The shift is taking place worldwide, but Southeast Asia is leading the argument. In 2018 the founders of the ASEAN Human Development Organisation decided to push the needle of human development all the way and advocate it as a purpose for organisations.
Our members had debated whether Human Development (HD) should be an "add on" to HR, or a co-existing function in companies (like sales and marketing for example) or whether HD encompasses and supersedes HR. The great majority saw it as the new paradigm for people professionals and a new stage in management. It is the next step, in our view, of the history of business organisation movements going back to the 19th century.
Oliver Crocco, Assistant Professor of Leadership and Human Resource Development at Lousiana State University, points out that with so many American HR organisations, HR courses in businesses schools, HR consultants and HR textbooks, it is hard to make the shift explicitly to human development in the US. Making a shift in the language is difficult. He nevertheless observes the beginning of a shift in America.
Crocco points out that the argument for an explicit shift to human development goes back to a 2010 article entitled “Human development as a central goal for human resource development” by Peter Kunchinke, then editor-in-chief of Human Resource Development International. In this article, Kuchinke highlighted the ethics of responsibility that organisations and individuals have for each other. He noted that purpose for HR professionals goes beyond employment and manpower planning or human capital investment. He pointed out that companies already follow the logic of human development even though the ethical foundation of their initiatives are not made explicit. He concluded that it was time for HR professionals to rename their function.
Before the Covid pandemic, HR began adding new jobs to reflect social movements like the "Me Too" of women and the "Black Lives Matter" that were affecting people management in companies. New titles like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) were created.
Another driver of change is the requirement for corporate reporting on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives. The "S" of ESG requires human development strategies and measurement of results, and includes respecting human rights in the company's value chains. However measurement is not easy. The United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment underline that "S" factors have created a measurement gap in ESG.
“The social element of ESG issues can be the most difficult for investors to assess. Unlike environmental and governance issues, which are more easily defined, have an established track record of market data, and are often accompanied by robust regulation, social issues are less tangible, with less mature data to show how they can impact a company’s performance. But issues such as human rights, labour standards and gender equality—and the risks and opportunities they present to investors—are starting to gain prominence ."
You need a framework that measures the qualitative as well as quantitative data. The framework needs to be strategic, so that the company can define how ESG benefits the business and provides milestones for development as well as having a positive social impact.
The experience of the Covid pandemic accelerated this paradigm shift: for more than two years businesses worked hand in hand with governments around the world to keep people safe from the getting the virus and organised working from home to keep businesses running. HR played a heroic role during this time and rightly gained respect and recognition that is carrying over after the epidemic period.
As we come out of the Covid period, a deeper change is becoming apparent. Companies are combining the stakeholder framework with a more human approach to people. Here are some recent examples.
In 2022, Dawn Klinghoffer and Elizabeth McCune wrote in the Harvard Business Review an article entitled "Why Microsoft Measures Employee Thriving, Not Engagement." The word "thriving" is a an interesting word to be used by Microsoft. It comes from Aristotle's ethics of purpose and was used by Amartya Sen in defining human development at the United Nations.
At Microsoft, we define thriving as “to be energised and empowered to do meaningful work.” This is the new core aspiration we have for our employees, one that challenges us to push ourselves every day so every employee can feel they’re pursuing that sense of purpose.
At Google, Dart Lindsley, Head of Global Process Excellence for People Operations, started a podcast called Work for Humans in 2022 declaring "I’m on a mission to humanise work. This site discusses why and how we should use design principles to improve work experience."
At Marriott David Rodriguez, Global Chief HR Officer, and Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and HR Officer at Accenture, have promoted the concept of "Net Better Off," meaning that companies should leave employees with a positive net work experience for their development and well-being. Their research showed that the most powerful dimensions of “net better off” are emotional, relational, and purposeful well-being. Rodriguez calls for a shift in HR to a human focus on care and development rather than the traditional focus on cost and compliance.
I, for one, am working to delegate those tasks so I can become more of a behaviourist, stay on top of our technology, including consumer — and employee — data, and facilitate learning. We need to be the orchestra leaders who create an environment where people are net better off to unleash their potential. It years ago because of the pace of change in is so much more important now than 20 the workforce.
Consultant Thomas Bertels based in New York has created a podcast series called Work Matters that features conversations with experts and executives to explore how to make work more productive, valuable, impactful, and meaningful.
The global organisation Future Talent Council based in Sweden, asked us at AHDO to run panel discussions on human development as a new topic for their 2022 Summit. You can watch those discussions here.
Later this year, I will inaugurate a Human Development Track of discussions moderated by Oliver Crocco and myself to explore this shift. We will bring together professionals from education, companies and governments on the essential themes of the new paradigm to dialogue online.
Since creating the first Certification for Human Development Professionals, I have noted each cohort has decided to work an action-learning initiative related to the shift from HR to HD. This makes professionals in ASEAN the vanguard of human development shift to a human- centric purpose and organisation of work.