From an HR perspective, the greatest opportunities are to use technology to achieve better competitive advantage from our people
I’ve recently written an article1 together with Dave Ulrich suggesting that HR functions need to put more focus on teams and organizations. This applies both to the businesses we work within and our own HR functions too.
When we think about both teams and organizations, we also need to put more emphasis on the outcomes we’re trying to create — What type of team?, Which organizational capabilities?, etc.
Then in answering these questions, we need to think more holistically about the whole team/ organization, and not just its structure or skills etc.
Actually when we help design business organizations, we are family, good at remembering to do this. For example, we use organizational models such as McKinsey’s 7S2 to help remember that we need to consider changes in various different organizational elements and ensure these are effectively aligned and integrated together.
But when we come to HR, we often forget this need & we focus on the structure of the HR function and forget the other elements of the organization. Structuring the HR function should actually be relatively simple. The most critical need is just to follow the structure of the business. My article with Dave Ulrich suggests that despite all of the advances in organization design over the last few years, with new interest in models such as holacracy, there are still four fundamental archetype designs: functional; process/project; community and network. E.g. holacracy is an example of a project-based organization. That probably means that HR within a holacratic organization will benefit from being organized on a project-oriented basis too.
Other aspects of business and HR organizations are more difficult to organize and need more attention to get right. My article with Dave Ulrich suggests the most important of these are what I sometimes argue should be an eighth ‘S’ in the McKinsey framework: ‘social relationships’.
The connections, relationships and conversations HR teams and practitioners have with each other, with their business clients, and the relationships those business leaders have with each other, are all normally more important than anything to do with the structure of the HR function.
Then we come to the ‘S’ for ‘systems’, meaning business processes, but including technologies as well. HR technology continues to have an absolutely huge impact on what HR is about to do and the contribution and impact we are able to have. Sometimes this is just about using technology to do things people cannot do or would be too slow and inefficient to undertake. As an example, machine learning computers can undertake pattern detection and make inferences about potential opportunities for improving people management in ways which people can simply not achieve. But most often, technologies have value by improving the other ‘S’ elements within a business or HR function.
Technology can help provide a competitive advantage in its own right. However, from an HR perspective, the greatest opportunities are to use technology to achieve better competitive advantage from our people and the ways we organize them by the impact technology can have on our staff and their skills, our systems and structures, and the shared values and style of the organization. And on the social relationships too.
My suggestion is that if relationships are the most important aspects of an organization then technologies for improving relationships are going to be one of the most vital areas to use technology to improve.
For many organizations, this is going to be about using enterprise social networks. Although experience in implementing these in many organizations is not that great, they can be used effectively. The difference is about whether they are introduced as a piece of technology, which will not work or as an organization development intervention which can.
But there is also a whole range of other apps and systems emerging which help people connect, reflect on their relationships, and analyze the effectiveness of these relationships across the organization. I would suggest that these will be some of the most important technologies which HR will be using in the future.
Meet Jon Ingham at TechHR 2016