Do we need evolution or revolution to unleash potential?

Evolution in lego bricks
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Disruption is everywhere in business right now. We are led to believe that it’s the holy grail of business success. Certainly it’s the holy grail of promoting a new brand.

‘Brand HR’ threatens to be no exception. Within the function itself, we are reading lots about how we should be creating noise, deliberate damage to our markets and seismic change.

Unleash your potential

HR Zone and I were at last week’s #UNLEASH18 event in London. Disruption was everywhere there too, from keynote to close.

UNLEASH is a leading global event that has, until Amsterdam in 2017, been styled as HR Tech World. The re-vamp suggests that to ‘unleash your potential’ HR tech interests must form part of a wider HR and business agenda. (I suspect too that it aimed to achieve some disruptive headlines, which is perhaps fair enough.)

Here I’ll give you some of the highlights and a bit of a clue why the unleashing of your own talent and tech potential may not need to be quite so revolutionary. This I suspect many of you will be rather pleased to hear.

Read on for the headlines of #UNLEASH18 to clinch some clues about how the thought leaders at UNLEASH suggest you use tech to get ahead with your organisational and people capabilities.

Jonas Kjellberg, now of BCG Digital Ventures, writer and investor, and previously co-creator of Skype, delivered an impressive keynote: ‘How do you disrupt and change the world of work?’

I would have attended for this alone. If you have the opportunity to hear this gentleman put business challenge out there then do.

Describing the revolution that Skype became for telephony, Jonas set out the case for computers changing one thing above all – and that is frequency.

Because of big data and processing power, digital disruption allows costs to fall and volumes to rise to a scale not known before. That is revolutionary.

To deliver disruption, ask how your organisation, or your idea, can take a perfectly good business model ‘and destroy it’.

Three how-to clues for HR disruption

UNLEASH gave HR some good clues about how to support digital disruption. One is the distributed workforce and thinking beyond traditional employment models. Recently, for example, the Taylor Review gave more than a passing nod to the need to create fluid employer relationships.

The second is to address our capabilities. Jonas called for looking out for the ‘game-changers,’ not just the ‘out-performers’.

In a later session, Nicky Holley of the Corporate Research Forum chaired a Think Tank called ‘Disrupt or Die’.

He showed us the four key capabilities for the creation of a culture ripe for disruptive wins: risk-taking, collaboration, agility, hyper-awareness. HR leaders can put this into practice by crafting roles that allow time to experiment, ensuring efficient systems for communications, ditching our old-fashioned stack rankings and working with other departments to create work structures and places that support networked collaboration. (This last bit is the stuff of Organisational Development, OD).

Thirdly we can concern ourselves internally for an agile method and mindset in our own HR team, particularly when it comes to talent. Agility too was everywhere at UNLEASH.

How can we be agile?

I enjoyed John Kostoulas, from Gartner, on ‘Disruption in Talent’:

When it comes to talent, use technology for insight and continuous learning about the effectiveness of job descriptions or candidate sources and for the rolling performance management conversations that should replace our one-off annual tick-box talk.

Apply AI to allow candidates to see their career trajectory. This I saw in the product demo from Workday, for example. Or to pinpoint to the business the precise implications of non-compliance with learning programmes and suggest better targeting of learning intervention.

Don’t be scared of AI and automation here! I stress that the digital behind digital disruption augments rather than replaces human decision-making. Talent practitioners can, as a result, move swiftly. That is agile, whether or not you go for the styled-up sprints and scrums sophistications.

So far revolution at UNLEASH. Deliberate industry danger, destruction and disruption. But here is a conundrum for the majority:

How can we all disrupt? How can an established business dare to damage itself to such a degree? Is that a degree of risk too far? Is it even possible for big business to change in culture and in model to such a degree?

There is an irony in a conference that is supported by platinum and diamond sponsors by the biggies and best of HR technologies, such as SAP and Cornerstone, that the implication of the disruptive UNLEASH theme is the potential for small start-up success.

A not insignificant space was offered to start-ups on the exhibition floor. Typically these providers are offering niche newness for HR. I spotted gamified coaching, multi-country payroll, employee brand-builders, a ‘robot recruiter’ and of course our (‘heartbeat’) pulse of the employee voice toolkit.

Nick Holley had shown us that it’s the start-ups, the Unicorns of the recent years of the workplace, that have delivered disruptive change.

I asked Jonas Kjellberg whether it was possible for big business to disrupt, or big HR technology firms for that matter. He cited Starbucks as a rare but viable contender.

I looked around the conference exhibition for that viable contender in people technology. There I do see rapid change and advancement. AI and the rise of the chatbots wakes up the insights and interface respectively.

This is not revolution. It is an exciting evolution.

These are ideas that germinate in technology and grow. Yes, they grow extremely fast! But remember that to disrupt, we need to ask how we take a perfectly good business model and destroy it.

Do we need to do this in HR technology? I am reminded of the 2017, then HR Tech World, keynote by a different industry thought leader, Josh Bersin of Deloitte. He described for us ‘systems of productivity’ to evolve from HCM solutions.

Remember the difference between game-changers in talent and out-performers. A different way to do well is to lead, not to disrupt.

This is the excitement that the major HR technology players have to showcase for our profession in 2018.

It is important also to notice that the adoption of technology – by us, the end-users - is by evolution too. I turned to David Wilson and the Fosway Group for a reality check on this state of affairs. David reminded delegates that fewer than 25% of European HR departments as yet have standardised systems; fewer than 1% are even contemplating blockchain.

UNLEASH shows HR how to unleash organisational and people potential through evolving your methods and mindsets to capture capabilities that technology can now deliver.

Staying one step ahead of that advancement by watching spaces like #UNLEASH18 will help you grab that opportunity.

About Kate Wadia

Kate Wadia - Phase 3 Consulting

Kate is the Director of Insights at Phase 3 Consulting, independent specialists in people technology in the UK. Her passion at work is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work, translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems and making meaningful their potential. She believes that success with people technology is through people and that people are the differentiator.

Using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life, Kate presents and explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role.

With a background in contrasting private and public sector HR management, Kate developed her thinking in seeking for herself to understand her first HR systems project-work. She led Phase 3 as Managing Director before choosing to focus on offering ‘Insights’, through writing and speaking engagements, talent development in HR tech and the continuing development of new industry ideas.

Kate’s guiding principle is that openness offers knowledge-sharing, credibility and trust, best delivered with incorrigible enthusiasm.

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05th Apr 2018 18:18

Excellent summary of the event and key messages! Well done!
I agree currently we are in an evolution- and an exciting one at that!
Terminology is always a tricky thing- in the fear or excitement to be bold and new, many don’t take the time to consider the power of evolution and jump fully onboard the bandwagon of “destruction”. Rather than considering- the why, what does good look like, what will enable us to get there- before heading towards that new shiny “Holy Grail”.

Empowering teams and agile ideas have been around at least since the 70’s (remember partially autonomous work teams?): but now with a Guerilla type fear of what start-ups can do to established businesses there seems to be an urgent rush to “throw the child out with the bath water”.

The stopping to consider what is necessary and helpful to bring organizations forward is the key.

Disruption for the sake of disruption just brings a lot of irritation with it.

The “revolution” is going back to the basics of questioning, how what we do adds value because there is a stronger sense of purpose in the “why” we are doing it. This questioning brings about the courage to change, to “unfreeze” and forge our evolutionary paths forward.

As we continue to climb out of the primordial soup!

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