The Rise of HR … Agility

It’s easy to fall into patterns and comfortable routines. 

Some of those are great. Take, for example, dental hygiene. Or strength training. 

But if our routines too often keep us around the same people, we run the risk of stagnating. It’s even worse if we’re isolated—or insulated, depending on how you look at it—from other ideas. 

That’s one reason why I enjoy professional conferences. Even if you’re around people in a similar area of expertise or interest, you’ll learn a great deal from their different perspectives and experiences. 

Last week, I spent a few days at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Anaheim, Calif. And in between all of the catching up with wonderful friends and making new ones, I managed to gain some new perspectives on what I do professionally. 

For context, it’s important to note that SIOP conferences tend to be about half professors and half industry professionals. And although I’m firmly planted in the world of academia in addition to my consulting work, I tend to gravitate toward conference sessions that are geared more toward those in industry than those of us in academia. 


Quite simply, it gives me some insight into what’s on the minds of people on the front lines of leadership development, talent management, human resources (HR) and other related areas. 

I attended a number of interesting sessions, but the one that stuck out to me most was a panel discussion that featured Dave Ulrich, William Schiemann and Libby Sartain.

They’re the editors of the recent book The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders. 

Given that I teach HR classes and often consult in HR or areas of relevance to HR, I thought I’d benefit from what they had to say. I was right.


Here are some of the highlights from that session, from my perspective:

  • The Rise of HR is a book with 73 essays on the future of HR. It’s free. Anyone can download it. Simply visit Did I mention that it’s free? 
  • Much of what I see as the future of HR seems to be validated by others. For example, HR leaders must continually be aware of their strategic context.
  • As Ulrich mentioned during the session, doing HR well requires “managing paradoxes” well. Think about the tension between stability and change, or between globalization and localization, for example. 
  • At the heart of the idea of managing paradoxes is agility. Leaders at all levels need to be able to sense and respond to the forces of change around them, and in HR, leaders have the opportunity to build organizations with agile capabilities too. In Ulrich’s words, “The war for talent is won through the organizations we create.”  

Here’s more from Ulrich talking about The Rise of HR. 

Given my interest in the intersection of leadership, organizational change and HR, it’s my point of view that HR leaders must (a) demonstrate agility themselves and (b) actively work toward creating agile organizations. Practically speaking, this means that HR professionals need to:

  • Stop acting like gate keepers. Be service providers instead. (Read more.) 
  • Stay in touch with what top leaders see as the most disruptive trends. (Read more.) 
  • Understand and master organizational change. (Read more here and here.) 
  • Lead boldly. (

And getting back to my original point, HR professionals at all levels need to reach out beyond their current horizons, letting fresh ideas inoculate them from the stagnation of isolation. 

With that approach, we’ll all be well equipped to thrive in this increasingly turbulent—and exciting—world of work. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at and