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Role of HR

Global Leadership Forecast 2018

HR’s New Role:

Are They Up to the Challenge?

Richard Wellins

In Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015, we put forth the concept of a new role for HR, moving from the overused term of “partner” to “anticipator.” Only a small number of HR professionals considered themselves Anticipators. Even fewer leaders thought their HR colleagues fell into this category. Not more than six months after the release of the Forecast, Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to the role of HR. The provocative title of the lead article? “Why We Love to Hate HR and What HR Can Do About It.”* The opening salvo of this piece summarizes the state of HR: Recent complaints about the HR function have touched a nerve in a large, sympathetic audience. The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight. Let’s take a deeper dive into HR’s changing and evidence-based actions to build their competence and credibility.

HR’s New Role

HR Professionals: A New Role

  • Reactor: Sets and ensures compliance with policies; responds to business needs; installs basic initiatives to manage talent.
  • Partner: Works toward mutual goals with line managers; shares information with the business about talent issue gaps; provides HR solutions.
  • Anticipator: Uses analytics to forecast talent needs; provides insights and solutions to ensure high-quality supply of talent; links talent planning to business planning.

Every HR professional must perform some tasks in each role. However, while over the past decade HR professionals have focused on their function’s operating models, policies, and systems, they now must refocus on how to manage talent strategically. HR must make the transition to the Anticipator’s role, and that hasn’t happened. In fact, as the beginning graphic shows, the HR function has regressed since 2014 as viewed by business leaders.

Fewer than one in five HR professionals consider themselves Anticipators, almost the same percentage that consider themselves to be Reactors. And again, business leaders are less likely to place HR professionals in the Anticipator role. In both 2014 and 2018, business leaders were twice as likely as HR professionals to use the Reactor label.

Making a Difference

Eight practices that anticipators do more effectively than partners

So how can HR professionals make progress?

We looked for talent practices that differentiate the three categories of HR professionals. While dozens of practices set Reactors apart from Anticipators and Partners combined, we wanted to focus on those practices that statistically separate Partners from Anticipators. 

Too often there’s a weak link between strategic and HR planning. In fact, only 28 percent of the HR respondents feel that this connection is tight and starts early in the planning process. Throughout Global Leadership Forecast 2018, we’ve highlighted the importance of predictive analytics, which are the Anticipator’s lifeblood. And, for the first time, the technology is in place to better advance analytics. Analytics are essential to maximizing your investments toward improving leadership quality and supply.

* Capelli, P. (2015, July), Why We Love to Hate HR and What HR Can Do About It, Harvard Business Review,

Where to Start
  • Take a step back and gauge. Which of the three roles best reflects HR in your organization? Don’t forget to seek input from line managers.
  • Move toward the Anticipator role by improving HR capability in the eight evidence-based practices described in the figure.
  • Ensure that HR is well represented in your company’s strategic planning process.
  • Step up to greater accountability by providing business leaders with the support and tools they need to bolster engagement, employees’ sense of purpose, and growth.
How to Excel + Differentiate
  • Ensure that you’re building stronger predictive analytic team capability.
  • Consider more rotation of respected line leaders within and out of the HR function.
  • Step up to greater accountability. HR’s role is to create business value through talent. They own this imperative.
  • Deploy smart HR technologies to enable leadership effectiveness while freeing up HR professionals’ time to concentrate on the more value-added tasks their businesses require.
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