Bersin. But people should never come out of a performance management meeting anxious and overwhelmed. It should be one of the things that make people want to work someplace, and if it’s not, then it’s not doing its job.

Provide good, meaningful jobs

“Engagement” by itself doesn’t really mean anything, he says. There are many definitions for engagement, and companies need not focus on making employees “happy.” Instead, what really matters is productivity, retention, employment brand, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction. If an organization is providing good jobs that are meaningful to employees and help the organization succeed in a supportive environment, then they will be happy, he says. Bersin adds though that job seekers today need to do their due diligence about the type of place they’re interviewing with -- if it’s the kind of company they want to work.

Stay on top of tech

We now have feedback that’s quick and simple thanks to various integrated tools, and we’re thus getting smarter about how to effectively give advice. (Bersin likes the term “insider advice” because “feedback” has a negative connotation for people, he says.) The HR department needs to have people who are staying on top of technology so that they keep adapting and are aware of relevant tools. The cost of innovation is having to do a bit more homework, he says. Overall, HR departments in the U.S. market are doing things ahead of tech vendors, he says, and software companies are following innovations by leading HR companies. The HR market is becoming more “fragmented” and “creative,” says Bersin, and they’re becoming better at experimentation -- testing, trying tools, doing pilots and then later deciding if they want to roll a product out.

HR practices are built around individuals, but looking into the future, HR needs to figure out how to optimize not just for a person, but for a team, says Bersin. How are goals aligned around a team? Furthermore, companies today are expected to be good citizens -- that is, socially integrated entities -- so what will they do to be a part of societal good?