Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

A series of on-line conversations on hacking HR to create an adaptability advantage

Session 1:  HR as a catalyst for proactive change, with Peter Cheese and Gary Hamel

Is your organization changing as fast at the world around it?

Let’s face it: for most organizations, the answer is no. The ability to reconfigure the underlying business concept isn’t in the DNA of most companies. That’s because the broad majority of organizations operate according to industrial-era practices and principles designed to maximize standardization, specialization, predictability, and top-down authority. Yet, to survive (much less thrive) in an era marked by accelerating change and hyper-competition organizations must adopt a completely different set of management principles and practices.

At the center of so many of an organization's core processes—from talent development, review and compensation to organizational development to change management—HR has the chance to be a true catalyst for strategic adaptability. But where does any single HR organization or HR leader begin when it comes to changing how their organization changes? How can HR help to “hack” the company’s management model to spur adaptability?

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD, and Gary Hamel, London Business School Professor and co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), recently participated in a one-hour conversation online—exclusive to registered members of the hackathon—on how to begin the journey to transform the HR function into a true catalyst for proactive change.

To view the most popular tweets from the hangout click here.
 

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greg-stevenson's picture

Not a lot of diversity happening here. Gary and Peter have the same attitude and the same train of thought as each other. I'm of the belief that a Gunter Pauli approach to achieve multiple elements of the same issue in an addition to the system is required. Interestingly enough the example of Jimmy whales and Wikipedia was used very tactfully as to not induce fear. In reality this hack is like asking Jimmy Whales to have come from the ranks of Encyclopedia Britannica. Looking after human resources is the responsibility of every human, just as adding to collective knowledge is the responsibility of every human. What is more, humans want to have that responsibility. Wikipedia is proof of that and the demise of much of the HR function will be proof of the analogy. I'm a little doubtful of the architect coming from within that HR professional body. More likely a Systems thinker with a capacity for IT. Scary enough for you?

neelesh-marik's picture

Yes I think HR as a function is on its way to obsolescence. HR operations will remain, and mostly outsourced as an 'efficient utility'. The very notion of humans as 'resources' will be considered derogatory and implicitly dysfunctional, in the new era of sensitivity and sensibility. Framing the adaptability discussion within a HR context and mandate is problematic on many, many counts. It almost sets up the Hackathon for a sub-optimal result.

andrew-mayo's picture

We can get over enthusiastic, even pretentious, about the influence that HR can have over business operations. Neil Roden was castigated in the HR press for not preventing the excesses of the investment bankers and their pay in RBS. How many of the castigators have actually been a board (or exec committee) member battling to intervene against very strong operational businessmen to say "this is wrong"?? if they had they would know how difficult it can be - in banking even the whistleblowers whose job was risk management were sidelined.

But that does not mean HR cannot be a powerful force for change. For me the challenge is - how can I translate the business plan into its needs for human resources in the broadest sense - numbers, capabilities, organisation design, productivity, engagement and performance.

HR is a servant - some believe the highest form of leadership (Bible, Mark 10 v 45) - and without great servants masters can fail (Jeeves and Wooster)

Andrew Mayo

debby-lloyd's picture

I so enjoyed this. On the subject of would it be too easy to suggest the set up an internal company "hackathon board" that lists the major business challenges and/or invites people to soundboard, debate, challenge and ask scarey questions. Albeit depersonalised away from "leadership titles" but maybe segmented by business function to encourage company wide collaboration and input. Peer review is a scarey prospect for everyone - no-one likes being shot down in flames... so HR could be the coach to start. Ongoing evolution could link it to people's social media, twitter etc (look at Sales force.com they have an internal chat board) and maybe even there's an option for customers to get involved longer term. But how's that for an idea .... let's test that for validity ?

debby-lloyd's picture

I so enjoyed this. Surely its easy for IT to set up an internal company "hackathon board" that lists the major business challenges and/or invites people to soundboard, debate, challenge and ask scarey questions. Albeit depersonalised from "leadership titles" but maybe segmented by business function to encourage company wide collaboration and input. Peer review is a scarey prospect for everyone - no-one likes being shot down in flames... so HR could be the coach to start. Ongoing evolution could link it to people's social media, twitter etc (look at Sales force.com they have an internal chat board) and maybe even there's an option for customers to get involved longer term. But how's that for an idea .... let's test that for validity

laura-probert's picture

Leadership capability is a key focus for our organisation - developing towards Transformational Leadership particularly. Great leaders are the glue of the successful organisation.

What particular approaches to enhancing leadership effectiveness do you support?

simon-jones's picture

Question: Given that yesterday was the HR for SMEs Conference, I'm interested to know
a) if smaller businesses are inherently more adaptable? and
b) if yes, why or
c) if no, are there any things that can be learnt from the small organisation sector?

sandra-costeja-bos's picture

I am currently working with a small, creative company that is growing very fast and needs to put some structure and robustness around their processes to ensure sustainability and scalability. How can HR support fast-growing, small businesses in doing this without hindering their creativity and flexibility, and also without creating unnecessary hierarchies?

leila-ljungberg's picture

Hi Sandra, I´m in the same situation as you are. I think it´s important to work as agile as possible, learn from the IT sector, and do just as much as needed in the sense of structure. Instead keep focus on arranging for change, creating flexible processes(forums for creativity and dialogue) and give value to the business whilst focusing on what the business needs.

heiko-fischer's picture

Dear Peter and Gary,

My question is: "As CHROs or HR leaders, how do we overcome the fear factor on the CEO level towards more adaptive/democratic enterprise cultures? Could the answer be a new model/mindset evolving/replacing Dave Ulrich's business partner model?"

The background for my question: Having grown up with the participative culture of HP of the 70s and 80s where my dad was head of HR and managing director, I have crossed swords with Dave Ulrich on the effectiveness his business partner model as a catalytic model. It is simply neither ambitious nor adaptive enough in and of itself. Having established a workplace democracy in the games industry with my team as head of HR, I recently partnered up with Clovis Bojikian, Ricardo Semler's partner as the former head of HR at SEMCO, the worlds pioneer for a sustainable workplace democracy, to establish a fresh catalytic framework for HR. We found the business partner model to be wonting and no help in our work towards a more adaptive enterprise management mode. The goal would therefore be to make HR the catalyst for democratically adaptive workplaces.

looking forward to your answer!
saludos from Berlin, Germany,
Heiko

neelesh-marik's picture

Shouldn't adaptability be a lived and breathed experience that every individual enacts in and through his or her life- cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally?
Instead of just depending on the CEO or HR to somehow 'deliver' it?
The very nature of adaptability is that it a bottom-up, self generated, self organizing phenomenon, rather than a top-down or a functional mandate or prerogative.
Think of self organization in ant colonies, schools of fish, fireflies, or the murmuration of starlings:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in_XJDaorbw

The key thing perhaps is that it happens without a central controller, or a male vertebrate in charge! (male not in the gender sense, but in the agency-on-behalf sense)

alberto-blanco's picture

Question: If hacking HR is what we want and need, wouldn't it be positive to exercise our imagination and come up with a better term for HR (human resources)? We could find one that could go way beyond and break this notion of people being considered as mere resources. I'm dreaming a little bit here, but what if we use this hackathon to brainstorm as many new HR labels as possible (e.i. human Intellect, human touch, human soul, people, associates, human development, etc) in order to come up with a new HR label? We can even start a campaign for the global recall of the old label and propose [whatever we come up here] as its substitute.

leonardo-zangrando's picture

How dangerous could the tradeoff be between instilling a lessons-learned culture and loosing control of what experiments the employees perform?

frank-calberg's picture

In chapter 6 of the book Unboss, I read that “an unbossed company makes it easy for employees and other stakeholders to be part of a collective process based on what people can accomplish and contribute. It’s not about strengthening your own position in the hierarchy.”

Besides using crowdsourcing initiatives, various types of social media, brainstormings, like buttons / voting systems and other related initiatives, what do you think can be done to create environments through which anyone around the world can participate in an uncomplicated way and help people do meaningful work that create value?

Thanks very much in advance.

paula-aamli's picture

I think it's clear that people do their best work when they're not constantly worrying about justifying their existence. But in cost-constrained environments, I suspect that support functions incl HR can sometimes feel 'on notice' and perhaps the business also lapses into thinking of them as 'blockers' as opposed to facilitators and partners. How do we best foster the mutual respect and trust that must be in place between income producers and suppoer functions in order for - for example - HR to be passionate advocates of change and business to take them seriously?

stephen-remedios's picture

As long as HR isn't completely integrated with the 'business' it's always going to be a challenge to champion adaptability! HR needs to be on the inside rather than an outside 'partner'. What do Gary and Peter think about this?