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HRM in our times

09 Jan 2019

WRITTEN BY Tasoulis Kostas
Associate Professor of Human Resources


TEL.: (+30) 210-896 453-8

Fax.: (+30) 210-896 4737


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In a world where even human survival is uncertain, how can HRM professionals contribute to the well-being and prosperity of humans, organizations, and the planet?


Some decades ago, professors Pfefferand Salancik noted that people who acquire power and influence in big enterprises are those who can help them overcome their major problems. If in the middle of the 20th century, the desired goal for business competitiveness was industrialization, then it was engineers who gathered power and influence. In the late 20th century, businesses entered a time where competition through marketing was increased, hence more professionals from this field took center stage. More recently, the need for businesses to operate on an international level (e.g. penetration in the markets of China, Russia, and India) led many politicians to occupy top business ranks.


It is therefore useful to examine the needs of businesses today, and especially humanity’s major issues in order to consider the opportunities and responsibilities of HRM professionals in our times.


In one of his interviews, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Steven Hawking expressed concern about the consequences of globalization and the acceleration of technological change[i]. Firstly, inequality appears to be expanding. Wealth is still amassed in the hands of the few, especially those who own the power and the knowledge of technology. Secondly, automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly decimating jobs. According to the World Economic Forum, the 4th Industrial Revolution is underway. Studies foresee that in the next 20 years about 40% of today’s jobs will be lost due to developments in technology, especially artificial intelligence. To cite an example, a Japanese company replaced its insurance appraisers with robots while museums resort to the use of robots as art critics! Inequality and technological progress are very likely to cause painful social conflicts on a global level, according to the leading thinker Noam Chomsky


In the dawn of this new age, the lack of high-quality, sustainable management of people is evident in governments and businesses – especially in Greece. The HRM community cannot save the planet or the country from all evils, but it can play a major role in the survival and wellbeing of humans and enterprises.


Firstly, our times need leaders with more integrity, humanity, humbleness and a long-term vision. In a recent article, Henry Mintzberg[ii] showed that Harvard graduates and graduates of other top universities led the companies to short-term profits at the expense of future sustainability. In other words, they acted selfishly and harmed the companies and the societies. Modern managers should be reading less accounting and more philosophy.

Our research with Areti Krepapa and Marcus Stewart[iii] brought forward the integrity flaw in the leadership of several Greek enterprises as well as the difficulties of HRM directors to respond to circumstances.


Together with the need to acquire and develop leadership skills, soft skills, a rather misleading and perhaps downgrading term, are, according to a recent Financial Times study, the most sought-after qualification demanded by employers: individuals with the ability to form relationships, solve problems, coach, and handle the consequences of the digital age. This need is going to be reinforced in the future as the job market will be left mostly with positions of increased responsibility or more creative ones. Moreover, insofar as entire industries will disappear in the age of disruption, people must be educated and supported.


Thirdly, in an age where talent (10-20% of an enterprise’s employees) affects nearly 60% of the overall performance[iv], HR possess the knowhow and the arguments to lead enterprises several steps forward while safeguarding at the same time a sense of justice and offering opportunities to the entire workforce.


Lastly, HR can contribute to wisely tackle demographic change and migration waves related to global phenomena, such as inequality and wars. Integrating different cultural groups and refugees and managing diversity honestly are considered, in the case of many developed countries, a source of innovation.


It is a challenge for every professional to observe/watch (keep an eye on) the world on so many levels: global dynamics; new technologies; environmental challenges; domestic economic and social changes; demographic changes; and, naturally, internal business matters. It is nevertheless, at the same time, an important opportunity. A recent study by Filler and Ulrich revealed (an unexpected finding to the authors themselves) the aptitude of HR directors to evolve into CEOs[v]. Key responsibilities of HR managers today are at the heart of many business’ strategies: the nurturing of relationships and networks; the emergence and management of leaders and talent; the shaping of a culture and structures that will lead to long-term success and sustainability.  


It takes wisdom to manage people in a dangerous world and in a country which, despite its struggling economy and swaying values, still survives. If we are to accept the most important challenge, according to Hawking, that “now more than ever, our kind must work together”, it is evident that the HR community has the ability to act as a catalyst. Modern HR professionals must be able to grasp developments on a political, social and technological level, to adapt their skills and to function with a high sense of responsibility. As members of the HRM community we can find meaning in the words of Epictetus who urges us to “muster the courage to change the things we can, the fortitude to bear the things we cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.”  



[i] Hawking, S. 2016, 1 December. This is the most dangerous time for our planet. The Guardian.  

[ii]Mintzberg, H. 2017, 22 February. “MBAs as CEOs: Some troubling evidence.”

[iii]Tasoulis, K, Stewart, M. and Krepapa, A. 2017. “Leadership Integrity and the role of HRM in Greece: Gatekeepers or Bystanders?” 3rd Global Conference in International HRM, New York.

[iv]Aguinis, H., & O'Boyle, E. 2014. “Star performers in twenty‐first century organizations.” Personnel Psychology, 67(2), 313-350.

[v]Harvard Business Review, 2014, December. “Why Chief Human Resource Officers make great CEOs.”