Article: Masterclass on HR leadership skills for a digital future

HR Technology

Masterclass on HR leadership skills for a digital future

Michael Jenkins shared the four realities of human capital leadership in his masterclass on building HR leadership skills for a digital future at People Matters TechHR 2019.
Masterclass on HR leadership skills for a digital future

Human Capital Prisms report by the Human Capital Leadership Institute has been drafted by collecting qualitative and quantitative data from multiple sources. The prism has been used as a metaphor in the report to examine the multiplicity of challenges facing the HR leadership today. The report looks at the four realities facing HR leaders today, the four paradigms and the four prisms, or perspectives, to create relevant and practical solutions for the future. Here’s a closer look at the findings of the research:

 Four realities of human capital leadership

Dilemmas: HR leaders and practitioners are facing several dilemmas that are about transitioning from short-term and reactive planning to long-term proactive planning; from becoming a gatekeeper and administrator to a partner and service-provider; from being functional and operational to being strategic; moving from HR technology management to employee technology experience; from making process-driven policies to people-driven policies and from developing individuals to creating interpersonal processes. 

Disruption: The disruptive business environment has forced organizations and HR leaders to change ‘business as usual’ practices. Thus, the focus is no longer on simply rolling out HR products for employees, but making HR initiatives more iterative. Similarly, structured L&D programs have given way to unstructured learning interventions; year-end performance reviews have now been replaced by continuous feedback, and exit interviews are being used as opportunities to pave the way for employees returning to the company. This has led to questions (and answers) regarding how to develop people policies in a disruptive environment.

Data Bias: Best practices are no longer good enough to deliver results for everyone. The obsession with human capital “gaps,” alongside the domineering C-suite voices and a general bias in favor of “best practices” reports and studies, has not been able to help organizations tackle talent challenges successfully. 

Dissonance: The changing work, workplace, and the workforce has created a dissonance in the business environment and increased the cost of human capital. For instance, dysfunctional relationships between the manager and the subordinate have become a key reason why employees leave organizations today. If we can improve this relationship, if only marginally, the overall net benefits will be immense because of the cost of hiring, training, and engaging an employee are extremely high today. 

Four paradigms to work with human capital realities 

Being + Doing = Becoming: From a business perspective, in Asia, we are comfortable with the notion of “being”, whereas erstwhile Western models are founded around “doing”. If we can fuse these two approaches, it provides greater flexibility to solve the dilemmas we are facing today. For instance, to ensure that HR-technology is creating the right technology experience, we need to focus on employee experience. Similarly, to make HR processes more service-oriented and strategic in nature, there is a need to focus on improving the organizational culture and creating value. Moreover, to design more people-driven policies and experiences, we need employee centricity as a cornerstone for HR. 

Co-evolve: A symbiotic coevolution with the business is necessary for HR to become a valuable and strategic business partner. Thus, ‘business as usual’ HR practices need to evolve and cater to managing an augmented workforce, focus on attitudes and aptitudes towards learning, providing reviews and bonuses at the end of each project, just-in-time learning programs, and lateral movement programs. Let’s not be anxious about creating a perfect HR product before rolling it out and instead give ourselves the flexibility to perpetually run a beta version and continuously improve upon existing practices. 

Future: Instead of best practices, we need to identify the “next processes” to unlock future possibilities. Thus, we should start viewing human capital practices as a competitive advantage that help organizations thrive, as opposed to simply filling existing “gaps.” Similarly, we need to strengthen employee voice using modern tools and technology. Also, instead of fixating on “best practices,” we must leave the room for exploring different probabilities and possibilities to ensure a dynamic and effective model of working. 

Human: We need to focus on the ‘human’ aspect of human capital more than ever to offset the pressures created by dissonance and increasing cost of human capital by designing progressive, inclusive, transparent and engaging policies. For instance, organizations need to build psychologically safe and secure spaces to enable employees to innovate, explore, and develop their potential. We need to build a culture of doing things differently and encourage employees to try new things by reducing the fear of failure. 

Four prisms to shed light on human capital paradigms 

Ambidexterity: “Ambidexterity is the ability to simultaneously pursue both incremental and discontinuous innovation… from hosting multiple contradictory structures, processes, and cultures within the same firm.” This will prove to be a critical concept going forward and will allow organizations to prepare better for the future. We have to move past the binary thinking that we are accustomed to and focus on different variables to enable them to grow incrementally. For instance, when we suggest that HR needs to be more strategic, HR needs to be able to move and flex along a continuum. 

Agility: “With agility, one can face the future undaunted. Buzzwords like “digital,” “disruption,” and “transformation” may leave one unnerved, but agility enables one to adapt, come what may… we don’t have to say it is a digital change. It is a habit change. Innovations arrive, we adjust to them, and life goes on” says Jane Tham, Regional HRD, Bosch, ASEAN. Building agility requires a recalibration of existing processes to make them proactively ready for the demands of the changing work, workforce, and workplace. 

Appreciative Inquiry: By applying the principles of appreciative inquiry in HR, we can encourage more employees to voice themselves better and approach human capital issues with a more positive and optimistic way of “being” and “doing”. 

Authenticity: Authentic leadership, alongside the development of authentic human capital practices, will enable the longevity of human practices, even if the workforce is transitory and evolving. We can deploy authentic leaders and human practices to deal with the disruptions in today’s business environment effectively. 


1. Don’t shy away from bringing human capital dilemmas center-stage: Human capital dilemmas are often contradictory, conflicting, or simply competing. What we do know is that dilemmas are also the seeds of innovation. Be comfortable with discomforting realities and aspire for reassuring solutions. 

2. Start small and do better with less: It is often asserted that only cash-rich or large organizations are well-positioned to come up with innovative human capital practices. We refute that assumption because what most innovative and progressive human practices require are progressive mindsets, attitudes, behaviors, and skill sets – and not simply monetary capital.

3. Embrace data triangulation and pay attention to anomalies: Use analytics wisely. The advancement of human capital practices and the science of executing them require an interdisciplinary approach, mixed methods, and triangulation of data. Focus on the question and pay attention to the anomalies because they may provide richer insights than big data alone.

4. Take part in authentic human capital conversations: Organizations need to get human capital leaders (including Human Resource Business Partners, Shared Service Providers, and Centers of Excellence) and business leaders in the same room to “see and touch the same elephant.” Creating a shared vision required authenticity and appreciation of a deep cultural and human nature. In other words, the DNA of authentic practices is authentic conversations, and the path to success lies in advocating for and getting better at it.

Key takeaways

  • Reshape and reframe problems as dilemmas to be managed
  • Speed-up and sync human capital practices with the rapidly changing environment 
  • Adopt a positive outlook for human capital challenges and address them through colorful human capital practices
  • Tilt towards, and champion, the “human” part of the human capital-digital equation

To sum up, diversity of thought will be the ultimate challenge of the workplace and the HR as they need to build an environment where people with different learning capabilities and perspectives can thrive and grow. HR leaders and practitioners are at a unique stage where they can design the future of work and create a new way of working. An excellent starting point is to bring back the focus on the “human” element of human capital development and keep employee-centricity in mind while preparing for the future. 

(This article is based on the Masterclass ‘HR Leadership Skills for a Digital Future’ by Michael Jenkins, CEO, Human Capital Leadership Institute at People Matters TechHR 2019.)

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Topics: HR Technology, #TechHRIN, #DigitalTransformation

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