Article: Disrupting HR


Disrupting HR

Many traditional HR processes never were likely to work, and rarely did work. And with technology disruptions, they certainly will not work in the future

First, let me make a disclosure — I am extremely biased!  Yes, I know, in these days of acute political correctness, it is an awful admission. But, I Love HR! I believe passionately in our ability to impact strategically the organizations in which, and for whom, we work. I hope you believe that too.

In the late 70’s, I was privileged to take the lead on designing software and related processes to automate a distribution center for a major European organization. Employees feared for their jobs as “the increased efficiency will reduce the need for most of us.”  But, despite excellent specifications, great programming, and amazing equipment … the fears were not realized.  Nor were the anticipated benefits! What we learned subsequently was that, even with the incredible technological advances, it was still the people who led and managed them and had the most impact on the outcomes.  HR had not won the hearts and minds of those required to implement the new tools.  From this, we learned many of the lessons of change management … and I got into HR!

Beyond change management

But, despite decades of experience of change management, we still hear the same cries of fear when new ideas appear. Now, disruption is bringing new ideas, wild ideas, thick and fast. Disruption is the new buzzword.

DISRUPTION: Going beyond ‘changing or innovating on what already exists’ to ‘creating entirely new paradigms, not mere enhancements.’ 

Why do we need a new way of designing HR processes? Because, the prior rate of change has created a new environment, one in which those processes have to work.  Two interconnected changes have had the most significant impact:

Technology has changed fundamentally the very way in which we interact with each other.

We live in a world of connectives™ rather than discussions.

CONNECTIVE: Brief, transient connections between people, processes, and things; across space, time, languages, and cultures.

Each connective may take the form of a sentence exchanged at a water-cooler, a tweet, an email, a comment during a teleconference, a facial expression made during a videoconference, a note posted in a collaboration tool, a reaction when someone else enters the room, an entry made in an APP, the detection of our presence by a sensor.

Collections of many connectives, often virtual and even asynchronous, have largely replaced lengthy face-to-face discussions, letters and memos of old.  Your relationships with others, and thus your potential to impact and influence them, are built from these many connectives.

Social relationships have changed, largely triggered by the advent of social media.

Anyone can connect with anyone, instantly share information, express their opinions, seek support, and exert influence.  Much of our prior thinking in terms of organizational structure and hierarchy, positional power, management authority, command and control, accountability, have been swept away.  Social media has disrupted the expectations of individuals and their power to realize them.  Social media has enabled the downfall of governments, and entire organizations, so its power must not be underestimated and should be utilized.

Let’s disrupt HR

Many traditional HR processes (such as performance appraisal, performance management, development planning, and individual performance-related pay) never were likely to work, and rarely did work.  For the reasons stated above, they certainly will not work in the future.  The processes have already been disrupted, even where they are still implemented.

We, as HR professionals now need to be disrupted. So, now let me make my second admission.  I am an HR Anarchist and I strongly encourage you to become one too.

ANARCHY: A state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems. 

If we, as an HR profession, are going to make a sustainable impact on our organizations, we must not abdicate undue power to those who seek to control or trivialize the very processes and tools that will maximize performance and development.

ANARCHISM: Often considered to be a radical, mass social movement. 

If we, as an HR profession, are going to make a sustainable impact on our organizations, we must come together with other like-minded HR professionals, to challenge thinking that we believe is flawed, to create innovative HR solutions, to support each other on our journey to add strategic value, and to prove HR can make a positive difference.

Never before have we in HR had such challenges to make HR processes work (global competition, world-wide business uncertainty, mass global migration).  Never before, have we had such rich scientific research to inform our work (neuroscience being the most notable).  Never before have we had the technology to collect and analyze data/evidence, to engineer behavior, and to communicate en masse.

What makes great leaders great?

I wrote previously that great HR Leaders display certain characteristics that differentiate them from good HR leaders, including what appear to be the most significant:

  • They exhibit five skills over and above HR competence – technology acumen, analytical acumen, business acumen, courage, and personal effectiveness.
  • They focus on three critically important processes – optimizing individual and team performance, accelerating individual development, and securing a sustainable pipeline of talent.

Great HR leaders then disrupt by:

  • Accepting the risks associated with being somewhat anarchistic whilst generating disruptive solutions
  • Taking steps to ensure that their organization’s strategy is designed to capitalize on available talent; not merely responding to a strategy that they are given
  • Using contemporary research design HR processes that truly engineer the desired behaviors and culture, rather than designing them based on simplicity and consensus
  • Applying the power of contemporary technology to trigger, reinforce, and sustain those behaviors, not merely adopting the most popular tools
  • Using their analytical skills to create powerful business cases for disruptive change (and to demonstrate its value, post-implementation), not merely relying on perceived best-practice
  • Demonstrating the courage to challenge the status quo, to fight for, sell, and implement needed disruption, and not to always acquiesce to stakeholder requests
  • Using their personal effectiveness to achieve and sustain influence in what is an increasingly noisy, digital and virtual world.

What’s next for you?

The following questions may help you to decide, plan and take action:

  1. Are you focusing on ensuring the maximization of productivity, the acceleration of individual development, and the creation of a sustainable pipeline of talent?
  2. Are you taking a more proactive, strategic, and disruptive stance i.e., to be somewhat more anarchistic?
  3. Do you have, or have access to, the technical skills needed in HR?
  4. Do you have the five additional skills (technology acumen, analytical acumen, business acumen, courage, and personal effectiveness)?
  5. Do you have a robust network of HR professionals from whom to seek support and with whom to share experiences and ideas?

There has never been a more exciting time to be a true HR professional. I’m proud to be one.  Are you? 

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Topics: Technology

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