UK: 2025: From HR To Talent

Last Updated: 13 May 2015
Article by John Baddeley

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

By the wonders of time-travel technology this article was written by John in March 2025.

As a Talent professional in the world of business in 2025, I spend just about all my time looking forward, as I am sure most of us do.  Dates, planning, diaries, targets and of course my next holiday. 

On a recent flight I indulged myself by spending an hour looking back, thinking about how far the Talent profession has come in the past ten years since 2015.  Strangely, the trigger for this was when one of my colleagues used the term 'Human Resources' in a meeting earlier that week.  I had not heard the term for a while and it felt very dated and impersonal, perhaps the way 'Personnel' felt at the start of the millennium.  I thought I would take time to summarise, as I see it, how far our profession has progressed over the past ten years, and in my humble view what impact we have had on the world.  There are so many ways to look at this, and probably better ways than I can think of, but for my own sake of clarity I chose the following lenses; shareholder value, nurturing talent and talent digital. To finish with, I will offer a view on what this has meant for business advisory in the Talent space and overall.

Shareholder value to begin with. The Talent function is of course not in the business of making money.  From a CEO perspective we provide a vital service to the business. However, as a shareholder my question would always be whether that quality of service can be done more cheaply.  The interesting distinction I have seen in the past ten years is that it is the lower margin, often less successful, businesses often run the best quality Talent services.  They automate the basics, with strategic support from a small number of high impact Talent professionals.  On the other hand, many of the higher margin, more successful businesses have the luxury of bigger budgets, but this has been a mixed blessing for the CEO.  It's great when the business is running well, but no burning platform to truly transform makes it hard to make changes which may be essential for the future.  I believe the Talent function is perceived much better than 'HR' was ten years ago, but the business often feels we still cost too much for low value-add services.  The move to global business services is as prevalent now as shared services was in 2015 and this gives us a better focus on cost. I also believe that the global pool of truly experienced and impactful Talent professionals is larger and we have become more confident in challenging business leaders outside our legacy remit of compliance with the latest rules and regulations.

Nurturing talent.  While many things constantly change in the business world, some remain constant.  One of the constants is that Leadership is the single most important factor in the success of any organisation.  Products, people, geographies and financing can all be changed under the right leadership.  I am pleased to say that in my view, Talent professionals have had a significant impact in this area, and by this I mean throughout organisations, not just at CEO level.  The change in perception of some staff being classified as  'middle management' to being seen as small scale leaders is one of these things.  The main improvement has been that Talent professionals have let go and realised that the leading cannot be done for the leaders.  Setting the framework, the incentives to drive the culture, along with simply calling out the bad as well as the good has made an impact.  I also believe that we have at least had some success in our never-ending push for better talent diversity.  Back in 2015 I felt that in most diversity conversations the conversation was too narrow and often 'diversity' and 'gender-diversity' meant the same thing.  Thankfully, we have broadened our perspectives and this is an area where we have had a positive impact on the world - though there is still a long way to go of course.

The digital age.  From 2010 to 2020 it felt as if all our conversations were either based on or directed towards one technology or brand.  It was all cloud technologies, Fusion, SuccessFactors and Workday.  Really, the conversations were all about data and usability of different forms but it felt as if everyone was selling something, and often it was a panacea which could do everything.  Since Services-Integrated took the market by storm, providing a good way to integrate 80%+ of the products in the market, not just for Talent but also for Finance, Procurement and other functions, it has been a different world.  It is now not all about one product but about a range of best of breed, and innovation is at a fantastic pace with fewer headaches and at a lower cost.  Simply put, we are less worried about the whole stack (to use a "techie" word) falling over.  It has been refreshing to see so many truly administrative tasks simply disappear as robotics has taken over and by far the majority of us see this as a positive.  We have had also had some success in re-skilling our people as a result of the change.  If only we could attract and retain our people who truly understand the technology, data and how to do analytics!  This innovation has been a game changer in terms of data and, most importantly, data security.  The Compgate scandal, the well reported incident in 2020 where hackers exposed pay and grade information of a third of the FTSE 100 was a wake-up call for the Talent technology industry and overall we have responded well to this. 

On a recent flight I indulged myself by spending an hour looking back, thinking about how far the Talent profession has come in the past ten years since 2015.  Strangely, the trigger for this was when one of my colleagues used the term 'Human Resources' in a meeting earlier that week.  I had not heard the term for a while and it felt very dated and impersonal, perhaps the way 'Personnel' felt at the start of the millennium.  I thought I would take time to summarise, as I see it, how far our profession has progressed over the past ten years, and in my humble view what impact we have had on the world.  There are so many ways to look at this, and probably better ways than I can think of, but for my own sake of clarity I chose the following lenses; shareholder value, nurturing talent and talent digital. To finish with, I will offer a view on what this has meant for business advisory in the Talent space and overall.

Shareholder value to begin with.  The Talent function is of course not in the business of making money.  From a CEO perspective we provide a vital service to the business. However, as a shareholder my question would always be whether that quality of service can be done more cheaply.  The interesting distinction I have seen in the past ten years is that it is the lower margin, often less successful, businesses often run the best quality Talent services.  They automate the basics, with strategic support from a small number of high impact Talent professionals.  On the other hand, many of the higher margin, more successful businesses have the luxury of bigger budgets, but this has been a mixed blessing for the CEO.  It's great when the business is running well, but no burning platform to truly transform makes it hard to make changes which may be essential for the future.  I believe the Talent function is perceived much better than 'HR' was ten years ago, but the business often feels we still cost too much for low value-add services.  The move to global business services is as prevalent now as shared services was in 2015 and this gives us a better focus on cost. I also believe that the global pool of truly experienced and impactful Talent professionals is larger and we have become more confident in challenging business leaders outside our legacy remit of compliance with the latest rules and regulations.

Nurturing talent.  While many things constantly change in the business world, some remain constant.  One of the constants is that Leadership is the single most important factor in the success of any organisation.  Products, people, geographies and financing can all be changed under the right leadership.  I am pleased to say that in my view, Talent professionals have had a significant impact in this area, and by this I mean throughout organisations, not just at CEO level.  The change in perception of some staff being classified as  'middle management' to being seen as small scale leaders is one of these things.  The main improvement has been that Talent professionals have let go and realised that the leading cannot be done for the leaders.  Setting the framework, the incentives to drive the culture, along with simply calling out the bad as well as the good has made an impact.  I also believe that we have at least had some success in our never-ending push for better talent diversity.  Back in 2015 I felt that in most diversity conversations the conversation was too narrow and often 'diversity' and 'gender-diversity' meant the same thing.  Thankfully, we have broadened our perspectives and this is an area where we have had a positive impact on the world - though there is still a long way to go of course.

The digital age.  From 2010 to 2020 it felt as if all our conversations were either based on or directed towards one technology or brand.  It was all cloud technologies, Fusion, SuccessFactors and Workday.  Really, the conversations were all about data and usability of different forms but it felt as if everyone was selling something, and often it was a panacea which could do everything.  Since Services-Integrated took the market by storm, providing a good way to integrate 80%+ of the products in the market, not just for Talent but also for Finance, Procurement and other functions, it has been a different world.  It is now not all about one product but about a range of best of breed, and innovation is at a fantastic pace with fewer headaches and at a lower cost.  Simply put, we are less worried about the whole stack (to use a "techie" word) falling over.  It has been refreshing to see so many truly administrative tasks simply disappear as robotics has taken over and by far the majority of us see this as a positive.  We have had also had some success in re-skilling our people as a result of the change.  If only we could attract and retain our people who truly understand the technology, data and how to do analytics!  This innovation has been a game changer in terms of data and, most importantly, data security.  The Compgate scandal, the well reported incident in 2020 where hackers exposed pay and grade information of a third of the FTSE 100 was a wake-up call for the Talent technology industry and overall we have responded well to this. 

Finally, one last thing that has changed is the Consulting advisory market.  Back in 2015 I presented at a client pitch for a huge global transformation in response to a request for proposal from a $40 billion revenue manufacturing client.  There was only one board level executive in the room and he asked us a tough question at the end of the pitch: "From your presentation you seem to agree with us that this initiative is a good idea.  You know our business very well from years of projects, my question is, why were you not banging on our door telling us we needed to do this two years ago?"  This is the biggest change I have seen in the Consulting market in the Talent function and outside since this time.  The world accepts that buying rather than hiring is often the answer and Consulting is so prevalent and ingrained in the way business works in the world today.  This penetration and competition means that in order to be on the path with the client you need have the confidence to set the direction and challenge the status quo even more than in 2015.  This slight shift in the dynamic of the business advisor is subtle but important.  For those in the advisory business it means there are more opportunities for an advisory seat at the top table, but to get one you need to be prepared to take a risk and often rock the corporate boat.  When we look hard enough and join the dots we can work out what macro changes are needed in so many of our clients, the difference is how much better we are at calling them out and holding them to account.  The great thing is that when we get this right we are able to do it months if not years before the city analysts do it themselves.  This is where we really make a difference to the shareholders and of course to ourselves.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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