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Dr Marianne Roux

Dr Marianne Roux

15th Mar 2023

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A Recipe For Adaptive HR

HR has to become a strategic asset and driver of organisational agility amidst the most disruptive and ambiguous challenges organisations have ever faced. But have HR professional truly even come to terms with what this means for their organisations, their function, and their capabilities? Have HR teams started pivoting to more effective strategies, collaborative operating models, technologies, and analytics? Do HR professionals see the pace of business change as an unwelcome disruption or a great opportunity? If HR does not step up, they truly face the risk of becoming irrelevant when in fact the function should become MORE important. But we have a long way to go.

The current HR models were developed over 20 years ago and are no longer relevant in the new world of work. In 2015, Deloitte found that only 5% of line leaders rated their HR function as excellent. In 2016 Accenture found that 92% of HR Executives they interviewed were planning to make significant adjustments to their operating model and/or leading HR transformation programs. Most of them are still struggling with insular HR functions, duplication between HR roles and processes and practices that are not flexible or fast enough to support rapidly changing businesses. They have tried to make adjustments, but very often have not been able to make significant shifts.

If there is one area where CEOs want HR to perform better – and would do things differently themselves if they were heading the HR function – it is in knowing what the real business challenges are and applying expertise to managing and solving these challenges proactively. “Lean, technology-enabled, well-trained HR teams are able to take advantage of modern talent practices and partner with business leaders to drive impact.”

So, where do we start?

The experiences employees have at work matter. An employee centric approach to HR shifts the dial completely for the human experience. Creating a clearly defined and formal employee experience has become a strategic foundation for businesses wanting to flourish in today’s global marketplace. Many HR teams have started on this approach, but have made the mistake by simply throwing systems and apps at the problem. The whole experience has to change using employee experience journey mapping. It has to be employee and talent centric (using tools like empathy maps), it has to be collaborative (using design thinking), it has to be insightful (powered by best practice and analytics) and it has to be engaging (a great and easy user experience).

As HR starts to transform its strategy and employee experience, it needs to prioritise the areas and processes causing the most frustration for leaders and employees. The number of articles and discussions about performance management over the last few years puts it at the top of most HR leaders’ lists. In fact, leaders use the word ‘dread’ when they think about performance appraisals. As far as recruitment and onboarding goes, many managers are still frustrated with the amount of time the process takes and the inability to source and recruit the best talent with the right future capabilities. In one study by SHRM, it was found that 60% of prospective applications quit an application process when it is too long and complex. Once employees join, they are very often not onboarded well, leaving them to feel disconnected from the start. They arrive at the workplace and there is no access card, they do not have the tools to start working and they cannot navigate their way around.

L&D teams have to come to grips with agile work, digitalisation, AI and robotics. They need to develop a laser-sharp focus on accelerating the strategic capabilities organisations need to perform. They need to provide ongoing real time access to engaging learning in multiple modes and locations and use augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). The learning must be experiential, collaborative and applied. It must be future skills oriented and will focus on human skills like growth mindset, emotional intelligence, complex communication, systems thinking, resilience, collaboration, agility and creativity in a machine age. This will require both funding and political will in organisations. It also requires learners to become more self-directed. Employees will need to not only become more self -directed in their learning, but also in their careers. People will have multiple career paths. Employers need to show the organisation is full of opportunity and encourage the notion of career journeys rather than paths.

OE/OD, organisation design, leadership and team approaches must evolve to help create adaptive/agile organisations, leaders and teams. Ongoing transformation means the organisation needs to bake growth mindset, resilience, focus and adaptability into the fabric and culture of the organisation. Organisation development is therefore at an important crossroads in terms of making a significant difference in complex environments. Complexity in the first instance, requires dialogue rather than more diagnosis. New forms of OD promote ways to create dialogue and conversation more effectively, and a basic assumption that it is by changing the conversations that normally take place in organisations that these organisations are ultimately transformed. It also works with emergent rather than planned approaches and the sense and meaning making dimensions of organisations.

OD practitioners and leaders also need to redesign how work is done. In the new world of work, technology disrupts how organisations work and behave, and how they are organised and coordinated. Technology breaches boundaries of scale and structure. The digitization of the workforce—and the powerful economics of automation—will require a sweeping rethink of organisational structures, influence, and control. Roles and tasks need to be sorted out, and newly constructed jobs that result must be re-aggregated into some greater whole, or “box,” on the org chart. Those boxes then need a new relation to each other. Agile companies tend to have more fluid structures, in which day-to-day work is organised in smaller teams that often cut across business lines and market segments. We also need to leverage business and talent ecosystems and markets to allow for fluid resourcing in these structures. Executives have long dreamed of organisational market mechanisms that could mobilise talented people for their best opportunities. Platform-based talent markets might provide a solid structure to help supplement and even replace traditional hierarchies.

For all this to be effective, we need adaptive and agile leadership. One of the cornerstones of developing adaptive leadership is incorporating mindset change and adult development, contextual intelligence theory and growth mindset work into development strategies. Very few organisations have updated their leadership models in recent years to reflect the complexity of leadership in the new world of work and are still over-reliant on competency and behavioural frameworks and outdated and costly development events.

Technology and HR analytics can help us understand our people better. Research indicates that the HR leaders of the future will be those who understand what technology can do; who know how to mine intelligent insights from the technology, and know how to apply them to their workplace to achieve their business goals. HR professionals are indeed moving away from the traditional mindset of making software available, to making it a delight to use, akin to a smartphone app. User friendliness, intuitive and simplistic design thinking, and employee delight—these are the keywords that HR are imbibing to be able to create an effective HR intervention. HR Apps are increasingly used to recruit, keep time and attendance, manage performance and development check ins and analyse metrics. As most of us are just getting our heads around analytics and digital, the use of AI and block chain in HR has grown significantly. In general, Artificial Intelligence, (AI) includes natural language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning. In HR, chat bots are being used to point candidates and employees in the right direction for simple information requests such as applying for leave. Chat bots give us another tool for resolving queries alongside helpdesks and HR intranets.

The role most affected by the new world of work and changes to HR strategy, operating models and capabilities is that of the Business Partner. It is also the role where leaders feel the new HR operating model has not yet delivered value. Despite the best of intentions, in many organisations today’s HR ‘business partners’ are yesterday’s ‘generalists’, without much more than a new title, some new automation, and the removal of some administrative work. In high-impact HR, business HR roles are embedded within the business and work directly with line leaders. Business HR professionals are trained and rewarded to meet business objectives and work on the business agenda. They not only service the business; they also take ownership of real business issues as collaborative members of the leadership team. In this way, they identify issues, diagnose root causes, provide insights, offer recommendations, and deliver solutions to solve some of the most pressing business objectives through the talent lens.

Finally, HR has to connect to higher purpose and greater impact. KPMG states that Human Resources has a higher calling and purpose – to drive the future of organisations. Through disciplined use of metrics, HR can guide and lead decision making more effectively. Solid proof regarding the business impact of human resource management gets the attention of business executives. However, identifying what to measure takes considerable effort. The chosen metrics must have a clear link to the value created for the business and employees to be meaningful. This means a new collaboration between HR and Finance to integrate and align metrics and get a more rounded view of how well business needs are being served. Most CEOs agree that they want commerciality, simplicity, talent and capability from HR. These are the areas that should be focused on and measured. It is also important to rebrand HR so that everyone understands the new focus of the function. In order to rebrand, HR will have to understand the current perceptions of the HR brand and of what HR does in the organisation. Then a new purpose and brand values need to be designed for HR. The department’s name needs to be reconsidered. Should it be called HR, People and Culture, People and Performance, Employee Experience? There are many new trends emerging. Finally, the HR organisations needs to be marketed so that employees and leaders understand the function and its contribution better. This should be supported by stories that highlight the work and role of HR.

Getting the respect from the C-suite that HR is a value added partner won’t happen overnight; it takes time, patience, and lots of work. There are some key competencies that you need to develop and demonstrate to gain respect from the leadership team – business knowledge, credibility, strategic planning, and metrics.