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HR and the bigger world picture: how can it make an impact?

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23rd May 2017
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We live in extraordinary times - the political landscape is coping with post-truth propaganda and organisations are grappling with an unprecedented rate of change and disruption. I believe that the enterprises that will not only survive but outperform in the future will be the ones that amplify the power of their people.

As HR professionals, we not only need to sell our ability to be that differentiator, we need to understand and be aligned with the overall goals of the organisation. Even better, we need to be influencing those goals so that they capitalise on and enhance the potential of the people.

In this, the first of three articles on how HR can make an impact, lets focus on four key areas of strategic importance.

Organisational design, especially to facilitate change

How are we designing our organisations so that they handle change, innovate and adapt? The old inflexible structures, silos and job roles are only fit for environments where things don’t change much. Where is the greatest value going to come from in the future and how can you create structures that enable that value to be realised?

In their Human Capital Trends research, Deloitte surveyed over 7000 companies in over 130 countries and found that this organisational design question was their greatest concern. Deloitte’s recommendation is to move to “networks of teams” – empowered and connected groups with shared culture underpinned by information flows and operational support.

Consider Uber for example – they have networks of empowered city teams continuously disrupting their local markets, underpinned by global technology.  

As HR professionals, we should be leading the way in driving changes to organisational design so it serves corporate goals better. 

What design would best support your organisation’s goals?

Leadership capability, especially continuously.

There was a time when the autocratic leadership method worked – simpler, repetitive workloads, paternalism was expected and jobs were for life. 

Then the work changed – the knowledge economy now demands much more in the way of judgement and autonomy from staff.  And the staff have seen so many examples of restructurings and redundancies they understand they are probably expendable and there is no long-term loyalty to them.

We broke the original psychological contract, and something mutually beneficial must take its place if an organisation is to fulfil its potential through its people. 

This is where authoritative leadership plays a role, the style of leadership described by Daniel Goleman.

This kind of leadership that mobilises people towards a vision and supports them as they move towards it requires much more skill.  It is a continuous process requiring communication skills, ability to be aware without unwarranted interference and the ability to mentor.

Are you developing your present and future leaders so that they can lead in this empowering, emotionally intelligent way? Are you holding them to account for doing so?

Are you enabling and encouraging them to continuously learn and reflect based on their experiences?

Culture, especially from the top

The way things are done, the culture of any organisation, is vital to its success.

This is well understood as a concept, but not necessarily well attended to. In my view, this is because attending to it requires sustained commitment.

So many other things in business life can be handled through making a few decisions, investing capital and telling people to get on with it. But not this. Culture changes from the top, requires engagement all the way through and demands commitment. 

This is where HR comes in.

We need to get leaders, staff and stakeholders to define and be committed to the values, beliefs and behaviours expected of all.  We need to relentlessly communicate these behaviours and embed them in recruitment, performance management, reward and recognition.

We need to be the conscience that reminds every one of these values and their commitments long after the initial excitement and fanfare has waned. 

Engagement, especially for millennials

Millennials are different to the generations that came before them.

According to Simon Sinek they grew up being told that they were special, that they could achieve anything that they wanted, getting instant gratification from technology. Through social media they are used to sharing their lives and thoughts to wide audiences.

Not surprisingly, and through no fault of their own, they are impatient and want to make a difference quickly.

They realise that the job security and ability to get homes that their elders benefitted from is not easily achievable for them. And they are not likely to be quiet about it. These are the people in the early stages in their careers, the future of our organisations. 

So we in HR need to help them to be successful, and to be constantly listening to what is going on for them.

This new generation are not going to wait for an annual engagement survey that takes a further year to report on the fraction of actions that have been done to tick the box afterwards.

What kind of internal social capability can you put in place to allow people to engage and see progress?  How can you use two-way mentoring, pulse surveys, peer recognition, continuous performance feedback to actively engage with this generation? Those of us who are a little older might appreciate it too!

And of course, some of those reading this are millennials themselves and understand what this is like from the inside – you can use this experience to make things work for all of you.

HR and the Big People Picture

The more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous our working environments become, the more the people side becomes the source of competitive advantage. 

This is the time for HR to step up and lead from the top – how our organisations are designed, how our leaders lead, the culture we embed and the way we engage with our people – these are all keys to success.

In the next two articles, we will focus on delivering results in these areas, through measuring progress and on dealing with plans that go wrong.

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