There was a time not too long ago when the role of the human resources department was limited to hiring and firing. Generally, it played a reactive rather than a proactive role, centered around enforcing training, development, performance, and employee issues.

The HR of today is much more complex than it was even a decade ago. There’s a new breed of leaders who are transforming the field and reinventing their role to be more strategic, data-driven, and — most importantly — critical to their organization’s success.

Today’s HR emphasizes  providing strategic value to drive business outcomes. The focus is less on enforcement, and more on ensuring that the business goals align with employee retention strategies and that employees are being supported to do their best work.

“HR leaders are increasingly contributing to the business agenda and thinking out-of-the-box from a business acumen standpoint,” says Anthony Ariganello, CEO of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) and CEO of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources British Columbia (CPHR BC). The CPHR is the national body of HR professionals, representing more than 27,000 members across Canada. Aside from offering professional designations, the organization represents the Canadian HR profession with associations around the world.

Ariganello says that greater education is one of the key reasons why the role of the HR professional has transitioned from functional to strategic.

“Today’s HR leaders are more well-rounded,” he explains. “Arming them with certifications and standardized designations has really driven this change. Designations provide a toolkit of skills and knowledge about different areas and opportunities for HR, from learning about industrial relations and collective bargaining to business acumen and rewards.”

Recognizing the value of a people-first approach

Getting a seat at the table has perhaps been the biggest transformation for HR professionals across the industry, Ariganello claims.

“A company’s strategy, vision and business decisions have always been decided by the c-suite. But business leaders are beginning to recognize that human capital is one of the largest expenses an organization has and should be treated as such,” he says.

Indeed, more companies are recognizing that HR issues are business issues and that putting people first needs to be a priority for ensuring the success of both the individuals and the organization.

Building the wealth of a nation

Human resources and it’s emerging innovations are not just affecting Canadian businesses,  they’ve made an impact on the national economy too.

“HR leaders are becoming a voice that affects both the industry and key stakeholders like the Canadian government,” says Ariganello. “HR leaders are being asked to contribute to legislative decisions, both on a federal and provincial level. The government is recognizing the value of having HR at the table to help drive change.”

CPHR Canada also represents the HR profession on the international stage. “Canada has one of the largest HR federations in the world and we consistently contribute to the global HR agenda,” Ariganello says.

As a relatively new profession, HR still has a lot to learn, according to Ariganello. “We’re collaborating our counterparts across the world – in the UK, US, Australia – to identify common issues, share best practices, and strengthen the HR profession.”

Embracing change to drive change

The role and function of HR will undoubtedly continue to transform. For one, over the next decade work and workplaces will be different from the traditional offices we have today. “That’s already changing, with things like remote working and flexible hours,” says Ariganello. “HR leaders have to be ready to evolve as more disruptions arise.”

As companies continue to  transform their practices using digital tools, HR leaders need to embrace emerging technologies, not avoid  them.

“There are a lot of manual processes that aren’t the best use of time for an HR leader,” Ariganello explains. “Technology like AI is an opportunity to streamline some of those repetitive, low-variation jobs to allow HR talent to use their time more efficiently and focus on providing strategic value to the organization.”

And there are certain parts of the role that are more suited to the AI revolution, he notes. “Sifting through CVs, scheduling interviews, gathering feedback or booking vacations are all processes that we should trust technology with.”