Article: HR is too limiting a concept

Strategic HR

HR is too limiting a concept

HR needs to embrace technology and organizational capability, design and strategic talent, says Max Caldwell of Towers Watson
HR is too limiting a concept

The new-age HR team should have a more operational mindset with people who are business inclined


Q: What is your advice for organizations in India that are going global? How should they structure their HR functions?

A: An advantage for fast growing companies is that they can skip some of the steps that others before them have gone through. The first step is embracing automation and technology from the beginning and making simple, intuitive and standardized processes that can be tailored to different needs and regulatory environments. The second is to really enable people in the business to do more things themselves. It is not just a shift of work, it is skipping the whole stage of HR handholding of managers and leaders. They need advice but also need to understand how to use the tools and manage talent. Business leaders do not look at the CFO or the finance function to help them make money; they own that! Similarly, HR creates standards and tools that business leaders just have to embrace. Also, HR needs to raise its own game on technology and strategic thinking and contribute to the business by optimizing the culture of the company. Finally, HR needs to become superb on execution and be the center of expertise around organizational transformation because no one else in the organization can really lead that. For a fast growing Indian organization, for any growing company, these should form the starting point.

Q: So what roadmap do you see for our Indian multinationals towards that transformation?

A: In some ways, it is a classic alignment approach.  The part of this dialogue HR needs to own on this roadmap is organizational capability. We have a stated vision and business strategy, but I think organizations under-think what it really takes to execute well. How to align the organization and build this capability has a lot to do with talent, the design of the organization, how people connect to customers, operational excellence processes and how to measure and reward outcomes. I also think a sense of prioritization has to be part of the roadmap for HR.

Q: What difference do you see in mature markets like Europe and US compared to the Asian market?

A: We look at things on a growth and maturity curve. The appetite and the need is strong everywhere. Arguably, in some of the fast growing markets, the demand is even more intense. In mature markets, organizations have been around the block a few times by now. Sometimes, they are focused more on upgrading to more advanced technology or automating new processes. In other markets, there are organizations growing really fast that don’t yet have the infrastructure, the consistent processes or the teams.

That’s why technology providers cannot go into a market like India or China with a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We need to understand the market and have the creativity and ability to configure our solutions and tailor our consulting to meet more diverse client needs. I think it is important for organizations like Towers Watson to have a presence in India with people who understand the local market and what clients really need.

Q: What should be the new DNA of the HR team?

A: The team should have a more operational mindset with people who are business inclined. It is important to have business people in the HR function so that they can understand operations and are comfortable talking about strategy. HR people also need to be intensely technology driven and analytical but in an applied and pragmatic way. It is not uncommon that other parts of an organization embrace new technology and much faster than HR. I think HR needs to be a better advocate for making such investments. I also believe HR’s DNA needs to include organizational development. HR must be able to talk about organizational capability, design and strategic talent. In some ways, HR is too limiting a concept…it’s  really about creating a high performance organization and culture. HR needs to be secure enough to champion this larger agenda but not forget about engagement and culture and behavior, the intangible things that form the organization. These are the human touch points and HR leaders are stewards of this and keepers of the culture.

Max Caldwell is Managing Director of the Data, Surveys and Technology business at Towers Watson

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HRMetrics

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