An HR Renaissance is underway, and it has almost nothing to do with the picture some professionals have painted. It goes well beyond dealing with HR’s focus areas of the day like C-Suite reputation, diversity, and wellness. These are all topics du jour that will eventually be replaced with others. The HR Renaissance, like its historical namesake, is being fueled by advances in areas not traditionally linked to our core discipline.
We are in the midst of the largest expansion in our ability to observe, analyze, understand, and influence human behavior in history. Our ability to harness these new capabilities will define us and the value we deliver. We’ll need more than traditional HR skill sets and knowledge to usher in the Modern Era. True to the analogy, a Renaissance HR professional must deploy a diverse array of passions and talents, across a variety of arts and sciences. Just as the original Renaissance merged ideas in the streets of Florence, as goldsmiths shared secrets of their trades with painters or architects conversed with botanists, the Cloud is the new setting that enables unprecedented levels of information to come together to advance our discipline.
"HR technology plays a critical role in our Renaissance, just as the printing press enabled migrants to carry the wisdom of other cultures to the Florentines, spawning a new age of access and empowerment"
The culture of Florence was shaped by the Medici’s, a family that rose to power as a result of their successful endeavors in banking. This stood in sharp contrast to the aristocracies of the past. Like Florence and perhaps counter-intuitively, the technology playing field is increasingly becoming leveled as a result of cloud computing and software as a service.
Although emerging technologies provided large organizations a head start in the race to leverage big data, the same advancements are now a great equalizer. The Cloud has shifted cost from capital to expense, enabling small and mid-sized organizations to bring together vast quantities of information and leverage natural language processing and machine learning. Such organizations were further behind their larger competitors when such analysis required armies of data scientists, analysts, and industrial/organizational psychologists.
As Rob Catalano, co-founder of WorkTango, a progressive employee experience solutions provider explains, “The Cloud has been a key factor facilitating our ability to provide real-time insights, which enable organizations of all sizes to influence sentiment and behaviors like never before. Efficiencies related to infrastructure cost, scalability, security, and processing have put a new world of possibilities within reach for customers.”
HR technology plays a critical role in our Renaissance, just as the printing press enabled migrants to carry the wisdom of other cultures to the Florentines, spawning a new age of access and empowerment. The scribe formerly locked away to painstakingly complete his repetitious but important task was now free to embark on other pursuits. Sounds like a familiar human capital trends.
Of course, not everyone in 16thcentury Italy became Leonardo Da Vinci. He and his peers were simultaneously driven by an intensely unique outlook and an obsessive devotion to understanding the information now at their disposal—even those the average person wouldn’t find applicable to their pursuits. The intriguing semi-smile of the Mona Lisa would not exist without Da Vinci’s fascination with, and study of, the human condition. Her shoulders would not be slightly angled away if not for his fascination with perspective and light’s influence on it, including dissecting corpses to understand each muscle and its natural movement better. His lifelong passion for observing nature undoubtedly influenced his brush as he laid a quintessential Da Vinci landscape behind her. As organizational network analysis has recently confirmed, innovation comes from those who expose themselves to a diverse network of ideas and apply them back to their own craft.
This is the lesson more central to the HR Renaissance than any particular technological or analytical advancement: It’s not those who build the tools, but those that have the vision to deploy them in ways not previously imagined who are the true champions of progress are. Few of us know the inventors of any particular form of measurement, but we know Euclid for combining and advancing theories on how to leverage numbers in new ways, Franklin Lloyd Wright for his vision and creativity in applying them to his designs, and Leonardo Da Vinci for sketching a precursor to a helicopter for a stage prop, though it wouldn’t take flight until 400 years later. It is not those that build the tools, but those that have the vision to deploy them in new ways not previously imaged that are the true champions of progress.
If you’ve made it this far into this article, you have the intellectual curiosity to be an HR Renaissance person. You hadn’t over-specialized yourself so much that you stop reading when you realized there was no new technology revelation to come. Specialists will still be needed to pull us into the HR Modern Era, but the leaders amongst us, those will be will help usher our discipline into a new era and save the centralized HR function from potential extinction, will not be those who know compensation or benefits, learning or labor law. The agents of tomorrow’s HR will be students of technology and psychology, statistics and development, process improvement and employee experience, history, and the future. They will be HR Renaissance people, with their eyes fixed upward, imagining possibilities in the Cloud.