Human Resources leaders are facing their greatest challenge. They must sit down with members of the board and become business creators.
For an example of the quantum shift now happening in many organizations, often without anyone noticing, we need only look at Stellantis, the automotive conglomerate that owns Peugeot, Jeep, and about 12 other brands. According to Bloomberg, Stellantis systematically sends emails to its employees with recommendations about how to find new jobs. These “educational” emails include tips on how to write an effective resumé and the dates of job fairs.
The point of this initiative is to reduce personnel, as the company announc
ed in the context of the industry’s move towards electric cars. Let’s recall that, according to current estimates, most manufacturers will be focused on electric cars in ten years. And producing electric cars is simpler and requires fewer hands on deck. By the end of this decade, the industry will likely shed about a third of its workforce.
In the case of Stellantis, this affects about 300,000 collaborators in manufacturing plants all over the world. In just France, where Stellantis has one of its main production centers, the company expects to eliminate about 2,600 jobs in the next two years. (Stellantis, remember, came to be from the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group.) With this short window of time firmly in view, the email campaign encourages workers to leave voluntarily and helps them relocate to other industries.
In its own way, this campaign is praiseworthy: Stellantis and its HR team are taking active — and creative — steps to anticipate how the industry and its business model are going to change. However, this campaign also reflects how the function of HR departments is changing with the times. Who could have foreseen that, rather than capturing and retaining talent, we’d now be talking about creative dismissals? The case of Stellantis shows that our relationship with our collaborators is shifting. Campaigns that would have been unnatural and unthinkable before are now an accepted part of the process. But I’d like to put this feeling under the microscope. It’s time to rethink HR. And to do that, I propose three pillars.
Pillar 1: HR as decision-makers
Evidently, the future of work is forcing us to think beyond processes. And this affects HR, too. If these last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we need to put people in the center. Like never before, people are the great differentiators for our organizations. With the rise of automation and the digitization of production chains, human talent and creativity are what will set us apart from the competition. That’s why HR must now think beyond merely capturing and retaining talent. In recent times, and without anyone else in our companies being aware of it, HR has accumulated a great deal of strategic weight. Today, it needs a seat at the executive table. Without HR’s vision, companies will not be able to take advantage of their greatest differentiator: their people.
Pillar 2: Following IT’s example
The good news is that, in this process of transformation, HR has an example to follow. A few years ago, IT departments realized their roles had changed. From simply maintaining and updating systems and infrastructure, IT began to define company business models. The clearest demonstration of this was the central role increasingly being accorded to Chief Information Officers (CIOs), who began to influence business strategy. Now that people are back on center stage — with the rise of people-centric cultures —, it is HR’s turn to rethink its role. In the near future, for businesses to be sustainable, they will have to communicate a clear purpose that people can identify with. And as companies find this purpose, it will be HR’s job to put the emphasis on people. This, in turn, is what will allow the company’s purpose to serve as a crucial tool in attracting the talent that, in the years ahead, will become a competitive advantage. Because, in the future, it won’t be robots or algorithms that will set companies apart, as they enter the final sprint of a product launch or service rollout. No, people will do that. In other words, talent won’t focus on processes, but on humanizing businesses. The emotion and personality of the workforce will be companies’ differentiators; processes and technology will be their commodities.
Pillar 3: HR as business promoter
This, then, is how we can redefine the role of HR: it no longer just supports a company’s business but actively promotes it. Just like CIOs have done in the past, HR must rethink its role. Rather than simply attracting and retaining talent, HR should envision the opportunities made possible by a company’s talent pool. So, instead of thinking about how to let workers go in our new normal, HR should find opportunities in these workers’ skills and accumulated experience. The goal should be to increase the company’s value in a sustainable way, with talent as the foundation for this growth.
To go back to our starting case, Stellantis is certainly demonstrating flexibility and long-term vision. It’s making decisions that benefit both the company and its people, helping both transition towards a new industry model in the least traumatic way possible. That being said, instead of convincing 2,600 people to leave the company, wouldn’t it be immeasurably better to figure out what new business can be created with the help of these same employees?
By Alejandro Goldstein, Managing Partner of OLIVIA