Time for a re-examination of HR?


April 25th, 2018

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Over the last two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to connect with various HR Leaders, on our own open programme and at a People Directors network meeting. As always these leaders are passionate about their organisations and the people who work there. As always they are grappling with complex and strategic issues, whilst ensuring their teams and processes deliver day-to-day service efficiently. As always they are debating direction with their senior leaders – and sometimes senior leaders listen! At the same time I sensed a shift in our conversations, topics that previously were sometimes touched on were turned up loud:

Transformation rather than change. Increasingly I hear leaders talk about the need for transformation, driven by a sense that the world is changing so rapidly and unpredictably that their organisations need to fundamentally and radically change their culture and engrained behaviours, especially at more senior levels, and that previous ‘change initiatives’ have not generated this. Collaboration, resilience, trust, empowerment, responsibility, learning, and increasingly unlearning, are common themes when HR leaders discuss the behaviours they feel will be most valuable.

The future of work is here. For those of you who, like me, wade through the plethora of reports about ‘Human Capital trends’ that hit the inbox at the start of year, you’ll know these reports are remarkably consistent about megatrends such as digitalisation, globalisation, socio-demographic changes, and urbanisation. Depending on the report the impact of these trends on the world of work ranges from utopic to apocalyptic! But for our open programme participants this world is already here: “our new back office technology automates so much, headcount is shrinking”, “we opened a remote office in x as needed a local presence”, and of course “without stereotyping millennials are challenging us about how we do things”. HR professionals have a key role in equipping managers and leaders to make the most of such a world: our 2018 Management Agenda found only 17% of managers believed their organisation had the people and leadership skills to take advantage of AI; 1 in 2 managers don’t believe their organisations have the skills needed to manage virtually; and only 7 out of 10 managers believed managers and leaders in their organisation were able to engage across generations.

Driving customer experience through employee experience. When discussing “How Can Businesses Perform Better” at the People Directors network, it was fascinating how little the word “performance” was used. Instead HR leaders used phrases such as excellent customer service, outstanding customer experience, obsession about customers, and all agreed that the people who deliver that are likely to be the lowest paid, and least attended to in most organisations – or might not even be “in” the organisation in a traditional employed sense. Connecting everyone with the vision and goals of the organisation, in the simplest way possible (remember the famous quote about the NASA cleaner), giving them as much freedom as possible to make decisions, and celebrating and sharing successes are key to this. And of course learning from the way their organisations deliver a personal customised approach to each of its customers, to do the same for their employees (in the broadest sense) is also important.

So from the last two weeks I have a sense that HR professionals need to be re-examining their assumptions, systems, and processes about supporting people at work, in a transformational way – an aspiration for a systemic approach to HR that radically shifts culture and builds capability for an uncertain future. And if HR professionals have been understandably too busy with GDPR and gender-pay gap reporting, they need to start their re-examination very soon, otherwise they’ll find their organisation is left behind, unable to recruit or retain the talent it needs, or compete for increasingly demanding customers.

Need some inspiration? Join us on our next UK HR Leaders programme in October or our Singapore Agile and Systemic HR event in July.