Bring on HR 4.0: confronting the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Sue Weekes

By: Sue Weekes on March 10th, 2020

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Bring on HR 4.0: confronting the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Digital Transformation

Est. Read Time: 2 min.

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents both significant challenges and opportunities for the HR function. Organisations are at various stages of the digital transformation timeline. For some sectors, wholesale digital disruption is already a reality and digital transformation demands a reinvention of their offering to customers.

HR, of course, has a crucial part to play in such transformation programmes but many departments need to go much further when it comes to broadening their remit and becoming true business partners in the digital age.

A study released in December 2019 in partnership with the World Economic Forum, advisory and broking firm Willis Towers Watson, consumer goods company Unilever and oil company Saudi Aramco, claims the 4IR presents the HR profession with a unique opportunity to redefine its mandate and further advance the function.

HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution draws on a series of consultations with chief HR officers and calls on HR to “proactively manage the future of work”. It reckons HR must shift from being “a steward of employment to one of work”. Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, and head of the forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society, contends that HR leaders will increasingly need to develop skills and understanding relating to data analytics and technology, as well as supporting others to develop those skills to encourage employee experience and productivity.

The study sets out six imperatives that HR, partnering with business leaders, needs to implement:

  • Developing new leadership capabilities for the 4IR
  • Managing the integration of technology in the workplace
  • Enhancing the employee experience
  • Building an agile and personalised learning culture
  • Establishing metrics for valuing human capital
  • Embedding inclusion and diversity

Many HR departments already have ongoing strategies relating to these areas but they also represent individual as well as collective challenges. They place an increased strain on resources, time and budgets and require HR to be more strategic. Broadening its remit for the 4IR era means HR must maximise its service delivery and step up its own productivity. 

Increased digitisation of its own processes is the first step to helping release time for HR to do this. For instance, what transactional work hasn’t yet been automated that could be? How can processes be more streamlined. Explore the use of process mapping, which is the most effective way to get everyone on the same page around how a process currently works and how it could be improved (See our guide: The 8 Best Places to Start Automating HR Processes)

When it comes to establishing metrics, is the department making as much use of data analytics as it could to drive more informed decision-making around its human capital? More data-driven decisions will also enable HR to build business cases around these critical initiatives to secure the ear of the board.

According to the HR 4.0 study, if managed well, the future of work is one where many more individuals will be able to fulfil their full potential. And it should also be one where HR unleashes its full power and capabilities to be a true business partner. Ultimately, it is the final call for HR to make the move from being a pure transactional function to a strategic one.



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About Sue Weekes

I have been a journalist for almost 30 years and the past 14 of these have been spent working as a freelance. I specialise in the areas of recruitment, careers, leadership and management, learning and development and HR. As well as writing about the major issues impacting these areas, I’ve earned a reputation for being able to explain how technology impacts the workplace and world of business in a jargon-free way. I started out on a magazine dedicated to microwave cooking (my first news story was a scoop on the four-minute meringue!) and over the years have written for a number of sectors from caravanning and graphic arts to television and the internet. I’m co-founder of the Dorset-based editorial and copywriting company, Curly Pow Media Limited, which provides a range of services including ghost writing and marketing material. My current portfolio of work includes Edge, Inspire, the Institute of Leadership & Management, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Recruiter, Image Reports and Think Bigger. Aside from business-to-business publications and websites, I also write for Dorset Life and am always looking for stories of local interest.