HR future leader of the month: Ash Thomas

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HR magazine speaks to the future leaders of the industry to discover the long-term trends they are planning to tackle in the years ahead

What are your main concerns in HR today?

The never-ending quest for better data, faster reactions and transformational growth is incredibly exciting. And HR needs to be able to have one foot firmly in the technological lane so we’re able to use our insight to push boundaries and create the best organisations. However, HR can’t lose sight of the human. We have an opportunity to play a more influential role in defining what ‘best’ means for organisational success and the people working there. Everyday technology has created a state of constant connection to the workplace that has implications for health and home life now and well into the future.

What will become more important for HR over the next five years?

Asking questions with people at the heart of them. What radical action will change the same faces and voices making the same decisions in the same boardrooms? How can organisations deliver better ideas, products and services that transform society? What can we do to help discover what people genuinely love doing – and empower them to do even more of it?What will the word ‘employee’ even mean in five years’ time and what will they want from us? Who’s going to lead us through the inevitable rough rides and constant threat to enable our survival?

What subjects will HR still be tackling when you retire?

Politics, power, performance, process and potential PR disasters. I still think we’ll have made minimal progress in changing the patriarchal and hierarchical systems that seem to influence some of the less desirable elements of organisational behaviour and corporate failure. On the other hand, great HR teams will always help their organisations move closer to their missions by enabling them to change, adapt and evolve.

What do you plan to do to change HR for the better?

Blend HR and OD in a more genuine and connected sense. The best HR practitioners are great at blending the need to protect and govern the business with a mindset that embraces possibilities and understands the impact of the organisation on people. I’ll always encourage a much stronger understanding that ‘invisible’ systems, feelings and processes hold far more sway than most people think. And I’d like to play a role in developing leaders who continually use their own experiences to lead, inspire and care for their employees. I feel senior leaders would gain a lot from understanding their own psychology by seeing counselling or therapy as a powerful leadership tool.

Ash Thomas is talent and OD manager at the British Heart Foundation

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