Time to disrupt the HR lifecycle?

Human resources needs to shift from process-centric to people-centric design. Here's how

Updated: Oct 18, 2019 12:30:08 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Being in the business of people and performance, I constantly ask myself this question. How should organisations, especially in today’s disruptive business landscape, be agile in their thinking on hiring, developing and managing people? How should HR transform themselves to re-design talent-led strategies, structures, and workflows to nurture their organisation’s goals of differentiated growth?

The Bank of Montreal (BMO) has vaulted over the transformation bar with well-thought out strategy. They transformed their people policies to facilitate the shift of tech employees to cross-functional teams in product development. And the results have been quite telling. The normally back-end IT professionals have learned about customer needs. They have understood what it takes to be more customer-focused. In turn, they have taught the business side the principles of agile thinking and delivery. BMO, as a whole, now looks at performance management from a team lens, rather than an individual one.

While performance management has been one of the first HR practices to go agile, many people policies are also following suit. Clearly, it is time for HR to move away from a rule or planning-based strategy and embrace a simpler model, driven by nimbleness, speed and stakeholder feedback.

In short, we are ready to disrupt the HR lifecycle.

Needed: An HR metamorphosis
HR is today compelled to respond to unprecedented change from disruptions in business, shifting skill needs and high expectations in employee experiences. From a long-term planning approach, they need to make bold and sweeping transformations as strategic imperatives.

Let me go a step further. I believe that HR, in its present form for many organisations, needs to be dismantled and rise like the phoenix from its ashes. They must make themselves redundant as a support function and become a source of solutions. Solutions that provide telling business impact with irresistible experiences, for employees, customers and partners.

In effecting such a metamorphosis, HR can take a leaf out of technology’s agile practices. Out with top-down models; bring in multidisciplinary and empowered teams to enable nimble autonomy. No more control-driven policies, usher in user-driven practices that are co-created with stakeholders.

Even GE, the pioneer of management through control has reinvented itself to a lean approach. Their FastWorks programme eliminates top-down controls and empowers teams to manage evolving needs and situations.

Developing digital talent for HR
If HR, as a function, needs to dismantle and rebuild itself, this is even more true for HR professionals and leaders.

So, if I were the CEO or the CHRO, what is the type of HR talent I would hunt for?

I would look far beyond excellence in mere HR competencies. Being technology savvy, for one. Demonstrating business and analytical acumen would rank high too. And yes, courage, and personal effectiveness. Only then can they be razor sharp in their people focus to design processes that engineer the desired behaviors and culture for high performance, and keep flowing a sustainable pipeline of talent for the organisation. Only then can they create powerful business cases for disruptive and value-adding change— with the right metrics to demonstrate value. And, most important, only then can they display personal effectiveness to sustain influence, in today’s virtual world.

Such digital talent, I believe, will transform the HR ethos to sustain organisations’ future-readiness. From legacy to digital systems. From process-centric to people-centric design. From periodic to real-time information. From limited probability to accurate predictability.

However digital HR may get, they also need to reform the human agenda of business. They need to create innovative people programmes that bring the best of experience and impact, which engage a diverse workforce. They need to design flexible job architectures that enable innovative career mobility and reward structures.

For being human-centric actually augments business outcomes, and not detract from them. It enables HR to be more strategic in obtaining insights on the impact of technological disruption on people, and how to balance relevance with well-being for them. This will, to a large extent combat and manages change fatigue amongst employees and protect their well-being.

Within the HR function itself, it is, therefore, vital to inject business capabilities—maybe through job rotations, project-based assignments, or even cross-pollinating talent between HR and lines of business.

To amend the words of Charles Dickens, “it is the most exciting of HR times; it is also the most challenging of HR times”. Designing and creating innovative HR solutions and processes to work amidst global migration, competition, and uncertainty is the challenge. The availability of rich research and data, and the technology to aggregate and analyse them is the exciting aspect. Can an HR metamorphosis lend the much-needed impetus to add strategic value in engineering the right culture and behaviors?

I believe it will. A relevantly resurrected HR has the unique opportunity to transform the entire employee-business experience to create impact-driven vision and culture. It can infuse a sharp focus on multi-dimensional skills and engaging learning experiences. It can inculcate inclusive people programs and supportive organisational structures for future-ready digital workplaces.

The writer is MD and CEO of Randstad India.

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