Towards a different vision of HR… The future of HR and management

From ‘modern’ to ‘post-modern’

It is interesting to refer to sociology and in particular Michel Maffesoli’s analysis of the change from ‘modern’ to ‘post-modern’. For the past fifteen years, his work has had a great impact on marketing and can be useful in understanding what is happening in our society: what effect it will have on relationships between people and on how to understand employees within a company, but also people that in the future will no longer be working with the same types of employment contracts.

Without going into the details, what are the differences in the values of a ‘modern’ era and a ‘post-modern’ era? In the ‘modern’ era, the dominating value is the belief in a better future through technological advances and the work ethic. Work is thus the key concept. We live to work. Today, in the post-modern era, we focus on the present and exclusively on ourselves in a hedonistic culture where pleasure and entertainment dominate.

Towards a societal view of the organization


This sociological point of view has a profound impact on what will happen within organizations. We used to live in a completely rational and technical world. This was the traditional school of management. Today we have an increasingly overall view of things. We cannot understand something without seeing the overall context. In the past, there was one correct solution and one right way of doing things. Today, there are many ways. In HR, we encourage diversity.

In the past, we adopted a static approach. Nothing would happen in the organization for quite some time and then a project for change would come along, followed by a period of stability. Today, we have a more dynamic approach: things are constantly changing and evolving.

In the past, automation was the key. Today, we focus more on innovation; on an overall, technical and especially a social level. It is clearly not enough to just have a great product. You need to be able to use it. In the digital world, the key questions are: What are you going to do with it? What are its uses? How will it develop?

Things used to be closed off and partitioned within an organization. Today, the walls seem to have come down, both within and with respect to the outside.

We used to follow a model based on engineers. Today, we focus more on managers and leaders. This means that today, there is a very real problem with middle management. A technician has technical expertise, but is not necessarily equipped to lead a team or act as manager. He may or may not have a desire to obtain additional skills in this area. ‘Governance’ thus greatly changes the way we work and the way we think. The difficulty in leading and governing can also be seen in how we work with teams, internally and externally.

Power used to be centralized. Power is now increasingly being shared. It used to be that the person who had the information had the power. Today, information is readily available everywhere and the person who truly has the power is the one who can manage this information.

We used to have personnel management and administrative management and these concepts are still essential. Today, however, we are tending more towards the management of human resources and increasingly towards leading and managing people and organizations or companies.

We used to be job and position-oriented. Today, the focus is on talent, skills and people’s potential.

We used to focus on careers within the company. Today, we speak of career paths. We can go from one line of work to another and change companies, focusing on feelings and aesthetics.

Michel Maffesoli defends what he calls ‘aestheticization’, i.e. sharing emotions. He thus asks the question: how do we bring the expectations of the post-modern society into a company? Today, everything related to the quality of life in the workplace and personalized assistance to employees is clearly part of this context. Also, we can see that there have been enormous changes in how we relate to each other at work. We don’t work the way we used to. The concepts of ‘boss’ and ’employee’ mean very little nowadays.

Our relationship to work has changed considerably. In the past, we worked to achieve technical progress, but it was difficult – we worked hard. Today work can be seen as a source of enjoyment. How do I make sure that every day at work is an enjoyable experience? In other words, how do I reach my full potential? We are dealing with Talent Management here. Not ‘Talent Management’, the tool, but the concept. How do we make sure that employees express themselves fully in their job?

We can also note changes in our relationship with time within a company: Top Management’s time, the Manager’s time, the Employee’s time and according to professional categories or ‘tribes’ (term used by Maffesoli that corresponds to ‘communities’ in the HR world) leading to the questions:  How will I divide my populations differently? How will I use marketing tools to create segments that are more innovative than those that already exist? How does everyone, with respect to this, perceive time: their professional time or their private time? In addition, behind all this, there is always the notion of feelings, emotions and hedonism. How do we take all this into account to ensure that the employee is comfortable within his work environment?

The other important factor is the change with respect to the work space. Today, teleworking allows us to work anywhere. Aesthetic factors also come into play. How do I make sure that my work environment is comfortable and friendly? Today’s HR teams must consider work areas in a much wider context than just work conditions.

Major shifts for HR

The key changes concern how we manage things. In practice, management focuses solely on the modern context, i.e. the technical aspects: the technical aspects and techniques of management, recruiting, training, payroll, etc. We have become technical experts. But this is not enough. Today, we need to go beyond mastering the technical aspects and focus on becoming managers.

In today’s HR world, the focus is increasingly on people, hence the term: ‘People management’. This concept of ‘People management’ is in line with Michel Maffesoli’s ideas, in which people, in all their distinctiveness and diversity, are the key. I will not hire someone because of their qualifications, but rather because of their skills, their experience, their background, their hobbies, etc. Focusing on the person will make all the difference.

In addition, for decades HR has been neglecting one aspect: the organization. This has been left to others: IT, the Quality department and, of course, managers. HR teams are not often involved and they should be. It is time to expand the scope of the HR function.

If there are shifts, then we must defend the fact that HR must deal with the ‘governance’ of people and organizations. Thus, there are new challenges: focus more on people and be more involved in strategy, with executive committees to work on the organization’s vision.

New approaches

For HR, this context will create new approaches that will generate mature practices with new skills, new activities and new responsibilities. The HR teams should thus concentrate on four areas: