Humanising the world of work

The world of business is facing more uncertainty driven by economic, societal and technological shifts. At the same time, trust in business continues to be eroded with every new corporate scandal.

It seems that many of the old paradigms of work, including control, hierarchy, structure, process and rules, are not driving the outcomes we want, from behaviours to productivity, but also agility and innovation, which are vital ingredients of sustainable business success in a fast-changing world.

Challenge and change

The reality is the mindsets of the past have not created environments that get the best out of, and for, people. The growing trends of stress at work, levels of disengagement, and mismatch of skills and opportunity, fairness and equality cannot go on.

Our old models of work are also challenged by the many different ways we can now connect and work, the growth of the “gig” economy and flexi-working, how automation is impacting jobs, and a more and more diverse workforce with very different ideas about what work should be.

The growing trends of stress at work, levels of disengagement, and mismatch of skills and opportunity, fairness and equality cannot go on

This, then, is the context into which human resources or HR as the people experts have an ever greater role to play, to challenge, innovate and to change. HR has often been part of a paradigm of work that was not so much human-centred, but process, control and rules-centred. HR should focus on helping the organisation, managers and the wider workforce to work together, to develop in the way which will achieve the best outcomes for all the organisation’s stakeholders.

We’ve known for decades that you can’t just write rules and expect these to determine the right behaviours. Those same rules put in place to stop things from going wrong have actually eroded a sense of personal accountability with all the attendant consequences, but it’s also too often constrained innovation as well.

The future of work

The good news is there is a lot of new thinking happening around the future of work and in HR. After decades of entrenched processes, such as strict performance management practices and ranking regimes, many organisations are now ripping up the old manuals and going back to ask the question, what outcome are we trying to deliver? When we start by asking questions about purpose rather than process, we come up with different solutions.

Perhaps because it is easier to see and measure, historically, the focus has been on input and costs instead of output and value; for example, assessing performance on hours put in rather than outputs achieved.

We need different definitions of value and a more consistent understanding of the people dynamics of business. This is as important for finance and business leaders as it is for HR and now is the time to define more of a common language. What gets measured gets done.

The future of HR and of management practice will be about helping organisations to build the right business model, strategy, workforce and culture that will help them to achieve their purpose.

By anchoring our thinking in purpose and values, understanding the needs of and our responsibilities towards all our stakeholders, we can create human-centred businesses where diversity, engagement, wellbeing, openness and fairness are all core to how we operate and grow for the future.

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