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Every 2016 Prediction for HR Will Be Wrong

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Every year, around this time, people look back at what happened in the past year and ahead to the next. In human resources, it’s no different. Anybody who’s written for public consumption for a couple of years has done it.

This past year, I spent a lot of time listening. Way more time listening than I did writing, for this blog or anywhere else. And as I read through listicles about what 2016 looks like for HR, you should know one thing:

Not a single one of them will come true.

HR isn’t a monolithic entity. This isn’t like picking the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign (though, you might agree that we’ll probably all be losers, no matter the outcome). Let’s take a look at some quick numbers that support this point.

First of all, there are over 18,000 companies with 500 or more employees in the U.S. That’s at least 18,000 versions of HR, and for most organizations, there’s probably many disparities across locations and departments. Those 18k firms represent about half of the employment in the U.S.

The other half are the more than five million firms with less than 500 employees (but more than one). While 99% of companies with 500 or more employees have an HR department, many smaller firms don’t have a formal HR function. Frankly, most of them don’t need it. You can get what you need from some combination of outsourcing, technology, and decent management. The HR experience for those people are varied, from the literal worst to the literal best.

HR that is that big and that varied moves forward in the span of decades, not single years. In the largest organizations, which house the largest group of and most active HR professionals, a single change management initiative will take months at minimum and years, especially if it’s a large change. Its full impact might not be felt for five or more years.

That makes some predictions, like what HR will look like in 2020, seem nearly optimistic at this point. If you’re a large, 500+ person organization that’s behind the curve on major talent management or technology initiatives, 2020 isn’t going to happen. That’s four years away.

Even the biggest legislative change in the last decade, the Affordable Care Act, didn’t change much for the largest organizations and allowed smaller organizations years to get their ducks in a row to comply. Only now, going into 2016, will the smallest organizations come under more difficult and onerous rules for tracking and maintaining employer-provided insurance.

Outside of government induced change though, most changes in HR are slow. Even talent acquisition, which prides itself of being faster and more ahead of the curve than their HR brethren don’t change as fast as they’d like. Take a look at a decades worth of change in CareerXroads Source of Hire Report:

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Source: CareerXroads 2004 Source of Hire Report

Sure, there’s been some changes. Referrals have gone down, direct sourcing and agency usage has gone up. Newspapers have all but disappeared and some of the sites have changed. But this, the leading edge of the people management function, has been slow to change too. Again, this is a decade’s worth of movement too.

The biggest paradigm shifting change to both recruiting and HR on the technology front — the internet — took more than a decade to take hold. It still waits on the wings in some organizations that are holding on to the last throes of their non-cloud, non-SaaS based software. Mobile and social are natural extensions of this paradigm shift that will take years to take hold within HR.

In 2016, some companies will take big leaps forward but most will not. Many more companies will take baby steps forward or backward. For observers of HR as a massive, living entity, it will feel like things are standing still if you look at it through the lens of 366 days — we do get that extra day in 2016, lucky us. But exciting things are happening if you focus in on slivers of our little HR world.

When we focus on what [won’t] happen in 2016, we miss the bigger story: If you want to be part of an HR team that is doing interesting and progressive work, you can. Even if you’re not setting the world on fire or sparking a revolution that will consume HR, you can make an impact on thousands of people.

In 2016, my hope is that we’ll spend less time talking about the inevitable march to the cloud or cool tools and more about the people making the changes necessary that will show up in the bottom line three years from now. Don’t talk about technology without talking about the people who have to see it through and make it work. Those people have a vision that goes beyond 2016 — and that’s a good thing for everyone.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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