Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

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gary-hamel's picture

Introduction: Changing the way we change

By Gary Hamel on April 19, 2022

Why adaptability matters now more than ever.

We live in a world that seems to be all punctuation and no equilibrium, where the future is less and less an extrapolation of the past. Change is multifaceted, relentless, seditious, and occasionally shocking. In this maelstrom, long-lived political dynasties, venerable institutions, and hundred-year-old business models are all at risk. Today, the most important question for any organization is this: are we changing as fast as the world around us?

For most organizations, the answer would be no. In industry after industry, it's the insurgents, not the incumbents, who've been surfing the waves of change—it's Google, not Microsoft; Hyundai, not Chrysler; Apple, not Nokia; Air Asia, not JAL; and so on. The vanguard, though, are just as vulnerable to change as their victims.  Strategy life cycles have been shrinking, and success has never been more fleeting--a 2005 McKinsey study indicated that market leaders (defined as being in the top quintile by revenue in a given industry) stand a 30% chance to be “toppled” within 5 years.  This probability is over 3 times what it used to be a few decades ago.

The only thing that can be safely predicted is that sometime soon your organization will be challenged to change in ways for which it has no precedent.  Problem is, our organizations were never built to be adaptable. Those early management pioneers, a hundred years ago, set out to build companies that were disciplined, not resilient. They understood that efficiency comes from routinizing the nonroutine.  Adaptability, on the other hand, requires a willingness to occasionally abandon those routines—and in most organizations there are precious few incentives to do so.

That's why change tends to come in only two varieties: the trivial and the traumatic. Review the history of the average corporation and you'll discover long periods of incremental fiddling punctuated by occasional bouts of frantic, crisis-driven change. Why should an organization have to lose its way and surrender billions of dollars in market value before getting serious about change?

A turnaround is a poor substitute for timely transformation. That's why we need to change the way we change.  The goal should be change without trauma—automatic, spontaneous, and reflexive. In a world of mind-flipping change, what matters is not merely a company's competitive advantage at a point in time, but its evolutionary advantage over time.

We believe HR can play a hugely positive role in helping companies to become adaptable at their core. HR is already a partner to business in many change management efforts, but HR’s impact would be many times greater if it played a lead role in eliminating the barriers to adaptability and in building new capabilities that facilitate proactive change.  This is particularly true for aspects of the management model that HR drives directly, such as change management, organizational design, talent acquisition and deployment, learning and development, and performance review. 

HR as a catalyst for adaptability

What could HR be doing to…

  • Design and facilitate “change programs” that are based on ongoing, company-wide dialogue about priorities and direction, as opposed to episodic catch-up initiatives driven from the top?
  • Build nimbler and more fluid organizational structures, where a “reorg” isn’t something that happens every four or five years in response to a missed opportunity, but something that is occurring continuously, and almost effortlessly?
  • Create an “army” of change agents by disseminating the principles of grass-roots change and increase the capacity of individuals to launch bottom-up change initiatives?
  • Create a true market for talent, where new initiatives and legacy programs compete on an equal footing for the best people?
  • Equip people with a new set of conceptual skills that are required to thrive in an increasingly turbulent and interconnected world, such as double-loop learning, creative problem‐solving, and values-driven thinking?
  • Foster a high-trust, low-fear environment—where risk-taking is encouraged, information is broadly shared, and contentious opinions are freely expressed?
  • Enlarge the company’s capacity for experimentation by creating an appropriate level of slack and building skills in experimental design and rapid prototyping?
  • Re-engineer control-oriented management processes to reduce the “bureaucratic drag” that impedes the progress of new initiatives?
  • Develop genuine and granular foresight on key workforce trends, such as new skills required to support business shifts, or the expectations from new generations entering the workplace?

To this end, we’ve launched the “Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage” management hackathon. Over the next few months, we’ll be working with hundreds of other progressive HR and business leaders to identify, develop, and eventually implement new ideas for making proactive change a reality in our organizations.

Now it’s up to you. By participating in this hackathon, you can help to reinvent management for a new age.  The ultimate prize?  Organizations that can change as fast as change itself.

Dear hackathon participants, how does adaptability matter to your organization?
What role do you think HR should play in spurring adaptability?

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john-mcgurk's picture

We are putting some of the adaptability mix threads togethether and pulling out some great themes which we will share soon. The key issue for me is that lots of you are saying to shape adaptability we need to re shape HR and rewire the role of management. Big question rippling out and I we are generatingsome big answers. Working out in UAE for CIPD at the moment and there is an enormous thirst for insight around how we do that. from both global and local companies.

It's tough to change the culture/realign/innovate/insert-current-buzzwords-here when your organization has 100+ years of history, a complex structure, multiple businesses and as many opinions as employees. Or maybe it's just as difficult for relative new-comers. In any case, what I'm hoping for is torque that can be applied.

You just start - anywhere -with little experiments in the right direction and then learn from successes and from failures and implement the lessons learnt... It is as simple as that! Revolutions don't work but small wins create positive energy to move fwd with more experiments. This is the way to grow children and organizations... What have you tried today, last week, last month, last year - start asking these questions - of new candidates, of junior and senior people in the organization - and you will change the culture ... It is as simple and as tough as that... No shortcuts...

Adaptability matters in my organisation as we need to be able to respond at pace to changes in the external environment in which we operate to continue to achieve our organisational goal. HR's role in spurring adaptability is to help leaders design organisations and create the culture to allow organisation to change on a continuous basis. HR can help organisations embrace a culture that has a focus on innovation and is prepared to take risks to achieve sustainable performance.

The way I see it, HR can play a tremendous role in spurring adaptability, not precisely by supporting organization's functional areas, being this its historical -and rather passive- role, but by "showing" the door to change via its personal (and radical) renovation. If you think of it, the term HR (human resources) represent itself an anchor from the past, which is holding it back. This happens because words matter, they carry a profound meaning, and trigger powerful associations and images (i.e. if I tell you: "don't think about aliens singing pop-rock songs" you'll think of them anyway). Hence, unless HR gets rid of its legacy title and come up with something else, its efforts in supporting change across organizations will be less than effective.

stephanie-sharma's picture

To the following quote, I don't think its possible to facilitate, empower, encourage, reward and incent change without it coming from a senior leadership imperative and shift that begins with the way in which we hire and hold executives accountable through to who and how we hire the organizations managers and they the employees that innovate, create daily improvements and bring their perspectives freely to the workplace.

Secondly, the language we use creates barriers in how we facilitate, empower, encourage, reward and incent change and adaptability. Even the word 'manager' implies ownership or control by one vs. all. We do need leadership and we do need leaders and we do need managers. How those roles and those they support are defined and look for an organization that truly behaves adaptably, should be part of what we consider and potentially reframe.

Finally, we have to measure what adaptable, agile, flexible looks like and begin to objectively frame organizational change that happens either through liberating structures or other more organic paths coming from complexity science as an example, so that we are process and outcomes focused, not just one or the other. We need new management pioneers at the helm which is likely the intent of this collaboration. If so, we all need to challenge ourselves to be cautious about replacing constructs with constructs if those are in fact the reasons for our lack of agility.

"...our organizations were never built to be adaptable. Those early management pioneers, a hundred years ago, set out to build companies that were disciplined, not resilient. They understood that efficiency comes from routinizing the nonroutine. Adaptability, on the other hand, requires a willingness to occasionally abandon those routines—and in most organizations there are precious few incentives to do so."

jon-ingham's picture

Just been through everybody else's points. One thing that stood out for me (not just on this page) was the amount of 'I hate HR' rhetoric. OK, we may be a long way from delivering on Gary's suggestions currently. But that's the point of doing this. And I think we should recognise that there are a lot of great HR practitioners out there already making a lot of this happen. In fact, in my experience, it is mostly HR that gets this agenda. The issue isn't generally practitioners wanting to stick to stability and administration, it's that the rest of the organisation isn't / won't pay attention to what they've got to say (yes I know that's sometimes about HR capability too but you can't make someone listen no matter how fine your skills.) I think that's a key issue for HR. The wider point (which absolutely still applies to HR) is that organisations need to be more sensitive to different viewpoints and perspectives, not requiring everyone to speak the same language / act in the same way.

paula-aamli's picture

Jon -

You mentioned that "One thing that stood out... (not just on this page) was the amount of 'I hate HR' rhetoric."

Thanks - that was a useful check because it is very easy to get into the 'and another thing I hate...' avalanche (though is venting always counter-productive? maybe the Hackathon participants are shaking out some of those hackles because they feel they - finally? - have a sympathetic audience? :) ...) And per my to and fro with Paul Hearns just above your comment, there's equally quite a bit of discomfort being expressed with the modus operandi of old style corporates in particular?

- You say - "The issue isn't generally practitioners wanting to stick to stability and administration, it's that the rest of the organisation isn't / won't pay attention to what they've got to say (yes I know that's sometimes about HR capability too but you can't make someone listen no matter how fine your skills.)"

Absolutely take the point - I'm a newcomer to HR and I've been slightly taken aback by the vehemence around the need to try to establish some degree of respect within HR between departments and between HR and the businesses we serve. If you're in an environment where HR is presumed irrelevant before the HR person in the room opens their mouth (which thankfully doesn't APPEAR to be the de facto assumption at the moment but possibly might have been not too many years ago?) - then clearly it's going to be hard to get anyone on board with an HR agenda.

In the privacy of our own Hack, though, I think perhaps we can admit that we sometimes don't do ourselves too many favours? We perhaps get a bit precious about the 'paradigms', 'products' and 'tools' and forget - or forget to communicate - that they are just a framework, a means towards a much more meaningful end. And I haven't met *many* HR professionals who have really done a good job of wrapping our grey cells round the application of the 80/20 tradeoff. It feels like every day I'm witnessing someone making a 'die on this hill' type Final Stand on an issue that (in the cold light of eternity) perhaps wasn't REALLY worth it? Or changing timelines, parameters and scope without - apparently - considering that there might be consequences to oneself or others of doing so?

The kind of change leadership I'm really excited about and really looking for from HR is the type that effectively says -
'come on guys - I've caught a glimpse of a materially improved working environment and I've got a clear change plan for supporting our business to transform to achieve it - and i'm confident that my plan is nicely robust but it could almost certainly be improved upon. Any interest?'

perry-timms_1's picture

I too have experience where HR gets "it" yet their business just won't budge. Yes as you say there is something of an HR capability/skill issue in there somewhere but you make a valid point that needs addressing. A business that listens to and allows HR-led / HR-derived innovation appears to be a rarity. Some HR "low horse power" only serves to underscore this, as trust and belief in HR from the business is limited to transactional services. Your poiny on getting wider contributions on here not just HR is well made yet it appears hard enough getting HR types here. 135k members and 500+ registrations? Maybe when some deductive thinking comes from this OTHER HR types might join in more and some other business leaders might also be prompted to join in. Again, thanks for putting your thhoughts in here.

Every organisation shoulf empou a philopher who sits in a room with a coffee machine and an open door and just talk with anyone about how we might move forward- pose the right questions and you get the right answers. Cut the culure of hirearchy and ppwer poitics- we can learn from how young chilfren learn and interact and experiment in nursery schools. Look too at the Transition Town movement for a cooperative model of change. This discussion should think right out of the box if it is to be worth while and energising.

paul-hearn's picture

Hi all, interesting thread.

I can't help thinking though that "organisations" are after all artificial constructs. To empower them with such human or natural traits as agility, adaptability, innovation capacity, etc. is misleading. Organisations do not innovate... people do! In fact, organisations are there basically to stop innovation happening so that they, and the power structures within them, can prevail. Which is why they all ultimately die, unless they manage to find a way to impose a monopoly situation of "no other choice" on the customer, which gives them an extended life.

I guess the best type of organisation - given that apparently we have to have them despite their obvious destructive force - is one which sees itself as a loose network of individual innovators. The job of HR in such an organisation is to promote local initiative but also to try to ensure that despite the individual nature of agility, adaptability, innovation etc, there is a sense that "the organisation is more than the sum of its individual parts" - to promote the "we" rather than the "I".

Apologies for that perhaps rather dire vision! :-)

paula-aamli's picture


Yikes - that is quite a scary vision.

I can see how the crises of recent years can underpin a negative view/experience of organisations (I am presuming a primary reference to 'large' organisations but that's probably because that's my own personal context?).

And to the extent that we're using Taylor's production lines as the paradigm for an organisation (and yes I'm endebted to Daniel Pink's work on Drive for introducing me to Frederick Winslow Taylor, who I hadn't otherwise heard of), then the vision naturally tends to 'organisations are necessary evils to make us all do work we wouldn't naturally wish to do, absent the organisation's carrot/stick mechanisms'.

BUT - I'm not really sure that all organisations are inevitably destructive forces. Or even that all organisations necessarily function like machines - though I do agree that they are artificial constructs. Like tribes, nations, clubs and cultures are artificial. They're constructed for a wide range of reasons - to give us ways to make sense of the world, to provide safe places, to offer stable (or unstable!) access to shared resources etc.

I'd like to challenge - for the purpose of the hackathon debate - that mainstream HR has a tendency to WANT to think of organisations in terms of the 19th and early 20th century types that were the birthplace of modern management practises - because by extension they were the birthplace for most HR practises as well. We might grumble about them but at least we know how to relate to them. Whereas in fact, organisations - as artificial constructs - can exist in a large number of different forms, each with its own benefits - and drawbacks.

paul-hearn's picture

Hi Paula, yes it is, isn't it? :-) But realistic within all types of organisations, I fear. I think the key message here is that innovators need support structures that enhance their effectiveness, not bury it or risk manage it to death. In return for valid explicit support (a salary, a platform or brand upon which to build), innovators often have to put up with almost insurmountable burdens to actually getting the innovation out the door!
Of course some organisations are better at recognising the problem that others.
kind regards :-)

Hi Paul,
I FULLY agree with you! I believe the best supporting system is the COMMUNITY. A self organized group of people who get together to solve a problem. In recent crises - in New Orleans, for example, no organization solved the problem but the community. We have to decode the DNA of healthy communities and introduce them into hierarchic organizations in order to hack non functioning forms of organizing work which are barriers to free spirit, autonomy, entrepreneurship and innovation. Best Regards, Edna

penny-barratt's picture

I have a real empathy with Luc's comments and viewpoint. I remember reading the article on Google being the 3rd largest company and that it's success amongst other things, was down to its metrics which drove every aspect of the HR function. Yet I didn't think it was a company I would like to work for (though I could understand why those passionate about technology and systems would) and wondered where the human aspects of running the business emerged. Reminded me of Orwells 1984. I wondered whether there was room for the soft skills that are so important to effective HR and encouraging but giving time for employees to grow and develop and find their own level of committment, motivation, learning and performance. One size does not fit all, that is true of people as well as organisations and it's the job of HR to make this reality work.

luc-galoppin's picture

Wow, it took me some time to read through the comments and as Chris suggested a summary of the patterns that emerge may be a good idea. When I think about the original question 'What role do you think HR should play in spurring adaptability' there is one specific quote of Einstein that comes to my mind: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I have the same feeling about this question and about all the aspirations that we attribute to HR. More than half of the bullets of Gary's list are qualities that cannot be attributed to HR.
From my experience HR has other qualities than being an agent of change or a stimulator of adaptability. Sadly enough these are qualities that are less 'sexy' to mention or to write about. In essence HR is agent of stability and a very good one.
Since this phase is called orientation I would like to underscore that the qualities of HR could be different than the ones that were given to us by the authors / coaches of the initial assignment. All my respect for the coaches, but this is a hackathon, right?

jon-ingham's picture

Hi Luc, I absolutely agree with what I read as your suggestion that we don't want to be guided too tightly in a hackathon. There should be no absolutes here. The same applies to your points as well of course - I absolutely do associate Gary's qualities with HR - both what I hope the profession will become, and most of the many HR professionals I work with currently.

luc-galoppin's picture

Hi Jon - that's true, there should be no absolutes on my points either.I hope we will have the opportunity in the following phases to detail our point of view and our starting position. In a next step - if we reach a level of comfortable disagreement - it should be possible for both of us to let go of our position and to arrive at a conclusion that neither of us would be capable of reaching on his own.
At least that's what I expect from this journey: the possibility to take a position in the first place and then to - by means of conversation / discussion / dialogue to let go / or even inverse that position and end up with a different perspective on HR and adaptability.

paula-aamli's picture

Thanks for all the food for thought!

Two aspects that continue to feel unresolved for me:

1. the emotional experience of change - a binary discussion about whether change is experienced as 'traumatic' ('bad') or 'transformative' ('good') seems slightly limited. I agree that directionally we're trying to get our organisations to accept the reality of change with as much positivity, even delight, as possible - and yet can't that experience be a bit tinged with trauma without that necessarily being a problem? If we take life as an analogy, some of the best life-transition moments also contain some sorrow - graduating is both the start of a new career and the loss of a university context etc etc. I do think that traditional organisations prefer to deal with reality as binary. We win or lose, make our targets or don't, are 'talent' or ... not. One of the earlier exchanges (Edna/Kirstie) talked about moving away from 'right first time' to 'good enough first time' and I personally think that the mark of an adaptable organisation is going to be one that's ok with some ambiguity and with their people reacting and performing within a range of 'good enough' while they get used to their changed environment.

2. I wonder whether we have a bit of a preference to frame the change debate between 'transformation' vs 'status quo' as being essentially between fluidity vs structure. I work for a bank (**pauses to allow the booing to subside**) and through all the necessary change that my sector is going through, one thing that should remain, although it will need to look very different, is enough structure to allow people to engage in economic activity as protected as possible from fraud etc. The need to change is incontrovertable - towards accountability, towards fairness, towards responsiveness - but not into 'anything goes' anarchy.

julien-pascual's picture

Maybe we shall not rely on an organization to generate change - maybe we shall work in creating the conditions where change occurs itself. Maybe we shall create the conditions where change is the daily routine, the core activity. A purpose driven company where exist the conditions of self motivation ? A company that has no HR because HR is every body's duty, a company that has no predefined organization because every one can be, at a given moment of time, a leader ?

I totally agree that HR should be helping to drive change capabilities. However, HR doesn't always understand or have the capacity to develop their resources to truly understand the business sector needs.

florence-cariou's picture

I'm re-reading Tom Peters' "Talent". When I had heard him in San Francisco in 2006, I was not ready for his messages. But, what he was saying then is becoming our reality : "Brand You World". That's talking about Agility, at an individual level... and spreading it back , bottom up to the corporation… or elsewhere.
"What can HR do to foster Agility ?" is the question.
I have several questions.
- The first is : what is HR ? Here, we talk of HR as being a function without a second thought.
When you listen to HR, they are "aspiring business partners", and jargon their way through complex procedures around Talent Development. When you listen to employees, it's the function you turn to when you have a problem, and you have reasons to whine about the anonymous service you have in return. For managers, they may be counselors, or people in charge of labor relations, guardians of equity, and providers of payroll. For candidates, they are the people that can get you a job. To simplify, you have already four different visions. But at the same time, you can be manager and employee… The result is that you get a confusing image of what HR is or should be.
In essence, what we do is sort (people), administrate (a wide range of information concerning them, but never accurately picturing them), and impersonate the frontier between the (mean-outside) world and the company.
-is it HR’s role to foster agility ? difficult to be a guardian of the temple and a change agent at the same time…
I keep going back to Vineet Nayar who told an assembly of HR Directors that he had chosen to be leading the change himself. ‘That’s the CEO’s job, not the HRD’s’, he said. He was talking about fostering engagement through shared vision.
-Agility is about doing things differently than what we have been doing before.
Maybe HR’s role should be helping an empowerment of others to do the job : top managers should lead, middle managers should share the vision, and have a clear role to play (and yes, be helped along the way), and everyone should feel empowered …
-What can HR do? Question evaluation processes, question talent detection, re-invent learning, lobby for contract simplification and labor legislation adaptation, negotiate a more direct dialog with employees, rethink what’s being in the company or an outside help (and work with others : Purchasing, Legual, … ), and also what value we create. How are we contributing to increasing the company value, improving it's reputation ?

A re-invention of our role is at stake. Do we really need to be called HR ? Should we be doing this reinvention on our own? Are we still legitimate to do it?

Florence, I like your post and agree HR needs to re-invent its role jus as all of us - we need to re-invent how we organize our work better. We need to create new work environments that enable knowledge workers to innovate constantly, to experiment without fear - to help leaders lead organizations where work is fun and where workers are in FLOW. We need to turn organizations into communities since as Margaret Wheatley says: whatever the problem community is the answer!
Do you like it?

clayton-glen's picture

Wow - this is a bombardment of fresh and liberated thinking ... I'm really excited about learning from this process, and from the people actively contributing to it.

My main concerns are:

1. I think this group represents a narrow niche of liberated commentators who are / can afford to be brave and free-thinking ... most 'coal face' HR professionals typically don't share these qualities unfortunately (identified business realities, specialist HR educations with limited commercial awareness, well documented transactional vs creative mind-sets, etc.); so Hackathon outputs need to practically shift some of this ‘HR community DNA’ to be meaningful and to create something of tangible value to those who feel that they are at the coal face.

2. I agree with John Ingham's point about this channel being too systemically narrow - I would love it if a high proportion of Hackathon participants were, say, young, early career stage but ambitious HR professionals locked into HR call-centre-type HR jobs, second or third language English, but seriously wired in to the power of social networks and peer-to-peer technologies, and hugely ambitious and creatively disruptive. Not sure that this will be the case. Great if the registration process could be more organic to allow this – particularly actively encouraging participation by non-CIPD members. How brave can the CIPD be ?

3. The main acid test with ‘high-five’ HR thought enablement initiatives is whether business leaders care. This is not cynicism without an objective, but a mobilising thought. How to convert Hackathon ideas to tangible commercial common sense that serious business leaders 'buy'. What would S.D. Shibulal, Martin Sorrell or Richard Branson say about how to sell the final core Hackathon ‘big ideas’ to those who run our businesses?

Just some acid test stuff...

jon-ingham's picture

Cheers Clayton

monique-jordan_1's picture

Clayton, you raise a point that I have been struggling with this year. I frame the issue regarding getting leaders and HR teams to adopt new ideas a little differently -- but same issue. To me when I hear leaders (or anyone for that matter) talking about the need to change -- especially behaviors that are deeply rooted in core values and mental models, I believe they are mostly sincere in wanting to change. I don't think we need to 'sell'. There is so much literature on the rate of change, globalization, new demands on leaders it is overwhelming. Additionally, the evidence that links organizational adaptability to financial performance is also indisputable. This brings me to the question that I have been pondering for some time now -- why are we unable to bring about the types of meaningful changes that [almost everyone] agrees with and wants? The only answer I have been able to come up with is that the leverage is in changing the system -- not the behavior.

We tend to look to the leaders of successful organizations and try to emulate their behavior but tens of thousands of articles later, we can't do it. Maybe we should look at the system (of conditions that give rise to successful organizations)? Yes there is clearly a relationship and I wonder do the environmental conditions (system) change behavior faster and in a more sustainable way than behavior can change the conditions?

Just as a plant, native to tropical jungles, thrives naturally in that environment, I wonder how we might create the conditions for success that would naturally lead to and sustain adaptive organizations. Are we trying to transplant tropical plants in the desert?

jenese-joseph's picture

What could HR be doing to 'design and facilitate change programs'? I believe flexibility in approach. Understanding that we do not come with a built in book of answers, and that sometimes the pieces we hold do not all fit the same puzzle. Organisations because of their organic nature can be likened to a chowder - it has every kind of sea living creature in it, but it still can taste good when the fish are complementary in taste and texture.

As each organisation has it own individual culture based on the component intellectual and emotional minds, HR would need to give up the idea that there is an ideal fix. This form of positioning is that HR uses its knowledge and tools only as a platform for formulation of programs. Any solutions it could design which fits an 'ongoing company wide dialogue', by necessity would need the dialogues to flex to its 'ongoing' nature and to be fluid so that the key stakeholder rather than key players (this group may not intentional be interested in the survival of the collective) can input.

In terms of building a 'nimbler and more fluid organisation structure' where a 're-org' isn't something that happens at short periodic pulses seems to have a notion that many organisation are running deliberately missing opportunities, in favour of remaining blinkered, with strategies which move them from crisis to crisis. Is ignorance at Board level really a chosen pattern of operating?

I think if HR had the positioning and power which the sector has being striving for, not only would the iceberg be seen, but the Captain (CEO/boards) would take advice on the need for timely course corrections. So, the question is, how nimble is HR?

We can often assume were an organisation is not nimble that the key decision makers are the critical factors and fractures necessitating any org change where missed opportunities occur causing an overwhelm or an underwhelm in productivity, competitive edge or bottom line. Ergo, a nimbler and more fluid organisation requires a head that uses its faculties to twice hear and listen to the Critical Friend (HR), use it's mind (the Board) once to analyze and evaluate the information which is coming through. Once all information is had a decision should be made quickly and changed slowly. And, to communicate the new instructions, tasks or objectives clearly and widespread.

However, nimbleness, sound decision-making and communication can only happen if HR is spending time or resources as the Critical Friend to the CEO and Board.

We assume that 'change' is a bad thing, but think on this. What things in nature of an organic constitution will survive if it does not go through any change (whether that change is expansion due to growth or, retraction due to death)? Anything that does not permit change become deformed, atrophies and becomes malformed or dies. It could be that part of the role of HR is to consistently iterate the message or organic organism.

If HR can remain flexible and in the position of Critical Friend, there will not be a strong desire to be formula driven and protective of the role believing its self to be an oracle. Foresight and Far-sight are not the same thing! One uses a cognitive ability, the other a crystal ball.

Secondly, change should never be resisted, it is this very resistance which causes the trauma. The beauty of change which is permitted to happen is the exponential innovation and creativity that it will bring to the critical thinking process; the customer focus; the willingness to serve and the excitement to share or greater camaraderie.

monique-jordan_1's picture

HR needs to be the reality-checkers holding up the mirror, calling out inconsistences and dishing out tough-love by challenging everything. Many of our leaders today don’t have the skills needed to create and sustain adaptive environments and even worse; they don’t realize their own shortcomings. This is not fully their fault. We talk about the new ways of working as if it is completely clear – it’s not. What does ‘run faster’ mean if you think you already run fast?

HR must play the role of the coach or trainer – clearly defining what ‘leading adaptive organizations’ looks like, and ensuring espoused theories match theories- in-use by speaking with data, objective observation and most importantly creating “practice session’. Practice sessions (PS) are opportunities to execute the new concepts/skills, see how it feels, get feedback and perfect the new skills. And practice sessions must reflect real work and real problems that leaders/teams face. Practice sessions are not feel-good away days led by an expert explaining what they should do. Instead PS are actual teams working through existing problems/concerns using new ways of working that are facilitated by a coach who can provide feedback and build competence.

perry-timms_1's picture

Some great comments here and shows a really strong start made for this exciting venture. So for my contribution on why I think adaptability matters now, I want to look into me, you, us as human beings who happen to be in professional sphere fulfilling some sense of destiny and purpose.

From the beauty and skill of art to the paint by numbers approach, we have an amazing ability to connect, share and proliferate learning. Learning that helps others with different psychological make up, intuitive drive and applied cognitive ability. Helping others to succeed is one of the more glorious aspects of human nature that appears to be lacking in the world of work, corporate being and professional pursuits. We seem to have become fixated on personal satisfaction through achievement only and not on shared, positive and generously-natured impacts we have on others. We need to adapt personally to the challenge that this personal-only success has become vacuous and seems inappropriate at a time when we need more collective effort.

This personal and then collective adaptability matters now more than ever as we head on in to both a richer bounty of opportunities yet a shadow of challenges, a drain on resources (natural and monetary) and a feeling we've peaked about this thing called work.

Adaptability is a key attribute in ever faster absorption of insight; an enhanced rate of deductive analysis and a splicing of intuition and experience.

We need to be personally adaptable in every day life. Complex societal problems - often appearing in cyclical and despairing circumstances - have impacted on how we view work.

Work has lost much of its feeling of being a craft, a purpose, a calling. It feels like work itself needs to go way beyond transactional existence to earn a living to pay for your way in life. We as individuals need more from work than a paycheck.

Work therefore needs more stimulus for us as we become ever more used to wealth and opportunity that has come with improved standards of living for many of us. Our striving to belong, make an impact and leave a mark manifests itself as much in our professional endeavours as it does our wider being.

So we - personally - and then - us professionally need adaptability to become our truest "norm". The pursuit of stability as a goal is surely no longer feasible (the "it'll be ok when all this change has settled down" mentality). So I guess we all need to refocus ourselves individually and collectively on the epitome of being adaptable.

I for one view this opportunity now as the chance to refocus. Be positively disruptive about the way we operate as ourselves at work and the impact that has on the place / entity we call work.

Finally, adaptability for me is about the firmest grasp let the loosest grip on ourselves and what we do as a calling. It's time to hack our thinking and influence our actions and be adaptable by nature not by exception.

I'm new to this and have read the comments and they fill me with excitement. What I want to know is how I get my organisation filled with the excitement and HR being the catalyst it should be. I'm an L&D Manager feeling frustrated ...... so many opportunities for the organisation and not knowing how to get some of them started.

perry-timms_1's picture

Lynn, thanks and I share your excitement. If you find me on LinkedIn (there's only one of me on there) and connect I'd be happy to share some stuff with you and could help you make some plans out of the lovely jumble of things in your head! Thanks for contributing to this - keep in it and sharing your thoughts here. We need enthusiasm to make hacking work for sure.

jon-ingham's picture

Interesting 'guiding' Perry!

perry-timms_1's picture

Thanks Jon, feeling my way through "guiding" as much as others are hacking. Lynne's call out appealed to the "coach" in me more than a guide I guess. As a guide though, I felt engaging in the dialogue and offering some assistance off the forum might help Lynne be clear on future contributions here. Keen to encourage people to be on here as much as you clearly are. Thanks for that too.

neelesh-marik's picture

''The term self-organization refers to a spontaneous emergence of collaborative behavior among elements in a system. The whole idea of what we might call Newtonian organization, or the Machine Metaphor of organization was that the existing order that had been created was perfect, and workers were there to implement it. In Tayloristic (Newtonian) organizations, it was spontaneity at all costs, as it involved a breakdown in the established order. Self-organization, on the other hand, involves the emergence of order out of spontaneous interactions in response to disorder. It is interesting to note that Taylor insisted on making sure individual workers did not communicate, or form into groups.Their whole purpose was to perform their pre-established isolated assembly-line function. Spontaneous interactions were precisely what Taylor wanted to avoid, and the workers were organized from the outside, never self-organized. Edgar Morin has argued that a more accurate and inclusive way to describe the process of self-organization in open, dynamical systems is as “self-eco-re-organizing systems” (Morin, 1990, 2005c, 2007a).

A system does not merely organize itself, independently of its environment. The environment is in the system,which is in the environment. A family is in society,and society is in the family (culturally, economically, through the media, and so on). But a system does not merely self-eco-organize. It self-eco-re -organizes, as we shall see below (Morin,2005c).

The order out of disorder that emerges in an open system’s interaction with its environment is subject to fluctuation. When certain levels of fluctuation are created by increasing complexity,a critical or bifurcation point is reached. At that point the system can move in any one of several directions until a new and more complex order may be established after a period of turbulence. If a higher order of organization does not emerge, the system returns to a previous,lower level of organization. Many developmental psychologists report a similar pattern for evolutionary transformation (Guidano, 1987; Kegan, 1982). We might therefore think of evolutionary transformation as an ongoing process of self-eco-re-organization.''


An adaptable organization is one which is continuously capable of embracing the 'critical junctures' and emerge into a higher order of organization. It metaphysical terms, a higher order is one with greater truth, beauty and goodness than the previous order.

peggy-bricot's picture

How do you manage the emotional aspect of change?

peggy-bricot's picture

Hi All and thanks for your comments! (Keep replying, I love it!)

Different things come to my mind:
1/ I think you are right, empathy and good communication to give clarity and foster engagement are necessary. But what about also providing employees with tools/techniques to manage their own emotions? Wouldn't the change start by each individual taking ownership of their own change to start with? Did anybody try to implement something like mindfulness for example?

2/ I remarked we all have the tendency to talk about 'they', 'the employees', 'the people'. Should we get a bit more personal and talk about how we are personally managing change? We all went personally through phases of change during our career, voluntarily or not. Could we maybe do a bit of introspection and maybe share these experiences?

3/ Not totally linked with the emotional aspect of change only, but... There is a TV programme currently here in Ireland called "The Takeover". The idea is that the owner/founder of a business in difficulty accept to step down for a week and give total control to employees (he/she basically takes a full week 'holidays' worrying about what the employees will do of his/her business...). The employees have then a full week to implement whatever changes they think the business needs. I found it really interesting to see how the switch of perspective makes an impact on some employees. Some really step up and embrace the opportunity to manage their own projects and ideas, and some realise the full extend of the accountability and consequences involved in a managerial/decisional postion. The results are more or less successful but I find it a good idea to bring creative thinking! The other thing that is interesting in this show, is the reaction of the owner/manager when he/she comes back. You can see hope as well as lack of confidence and maybe mistrust in their eyes... The emotional attachement of the manager to the vision of how his/her business should be, is really obvious as some ideas that seems interesting are slightly dismissed as they don't fit the 'mould' of how things should be.
So, should employees take over?

adriana-ruiz-marchini's picture

Hi Peggy,

I'd suggest using empathy to manage the emotional aspect of change.

The need to understand where the strengths and weaknesses lie in your organisation (and your colleagues) is well known in order to make change happen. However, it's useless knowing this information if you cannot relate to it.

Everyone will react differently to change. The insecurities of colleagues will show up in different ways, like for instance, resistence.
This is where empathic behaviour from our side comes in place. If we get to the "why's" behind emotions and behaviours it's easier for us to flip them around, transforming that insecurity (or resistance, or whatever emotion they're having) onto a comfortable environment for them to pace themselves up, making it easier for them to adapt to the changes around them.

Empathy is not used enough in organisations because it is a very uncomfortable element to have. It could be categorised as 'soft' and complicated to embed within a company's internal structure because it depends from case-to-case. However, I believe it is an element that is very alive in those companies that are adapting themselves to making change happen.

Empathy brings trust as a side-effect… which is always a good thing to have if you want people to change!

monique-jordan_1's picture

Peggy, I believe the best way to manage the emotional aspect of change is twofold. First is to enroll people in the change i.e. help them link the success of the change to a personal goal and second is to set and manage expectations. When someone knows what to expect -- even if it is not what they want -- they can ready themselves. Dealing with the unexpected creates many more emotions.

Monique, I believe we have to add something more - openly exploring the challenge of all of us: to learn to cope with the unexpected. Learning to look at it as an adventure to enjoy and not only as a threat to fear ; developing tolerance for ambiguity for surprise and emergence. This can be achieved through open conversations using, foe example, the U model of Otto Scharmer : from Open Mind through Open Heart to Open Will. In this age of rapid change the best role of leaders - and HR should help develop it - is to design and host open conversations where people support each other in these fast moving journeys.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Hi Peggy. With external/internal coaching of people; being near them, with open ears, being available and having patience. You cannot force people to like change or to be daptable; It's more of a inner strength. Building confidence on these people, showing the need of the organization for them to join the movement of change. Make them feel confortable, useful, that you need them. If they are still "stiff" regarding change, try to put them in a place where they can feel confortable, doing their regular activities, etc. Just ideas.

penny-barratt's picture

Could somebody explain how I can get my photo in place to replace the shadow, I have no time for anonymity but each time I try to do so through my account it just doesn't happen! Technology is fine until it doesn't work!

mix-administrator's picture

Hi Penny,
The correct procedure is to go to your profile page (by clicking on your name at the top of the screen), pressing the Edit tab, then pressing the Choose File button under the Upload Picture section and select a profile image on your computer. If you're having problems getting your image to upload you can email it to me at admin@managementexchange.com and I'll get it added to your account for you.
Bruce Stewart

penny-barratt's picture

Whilst I agree I also feel that being too scientific and not organic can mean that nothing happens because people are waiting for justification and the evidence for change or improvement before planning any action. My experience is in leading change management and I have found that engagement which puts communication and sharing information at the top of the list of activities goes a long way to achieving ownership and committment from staff and management. The most difficult is getting all the appropriate pieces (including managers) in place at the same time or working to support the proposed outcome, as there are not sufficient levels of expertise in organisations able to cope with the demands of strategic and operational change management.

mitchell-scott-davis's picture

Adaptability is something that needs to be tied to sound data collection and analysis efforts - micro adjustments in strategy and structure and tools that make working smarter and not harder easier for all staff. Organisational/cultural/behavioral change occurs in the "how" we do things and too much time is spent on large-scale change, the "why" and the long-term goals of the organisation. It's a marriage between the art and science that makes the difference in creating lasting change and setting the stage for rapid change. Engagement and motivation are wonderful things to know about and learn, but if we don't tie performance to systems to behavior and close that loop, all of the surveys and workshops won't make a dent.

penny-barratt's picture

I agree that organisations and people need to adapt to change around them. With the changes brought about by globalisation and a shift to market leaders coming from Asia rather than Europe not seeing that change is necessary would be foolish and fatal to business. However creating change and adapting to change are two very different things and business (rather than organisations which are inanimate but for their employees) needs to decide where it sits in this global world. Not everybody can or indeed should be innovators. Some businesses are good entering already established markets and adapting and streamlining their systems to achieve success on others ideas.

This of course is only one aspect of what is meant by change and adaptability. The other is people. If we accept that learning environments are the ones which best support and encourage change and adaptability then creating organisations that best fit this model by definition will be the most successful in accomodating change. Others have talked about the fear factor and aligned this to uncertainty, threat and coersion all of which will ratchet up defensive, resistance and rejection mechanisms of staff towards change. This is more likely to apply to older workers who see their careers been shortened by new technologies, ways of working, thinking & expectations and who therefore go into survival (resistance) mode. Maybe one key change in HR approach therefore other than excellent training and development offered to all is the removal of agism not just in word but in deed and develop open systems that identify the skills and experience and the potential in all age groups both currently working and available through the labour market.

A system that shows recognition and evidence of individuals having (the required) skills on a global scale could do a lot to target what the individual can bring to the job rather than immediate exclusion because of age which works against available workers on both ends of the age spectrum. Qualifications helps if universally recognised but the skills developed over time less so and how these are interpreted as a standard varies between organisations as well as Countries and Industrial Sectors. Within the UK maybe not so much of a problem moving away from there and into none Western cultures it definately becomes more so.

peggy-bricot's picture

Are companies missing the point in offering external coaching support to managers only to support change?
I think so. Your head can look somewhere else but if your feet don't move, you'll not go far...

Hi Peggy - why is it either or? I believe that support from outside combined with support from within is better. The more perspectives - the better learning! In complex situations we often look for simple solutions and this is a mistake. It is counter intuitive but adding complexity to complex situations will result in better solutions. The reason is that the more people you engage the higher the chance for a good solution emerging out of the conversation and the more engagement the higher commitment to implement whatever solution is chosen. More ideas on this issue?

peggy-bricot's picture

Hi Edna. Reading my comment again, I realise that it was badly phrased... so I'll try again :)
I think every employee should be able to benefit from external coaching to support change and not only managers. Having your manager supporting you and coaching you through change is perfect but sometimes not enough. In reality, manager/employees relationships are not always that straightforward (power struggle, individual incompatibility...).
For me, change, to be really successful and seen as a positive and normal event in a company, should be embraced by all individuals. So taking care of all individuals as individuals and offering them all the support possible (internal AND external) would maximise the chances of them embracing change.
It also means having a real culture of change in place: good communication, clear objectives, cooperation, creativity...
Change cannot happen optimally when it is only a top-down process. It would be maybe then too rigid and miss opportunities for new ideas/points of view. But it cannot happen either without coordination, it would be too chaotic.
Harmony and flexibility are in my opinion, keys to effective change.

john-mcgurk's picture

I see where you are coming form Peggy.. In some organsations a mentoring programme which recruits experiened people as internal coaches can also work well.. These can involve all levels of staff and as long as everyone is clear on the intent and doesn't get too caught up in excessive confidentilaity etc it works well. Coaching and mentoring are great but we have to be very clear on the purpose and to be honest we need to tighten up a bit on how its delivered. That a challenge I know bit I am sure many will share how they are doing this.

helen-snape's picture

Adaptability is critical to our organisation (local government) as the organisation needs to respond ever more creatively to budget cuts whilst still being able to deliver public services. Our CEO said at the staff conference last year that the only constant in our organisation over the next few years will be constant change. Over the past four years I have seen teams restructured several times and how change fatigue can set in.

I think the role for HR at least partly needs to be about recruiting and developing staff so they themselves have the resilience, skills and capability to thrive in an adaptable organisation, rather than feel tossed about by winds of change.

richard-james-barnes's picture

Some really interesting stuff on this first open session. It will be interesting to see how it develops as nuclear themes as the hackathon (I hate that ugly word just for the record - why is our profession so obsessed with jargon?) develops.

HR really needs to adapt itself to continue its evolution from organiser/manager to facilitator and leader. Smoothing the edges of what will be very different inter-generational cultures in organisations is going to be more challenging than at any time since the changed youth expectations of the 1960s or the emergence of women's expectations in work starting with those who staffed the factories during the second world war.

It isn't just a question of knowledge gaps as it was when computers first become endemic as organisational tools but of the boundaries of the worlds in which people exist, communicate and meet. Coupled with the rapidly changing customer trends which Gary exposes in his article, this discussion couldn't be more timely. Having your head in the ‘cloud’s these days is a winning edge, not a disciplinary warning!

Encouraging connections between potential and actual customers and all employees, not just those referred to as front-line, will be the key to adapting to change. HR will not drive that change whatever we may think but they will be required to handle traffic management better!

They could start by asking where and how customer-empathy is encouraged. How many questions in recruitment focus on what the organisation's service offer is and how the candidate understands it? How much training is devoted to customer-focus and adding value? How many of your engagement survey questions are about the customer experience? How well does your 360 degree appraisal system draw in the end user perspective? How many of your HR team really understand the product and have they spent time making or delivering it? How often do HR staff talk to real customers and how are they engaging people in the internal customer-supply chain that feeds outputs through the organisation’s processes? Is your business and its meeting regime built on process lines or functional silos? How do they recognise and reward empathic behaviour? As an aside, my partner recently made a phone call to her local Boots chemist to check on some reactions she was experiencing from antibiotics. She received advice but at 5-30pm the pharmacist rang her to ask how she was doing as she was worried about her. That’s empathy. I don’t remember a GP or nurse ever doing that for many years.

john-mcgurk's picture

Good points Richard. I get your point about jargon but think there is an issue of intent. If our intent is to explain in new ways or help people think differently that’s good. if it’s to obscure and complicate then no. Sometimes terminonology has to be chosen carefully because it can encourage a new approach or mindset (I know it a jargon term but one we use a lot). When the discussion needs to move into a different area jargon can be helpful.. I coined at term "clever shallow" in a recent report because I wanted to explain how the "constant curiosity and scanning required by L&D professionals could not be addressed in any real depth. instead we would need to come over as informed and smart to a non expert. For example we might know about brain plasticity as a concept and be able to understand at a basic level the functions of the brain. However to a neuroscientist that would be shallow". If said all of the foregoing sentence I wouldn’t get the point across also wanted to shift thinking and challenge people to move from steady state of older knowledge into a ready state of scanning for newer knowledge. For the same reason of intent I l am comfortable with Hackathon becuase it enourages us to think in new ways. You are an exemplar of that contributing a lot of new thinking. I think the issue of how HR experiences and interacts with the customer will be one we will keep coming back to and you put us on that track.

john-mcgurk's picture

Its a really good point you make. Are we paying enough attention to how systems and structures and technology can impact both customer and employee experience. incidetntally (and not wanting this to turn into a rant about railways) some of them are excellent. I had the a disrupted journey last week on another company where the train manager acted like an entrepreneur and found solutions for every passenger who was "inconvenienced"=." That said automated announcements are a technology designed to routinise and standardise information but the paradox is no one gets any useful information. Lets think about that one when we think of change programmes and the commns process especillay if we are using technology!

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

John, it's good to know that you are a fellow coach that uses NLP. Reframing is a great technique to use, also aligning attitudes and beliefs within a team. The issue arises when you want to embed change in a whole organization. You can't do one to one coaching to everyone. We have to find a broader approach.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

@John: I TOTALLY agree that we have to "move away away from change as trauma". You propose "Lets think about what we can do to help that along"... I already thought about that and it has to do with what @Edna suggests: going from problem to opportunity. My personal (registered) Hack that I use in coaching/trainings is transforming "problems" into "challenges". Challenges create a different brain chemistry that make people to move, rather than feel stranded against "problems".

john-mcgurk's picture

Guido. Absolutely with you on that. Now I have to explain to you and Edna tha although i am rather good at alliteration the concept of transformational and traumatic chnangeis Gary's concept. I am putting it out there to position how we think about the individual appetite for change. I really like like your stuff about different brain chemistry and change.. As a fellow coach I also like this idea of reframing.. its a very powerful technique. All the more powerful for being easy to understand and apply!

keith-gulliver's picture

The role of Human Resources in 'spurring adaptability' is to:

* Ensure the experiences of people at key interaction points with the organisation adapt effectively to change – from recruitment through to exit.

* Work with the organisation's leaders to help them navigate through the implications of change for people.

* Encourage leaders to empower everyone in the organisation to adopt an adaptable mind-set: sensible risk taking, learning, experimenting, new ways of thinking and sharing by having an open, honest dialogue.

* Take a balanced and realistic position regarding change when acting as a 'trusted adviser' to leadership.

* Keep abreast of external factors and use key information to influence decision making.

john-mcgurk's picture

Guido's point is a fair one. Yes some people are afraid of change. But if we look at the idea of people being afraid of change as a given we can't position change as an often positive and dynamic force. Sometimes the idea of people being afraid of change becomes a thinking shortcut or heuristic. But if we take the ideas of Hackathon and move away away from change as trauma or transformation we can begin to change that way of thinking about change. Lets think about what we can do to help that along.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

@John: I TOTALLY agree that we have to "move away away from change as trauma". You propose "Lets think about what we can do to help that along"... I already thought about that and it has to do with what @Edna suggests: going from problem to opportunity. My personal (registered) Hack that I use in coaching/trainings is transforming "problems" into "challenges". Challenges create a different brain chemistry that make people to move, rather than feel stranded against "problems".

John - I like your idea of moving from looking at change as a trauma to looking at it as an ADVENTURE. This shift of perspective is the key success factor and the key role of leaders. Moving from "what is the problem to be fixed" to "how can we look at a problem as an opportunity" or "what are the opportunities that emerge from the problem" is a better strategy to explore in order to change how we manage change.

olivier-lambel's picture

Hi John, to illustrate what you just said, have a look at this: "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpiDWeRN4UA"

john-mcgurk's picture

Like Kim's point about change being about plundering the possible or walking the plank. In CIPD's Innovation research we looked at innovation which exploits existing stuff and gets more value from it and the explore element where its about trying new stuff. plundering the possible and walking the plank is an exciting and edgy way of thinking about exploit and explore innovation that so thanks for sharing.

john-mcgurk's picture

Reading an excellent Economist review on the future of the car industry. So many ideas to play with. One that struck me was the concept of "range anxiety" . It relates to the concern about the range of electrically powered cars. You can see parallels with organisational change and innovation. When change is envisaged and implemented we all wonder if our programme have the legs or could it run out of puff? The key thing in electric cars is having the infrastructure to support it but there are big upfront investments to lay out. So how do we make sure we have the investments in order to have the range for change. Think about it!

keith-gulliver's picture

>> "range anxiety"

Hi John - I really like this analogy!

You've got me thinking, here are two ways of looking at this, I'm sure there are others, a combination might be appropriate:

* The organization could have a network of 'change agents' - key people who regularly reinforce the change and all that it means (that would be the equivalent to a network of garages that re-charge electrically powered cars).

* Alternatively, the organization could implement the notion of being 'change ready' - everyone in the organization can adapt (the equivalent of a battery that re-charges itself as the car drives along and doesn't need charging in a garage as often).

Both approaches would require some form of investment, it would be up to those leading the organization to make the most appropriate decision. That's where HR would have a key role to play.


john-mcgurk's picture

Keith yes range anxiety is a great concept. It also gives a framework which you have began to play with . Yes love the idea of the change agents as the refuellers. the battery idea is a great one. Absoutely its about investment. Its really about investing energy in my view. The idea of help people to think about energy as a concept . Range anxiety and range comfort is about about energy and change is about organisatonal and individual energy. Could develop soem kind of meter to gauge energy levels. Great idea to try.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> Could develop some kind of meter to gauge energy levels. Great idea to try.

Hi John - here's an idea: how about the monitoring of 'organizational chatter' that picks out the top 10 trends in real time, searching for key words related to 'energy levels'?


kim-spinder's picture

The world is changing and will keep changing, so there is no finish line. Change is already a permanent state, and today´s organisation has to be adaptive and innovative. Embrace the dynamics of creative collaboration.

It’s time to reinvent HR because in its current role, HR doesn’t add value. Today, it’s plunder the possible or walk the plank. If you want to make change happen and get people going, make it fun and take action. Just do it!

HR should create a culture where employees work together both online and offline, exchange information, and encourage exploration in new ways of working. It’s all about creating a new mindset and making innovation part of an organization’s DNA.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> Embrace the dynamics of creative collaboration.

Yes Kim I agree! Collaboration of people through social media platforms, internally and externally, is key for organisations that wish to embrace change and adapt.

I am joining this a few days into comments being generated, I am working with a number of small and medium sized organisations at present having recently started my HR consultancy service focussing on SME's who do not have in house HR teams, I will be really interested to learn how I can support the SME's I am working with on their change journey's both now and in the future.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Gary says "Today, the most important question for any organization is this: are we changing as fast as the world around us?" If "change" is part of our every day life as HR Managers/Coaches ... I would ask: are we enjoying change? Change is a mean, not and end. We know that change is permanent, so… are we enjoying this journey through change? Is the possibility of changing/adapting deep in our roots as an organization? In the previous posts people say that we need adaptable procesess, structures, etc. If the organization is made up of people, is PEOPLE who have to be flexible, adaptable, focused, etc. So HR should spur adaptability within individual people first, then withing groups and finally through all the organization. If you encourage adaptability, you encourage creativity, flexibility, solution focused approaches, etc.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> If the organization is made up of people, is PEOPLE who have to be flexible, adaptable, focused, etc. So HR should spur adaptability within individual people first, then withing groups and finally through all the organization.

Hi Guido - I agree with you: adaptability in organisations is primarily about people and how they respond to change.

Hi Guido - I like your question: "Are we enjoying change?"
One idea for HR is to recruit people who enjoy change even if you take the risk that they will leave your organization when they find something more enjoyable...
This of course means that we have to adopt the strategy of "employees first customers second" coined by Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> One idea for HR is to recruit people who enjoy change

Hi Edna - yes, this is an interesting point.
So what are the traits or characteristics we would look for individuals to demonstrate during the recruitment process that reflect this?
What are the 'adaptability tests' we would need to make?

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Hi Keith - To answer "What are the 'adaptability tests' we would need to make?" I can tell you what I do and it is giving me a lot of results (which means is not THE answer but it may help): I make indoor/outdoor trainings where I make people divide into groups and compete against each other for an interesting "price". I explain the initial rules of the "game" and while time passes, I start changing the rules of the game. People hate this, and that is good because you are looking for real reactions.You get anguish, despair, anger, frustration, etc., you see who is structured, who is flexible, etc.

Apart from this: It would be nice if in this hackathon people could also share what are they doing and what works.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> I make indoor/outdoor trainings where I make people divide into groups and compete against each other for an interesting "price"

Hi Guido - good example! I've led recruitment assessment centers in the past which included group exercises that did something similar to what you've described here. Observing demonstrated behaviours (e.g. what people say, what people do) provides great insight and an indication of how they might react in the workplace. From an 'adaptability' perspective some example traits to consider looking out for might be tenacity, flexibility and resilience. Others anyone?

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Keith, good to know we are on the same page. It's wonderful how observing behaviours provides insight about each person, including how it copes with anger, frustration, difficult conversations, uncertainty, injustice, conflict, communication under stress, etc. I do this not only in the context of recruitment assessment centers, but to train and prepare teams for higher performance and excellence. It works, believe me

john-mcgurk's picture

Edna I get a bit annoyed when I hear people say "people don't like change" lots of people love change. A recent economist article pointed out that firms in retail and hotels in the US used a unique way to recruit. They used big data flows to find out who had bought a computer and installed their own software and not the "shipped" kind. Sounds like people who love change and are innovative and unsatisfied by the ordinary. I'll try and post the article but the bottom line was they were more productive and engaged than others.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Hi John. Are you sure " lots of people love change"? Isn't it an over generalization? Not all people like change; they get stressed, unsecure, etc. It depends on age, personality, etc. Maybe as HR we can promote how to cope with change, but we cannot make everybody like change.

John - I love it! I am VERY excited about the potential of "big data" to make "evidence based management" feasible. "Big data" tells us about ourselves and about others more than we could have ever known in the past. Let's explore it further in the context of HR.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

Hi Edna, its a great idea to recruit (new) people that enjoy change (although this ability is difficult to assess before they enter the organization). But... what do we do with the people that is already in the organization? This is the big HR challenge... How do you "train" or "make" people to be flexible/resilient/adaptable/etc.? What strategy of "change incorporation" do we use with baby boomers/gen x/gen y people? this could be one of the "Hacks" we can work together in this Hackathon.

Hi Guido, we teach them one step at a time. We celebrate their small successes. We Answer questions of "what to do?" with a a question: "what do you recommend?" or "what would you like to try?"
It is a new education with new goals!
I would love to explore it more with you!

Hi Guido, we teach them one step at a time. We celebrate their small successes. We Answer questions of "what to do?" with a a question: "what do you recommend?" or "what would you like to try?"
It is a new education with new goals!
I would love to explore it more with you!

sylvana-storey's picture

As Gary stated, change should not be an episodic event. Rather change should be viewed as evolving and dynamic. Change must embrace a whole systems approach. That is, involving key aspects and behaviours of organisation life in terms of the way it thinks, the way it does things, and the way it behaves. Concepts such as leadership, engagement, diversity & inclusion, strategy, collaboration, measures and learning must all link together so that there is coherence in change and change is not seem as a nomadic and isolated event that is happening to us rather than us coming together to make it happen.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> key aspects and behaviours of organisation life in terms of the way it thinks, the way it does things, and the way it behaves.

Hi Sylvana - I like the way you have described the organization here as a 'living thing'! :-)

Hi Sylvana,

I agree. Change shouldn't be an "event." I wonder though if the way HR operates, by design, is via events.

If so this inherently creates some huge obstacles. For example, events take a lot of time and energy. By definition, this means they happen less frequently. Consequently, change is slow and labourious.

But, to what extent is this true? As I'm sitting here trying to sanity check this, policy creation comes to mind (full disclosure though, this is my perception, I'm not involved in this).

When I think about how policy is constructed, or how a process is put in place, it usually follows this kind of narrative:

1) Let's figure out who needs to be involved
2) Let's have said people meet
3) Let's have said people agree on something
4) Repeat 1-3 many times
5) Implement
6) Feedback (formal or informal)
7) No real desire to go back to 1-3 unless things get really bad

The challenge is that by the time you are at five or six or seven, it has taken forever. It's just plain hard to get all stakeholders to develop a shared dialogue at a shared pace. The scale and intensity of the event are labourious and therefore it takes place more slowly than would otherwise be ideal.

Perhaps if we want to stop episodic change, we need to stop episodic design. (Raises questions: e.g., when is episodic change appropriate?)

So, how can we take big chunks of work by small groups of people over short spans of time and explore how and when to modify the amount of work to be done, the number of people to do it, and span of time it takes place over.

There is a lot wrapped into this, but I think we need to ask why change is episodic. Maybe part of the solution lies in how we solve.

keith-gulliver's picture

Hi Sean - good thought provoking post.

Do you think a collaborative work environment would stop episodic change? In such an environment steps 1-7 of policy/process construction might look something like this:

1) Everyone has the opportunity to be involved, whether they choose to or not is down to them...
2) Those who choose to participate 'meet' in a collaborative environment, perhaps structured, they think, debate, discuss, share, shape, conclude...
3) Agreement to change is reached and documented
4) Change is communicated to everyone, implemented and monitored
5) Repeat steps 1-3 - feedback and adaption continues in a collaborative environment

A bit simplistic perhaps but these steps could change the emphasis from 'episodic adaption to change' to 'continuous adaption to change'.

charles-huw-morris's picture

I approach this discussion from the perspective that enterprises benefit from considering continuous transformation as the "As Is". I see a key role for HR being the safeguarding / evolution of core values in addition to the full spectrum of talent development activities needed for ever more agile enterprises.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> safeguarding / evolution of core values

I agree Huw! HR has a key role to play here! For example, where there is a clear disconnect between the espoused values of the organization and the actual behaviours demonstrated by leadership. HR must 'call out' such disconnects and ensure they are addressed.

I would like see our hackathon facilitators , after these conversations and discussions to put together old and emerging "Themes" On each discussions and proposed conclusions to each topic so that when we move over to the next topic there may be a roadmap towards achieveing the same understanding and goals , if things evolve on this topic when we are somewhere we can still maintain it from the core understanding.I am not sure who is getting my point.

chris-grams's picture

Hi Siviwe! Thanks for the suggestion! If I understand correctly, we'll be doing exactly what you suggest. At the end of each discussion, we'll do a synthesis of some of the key takeaways to help us kick off the next sprint. This also helps for people who weren't able to closely follow the entire discussion and just want to get a quick recap.

In later sprints, you will see more focused discussions around specific ideas instead of one large, all encompassing discussion like you see here. During this orientation phase, we think an open discussion is a nice way for people to get to know each other, but as we start to get to work on more specific tasks, the discussions will definitely narrow!

The era of singular ownership is ending.

HR can't be gatekeepers, because we can't have gates. Bottlenecks are disappearing and the fresh energy of innovation will find other paths and players if HR is too stodgy, risk-averse, or steeped in bureaucractic caution.

What role should HR play? HR should function as connectors, integrators, and enablers.

HR individuals should be equipped with the skills to deepen thinking, draw alignment, and facilitate business vision and execution in a participative, conversational approach.

As a function, the HR value add should be to enable the optimization and alignment of the "creative economy" within an organization, and even with its adjacent external stakeholders.

This means connecting people and ideas; integrating processes, systems, and silos; tending to the ecosystem of values, vision, and execution enabling delivery against business strategy.

In order to be adaptable HR must reimagine their role not as a set of tasks, policies, or processes, or isolated areas of technical competence, or systems familiarity, but as stewards of the organization's "creative economy" and business value.

Business value does not simply mean facilitating the monetization or delivery of the business model, it means facilitating the conditions of wellness and engagement for employees - the creators of value - and then facilitating alignment of created value, and of management support capacity (to coach and serve employees) to enable progress.

Were this to happen, HR could catapult from being misunderstood or outright questioned to being an essential force in the realization of successful change.


I like this point, this is what we should be doing you got it right, HR should function as connectors, integrators, and enablers.

Sean, I wish there was a facility to do a Facebook style "thumbs up" likes this comment because this really resonates with me. Also your post in the other discussion too. I wanted to look further at your view of "tending to the ecosystem of values, vision and execution as I've been reflecting on this...
So we, HR, could be "tending to" our ecosystem by having a mind to what the organisation we are supporting set out to achieve and how the people within the organisation enable this. I guess I would say that would be the parameters? Are we therefore talking about a whole new way of working for HR with a different skill? set or may be qualities is more suitable. As i'm thinking about it what initially comes to mind is the ability to hold a deep understanding of the relationships between the different elements in the ecosystem whilst understanding you are a part of it. Thats not just analysis of the environment which plays a part but an intuitive grasp of what needs tending and what needs to be left? Hmm, so how do we look to understand and build these skills/qualities. Maybe this is something the CIPD could really help our community with!

luciano-martinoli's picture

Siviwe you get the point!
Future MUST be created, this is the answer to the adaptability challenge, reversing the viewpoint. The next issue is: how to do it committing everybody: without endless discussion, reaching operational result (a strategic plan that is not a plan but, if designed by everybody, a "manifesto" already implemented), in a reasonable time.
So the focus move from "adaptability" to a process delivering the above.

Stephen foresee a critical success factor of such a process: it must be run by the organization itself, not by "outside" (management, HR, consultants, etc.) players who are not part of it. The role of HR must be "the consultant" for the organization, selecting on the marketplace the best "knowledge", assisting every boss at each level to be the owner of such a process.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> The role of HR must be "the consultant" for the organization, selecting on the marketplace the best "knowledge"

Hi Luciano - yes I agree with this. As I've said elsewhere on this forum, HR as a role to keep abreast of external factors and use key information to influence decision making.

On the subject of 'creating the future' I think collaboration will have a key role to play to address the issue of commitment.

I concur with Stephen, in the sense that people are aware of evolution and changes that has affected them in their lives socialy, politicaly, economicaly etc the fact is that change is happenning everwhere at any given time, as i am sitting here what i know now is changing somewhere , somehow.

My point is, people need to be the owners of the process, HR and Business leaders should not create awarenes, but should invite awareness from people ask them what change they want to see now and in the future and how are they prepared for it, then engage them from that point or themes coming from them, instead of us posing change to people that already exist in their mind, lets unleash changeability potential in them, the only biggest fear in anyone on change process is how bad or good the change will affect us, if change has been created by us instead of being imposed on us is much better adaptable.

With reference to " Peter F. Drucker he once said i quote " The best way to predict the future is to create it" which i also believe if people create the change they are more prepared to face the consequences either good or bad atleast it does not come as a shock or trauma and they will develop tactics to overcome any challenges during the stages of change i.e boundary spinning, making a choice,developing up to intergration of change.

stephen-de-kalb's picture

I find this an interesting discussion but agree with many that it needs some clear-cut direction. For mine, I find Malcolm O'Neal''s comments spot on ("HR has the role for to serve as the organization’s trustee to provide a high level of intuitive insight about the ways the past and the present connect to the future...").

The part for me that's missing in most organisational change is that change is led by people who aren't there when the change is supposedly "finished" -- the experts and contractors leave, the management focus fades, HR goes back to putting out fires and any legacy of change evaporates, sometimes overnight...

For mine the reason this happens is that HR spends far too little time developing middle-management leaders.

One look at how a successful military force has operated at anytime throughout history shows the importance of middle managers to drive change in the heat of the moment, preserve the culture and "walk the walk."

I'd welcome anyone's comments on these two aspects of how organsiations should be geared for rapid change...

keith-gulliver's picture

>> HR spends far too little time developing middle-management leaders.

Hi Stephen - I agree, the role of the middle manager is very important, especially when change needs to be explained, positioned, contextualized and reinforced.

In an adaptive organization the 1-1 relationship between the manager and the employee becomes critical. As the old adage goes: people work for people.

I also agree it's about investment in the development of managers but I think it's also about the leadership of the organization appointing the right people, supporting them and giving them access to all the resources required to fulfill their leadership roles as 'change agents'.

HR has a part to play in all of these areas.

Good stuff Keith. Not only do we get more impact on the front line staff by developing middle-management leaders but it also helps identify top talent in succession planning.

You're right, people work for people and they leave people. A big challenge is developing those middle-managers when the culture above them has a history of supressing their development. I think it further highlights our challenge as HR folks to drive change and "play chess" with all the pieces we touch.

chris-grams's picture

Stephen-- I found this part of your comment particularly intriguing: "For mine the reason this happens is that HR spends far too little time developing middle-management leaders." I definitely concur that adaptability efforts can fail when they get stuck in the bureaucratic mud within organizations. As we get into the hacking phases, this might be a great place to explore--how do we hack the culture, motivations, and training of middle management to make this part of the organization more conducive to embracing adaptability efforts.

olivier-lambel's picture

Let's go a bit further and have the courage to be progressive and avant garde...this is why we become CEOs'trusting advisors, because we dare engaging in new ways of thinking, of doing business and because we are an essential asset in the business strategy. In the organisation I am passionately involved everyday, we have created a world without the traditional hierarchies, command & control and pyramidal management structure. We do not have managers, we do not have report....we have a supporting structure, inverted pyramid where our only boss is our clients.

Dear HR hackers, i'd like to give you some food or thoughts: Getting rid of carrot & stick and "Gervais" principles in organisation where: "Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.'

"Would this be the dreaming definition of a real challenge in your organisations? How would your organisation, its core buiness, models and processes survive?

Hi Olivier

Can you elaborate a bit on the Sociopath promotions to middle managements and others to Sociopath and other left for themselves, it may be a critical point but i need to clearly understand it.

olivier-lambel's picture

Hi Siviwe, thanks for your reply and interest. I invite you to follow this link : http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the-office..., the quote was inspired by "The Office".
My point is traditional management models are hierarchies that use command and control to enforce authority; decision-making power is concentrated at the top of the organisational pyramid. Carrot and stick incentives are used to motivate and orders are issued to be carried out by subordinates. In our organisation we have challenged this traditional approach and welcome the 21st-century! Being a technology innovator, our business environment is characterised by rapid change and flexibility. Our inverted pyramid model is a metaphor for a reversal of traditional management practices. Our employees who are closest to our clients are placed at the top and our functional heads at the bottom supporting our client facing superheros.Our people are empowered with decision-making authority, accountability and freedom of action. The functional leader becomes a facilitator spearheading a team effort. Overall organisational performance becomes faster, more adaptable and more effective. So we think it’s a pretty good environment in which to work and flourish.
I Hope this provides you with a bit more inside of our world.

Hi Olivier
Love it. The reverse pyramid idea is right up my street. Am interested to understand how experimenting and working with employee ideas works for you as this is something key to what Mix-fits is about. The same same but different bit is our boss is society and planet earth as our focus is employee ideas that create broader social benefit as well as org benefit!
Grateful to know your thoughts

olivier-lambel's picture

Hi Kristie,...uhmm...well...How to survive when you don’t have a boss but have a big brain instead?"....what might help you to understand is to tell our story. When Ecetera started, we needed and wanted to create an environment that would foster the specialist skills required to solve specific problems, empower people to do good work, encourage them to be brave and honest with customers...and protect them from the consequences. Then we needed to bring people, the right people, into this environment who were smart enough and curious enough to master the skills, proactive enough to make stuff happen and willing to back themselves in the pursuit of outstanding customer value. Probably everything lies in our shared values and the trust on the employee/individual. We consider everyone in our planet as adult, as having common sense and deserving to live in freedomville. Of course it is not a given..you need to deserve it and go through a pretty robust selection process..including baby sham :-)
We are not perfect, and everyone knows that they have to chip in to make our world better and it is probably where lies our strength...we listen to everyone, we do not take criticisms personally...well we try and we learn very fast from our mistakes...adaptability & innovative initiatives...

richard-james-barnes's picture

Hey Olivier, I did a quick search on the word 'customer' and yours is the only time its been mentioned!

Lets not get so obsessed with the need for "engagement" when we really should be looking at another E - "empathy" - with the customer. HR doesn't drive change, customers do and that's where we need to be focusing our attention. Engagement is easier than its ever been with the generation who were born into a connected world now coming into the world of work; their expectations will be seismically different to the status quo. We are in the midst of a cultural change towards narcissism and inwardly-focused thinking (Reality TV? Tweet-tweet? Oh, and when did cameras stop being for taking pictures of things and became for taking pictures of ourselves?)

In this changing culture, what wipes out the big corporations is customers, not HR - another L&D initiative isn't going to stop people choosing the latest Galaxy over iPhone 5. If we can't empathise with our customers we can't anticipate them and we can't design service and products which address their desires. If HR can help, fine but basically it needs to clear out of the way and let the information flow backwards from the customer to employees, who need to be challenged to serve. BA's strapline is To Fly, To Serve. In this new world, it needs to be the other way around.

john-mcgurk's picture

I think Richard makes a good point. Are we making the customer an explicit enough focus of what we do? Is the customer empathy there ?This fusion of employee enagement and customer empathy is another good and simple idea we can run with as a focus for change. Retailers like Sainsbury and the airline group Virgin Atlantic and Southwest make sure the customer is the focal point. Many others do likewise. Engaged employees happy customers, repeat business. But lets' be honest some firms are far off that virtous idea. Its almost as though they think employee last customer last. On a recent train journey experiened what i can only call anti -customer service. its as though the customer was a nuisance to operational effciency. Trains were running late and were canclled and run "fast" (a relative term), to make up schedule and that meant three cancelled trains.the front line employees were no help. they were unhelpful childish,and showed zero initiative and less care. For me this company operated like a utlity with nothing to lose becuase it imagined it's customer has nowehere to go. it wa as though employees had a kind of" learned unhelpfulness" which was part of the culture. How does HR work with that mindset. Big challenge. If anyone from such organisation is struggling with challenging that cuture i'd love to hear from them. .

keith-gulliver's picture

>> On a recent train journey [I] experienced what i can only call anti-customer service.

Hi John - the key word in this sentence for me is: 'experienced', your 'moment of truth' with the train company as experienced by you through their staff.

richard-james-barnes's picture

I had to laugh John, I have something similar to say at a public sector masterclass on managing change in Manchester on May 14th. It is indeed a "Utility" mindset but its causes lie well beyond front line staff to backroom people who design systems like the now ubiquitous computer generated station announcements telling people not to smoke, not to leave their bags lying about etc. and "apologising" in unconvincing ways like "Passengers on platform - pause - 13, please note the - pause - 15 - pause - 30 train to - pause - Leeds - has been cancelled. We apologise for any inconvenience caused" (no explanation why any longer or suggested alternatives, presumably the computer won't accept the variables). Its now practically impossible on my local station to hold a conversation with anyone due to the constant barrage of inhuman 'communication'. As I say, where was the customer empathy when they came up with the system?

keith-gulliver's picture

>> ...we really should be looking at another E - "empathy" - with the customer...If we can't empathise with our customers we can't anticipate them and we can't design service and products which address their desires.

Hi Richard - I agree although I think this is still part of 'engagement'. There's a clear connection between having 'engaged employees' (who anticipate customer needs and design services or products to meet those needs) and the experience the customer has of the organization (through those services or products). This is especially important where the customer's main experience of the organization is through its people, as will be the case with services.

richard-james-barnes's picture

You hit the nail on the head Keith, it is certainly an extension of engagement. The question, are your employees 'engaged', needs to be extended though to “if so, on what?”. HR approaches to engagement often focus far too much on engagement with the organisation's hierarchy and systems and how people are treated. Questions in engagement surveys typically address how people feel about themselves rather than about others. My argument is that this is making people, including HR, look the wrong way - inside the organisation and inside themselves, instead of outside on the customer. It doesn't make the service to the customer worse of course, indeed I've always found good correlation between engagement questions and customer satisfaction and it is unquestionable that happy people deliver better service than disgruntled ones. However that's far from excellence and if we are to become truly customer focused we need to have people spend more of their time and energy empathising with customers’ perspectives (as one retail MD I worked with used to say "put your customer spectacles on"). Our organisations' cultures do not always do that (rarely I would say). Take the NHS as an example. They have an annual employee survey. Its not until the very last 2 questions (39 and 40) that they ask about their employees’ opinions of patient and “service users” (they won't even use the word 'family') care. Otherwise they are only mentioned to ask how many of them have beaten them up or abused them lately (not how many have thanked them for good care)! What does that say about the culture?

keith-gulliver's picture

>> The question, are your employees 'engaged', needs to be extended though to “if so, on what?”.

Hi Richard - that's a great question!
If employees are engaged with the 'wrong' things that must make the organization's ability to adapt even harder to do.

john-mcgurk's picture

Keith. Yes this this is one of the most crucial and unadressed questions. People can look poorly engaged with the organisatiosn yet can be utterly in flow with their task or job role. People who look enaged with the organisation can be disengaged form their job role. Our report at CIPD with the Kingston consortium as part of our Shaping the Future Research looked at this "locus of enagement" question. Many others have but it remains a gap in our thinking. Well done for raising it. One issue for me is how do we tap the locus in our enagement activities. Our research with Kingston gives some pointers.

guido-rubio-amestoy's picture

John, I couldn't read the full "locus of engagement" report yet but, what do you think about going beyond emotional and transactional engagement, and head to "spiritual engagement"?. I mean, people driven by purpose, by a higher mean. This higher level of meaning will engage people in a cause, a purpose. This happens in non profit organizations. It can also happen in for profit organizations.

olivier-lambel's picture

All agreed...Hello Richard, thanks for your comment, very insightful & true :-)

That's really honest and refreshing. Freedomville, i love that. Your place sounds like it would be a great case study!

olivier-lambel's picture

uhmmmm....thanks for that

luciano-martinoli's picture

Dear Gary
I don't share yours, and the hackaton, basic assumption about the organization "still" and the environment around it changing fast. This is a side effect of the environment "left alone" (that is organizations not steering them) but at same time influenced by the forces that companies in any case put in place.


The history of humanity is featured by this trend. The world is (almost) better and safer place than one million years ago because we have changed (probably too much!) the environment where we live in, not because we have adapted to it.
Back to business every successful company is an example of this approach. Beside the over-mentioned Jobs (he did not adapted Apple to the tablet marketplace, he created it. Samsung adapted to it.) consider the enterpreneurial adventure of Enzo Ferrari, the worldwide italian racing and luxury sport cars manufacturer.
When he decided to start the production of cars for the market, and not only for the races, he designed only 12-cylinders, very expensive fast cars. It was 1946! Can you figure out what place was Italy and Europe at that time? A mass of ruins. Neverthless he contributed to create, despite the social environment, a new market, not adapting to it.
Now we need to help Corporation, starting from HR department (that are a staff department, not living on their skin the real daily business issues. Are we sure that they are the best player for such "revolution"?) about:
1- Breaking the glass house where they live and show them that the world is full of opportunities waiting to be "shaped" in business and markets (and it is not a dictator pace and rule setting)
2- Providing them business languages and tools (and processes) to design properly the environment they want to build (Corporate strategy is the discipline where gathering them).

We have designed tools and process starting form this perspective

uduma-kalu-etea's picture

Kudo's to the MIX and CIPD for this initiative. Essentially HR can play a pivotal role in spurring adaptability by creating the systems and structures in the organisation to drive and support innovation and knowledge management....2 key ingredients for adaptation. They will encourage and manage adaptabilty by ensuring the right policies are in place to reward and reinforce this. Learning and Development of the workforce, from bottom to top on the need to to be flexible and adaptive to the ever-changing business landscape will also support.

giuseppe-gerardo-ciarambino's picture

We must not make the mistake of redesigning the HR function without anchor it in a new type of business organization that provides a decentralization of human resource management with the delegation of many skills to middle managers.
But for an adaptive company that is not enough, we have to design a section which deals with predict what will be the future, and identify and implement the necessary changes.

Interesting point raised by Tojo about change without trauma. Organisations exist in a complex environment, and many organisations are themselves highly complex, possibly creating difficulties in the change process. Change and innovation needs to be driven throughout the organisation, not just through HR practitioners. Complexity theory suggests that trauma stemming from change or innovation is beneficial to organisations as they emerge into a previously unknown state. The role of leaders and HR practitioners is to shape and direct change and innovation in response to external influencing factors. Complexity theorists suggest that an element of chaos should be allowed to exist within organisations to fully enable effective innovation to take place at all levels.

tojo-eapen's picture

Really interesting initiative and looking forward to great discussions and inputs. Having been in the middle of and still in major transformation efforts/change initiatives from an HR perspective, love the thinking here about changing the way we change.

I would like to raise a couple of fundamental questions on Gary's notes -
1. Can there be change without trauma?
2. If major change that is automatic, reflexive and spontaneous - difficult to sustain at an individual level from a human behavioral perspective, would one of the fundamental challenges be changing organizational behaviors?

If HR can be credible partners (term borrowed from Dave Ulrich's work) to leaders, and work with the organization as an organism that's undergoing change requiring specific/unique attention (not standard, generic change processes, solutions), the competency requirements from HR talent and leaders grow tremendously (probably very different from the normal expectations).

michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Tojo, thanks for raising such important questions. Was curious to get more of your perspective on the first question you raised (i.e., change without trauma). Based on your experience, can you imagine situations where necessary changes are not triggered by a crisis, but are instead embraced proactively by the organization? If so, what in your mind would be the top 2-3 factors (in the broader organization and/or HR in particular) that enable such proactive change?

thanks again


tojo-eapen's picture

Hi Michele,

Thanks much for your note and for checking my perspectives.

In my experience, most changes (not incremental ones) result in active discomfort (at least in the initial stages). Trauma may be a strong word but strong discomfort does exist at an individual level and varies depending on the nature of change itself. I think recent neuroscience related findings are very useful (can relate to them from personal experiences). They indicate that the normal human brain picks up the 'threat' state when a change comes on.

As your question itself indicates, the absence of a crisis or a reduced threat state perception may result in less stress and trauma. In my opinion, reduced 'threat' state (probably a clue while managing change) results in more proactive involvement from stakeholders needed to make the change happen. Constantly inviting the organization to actively contribute, be in the team and own the changes is another related scenario that could lead to proactive involvement by the organization.

Change can also be proactively embraced by an organization when the stakeholders truly believe about the 'Why'/rationale for change. This also relates to the level of trust that exists in the leaders/how honest they are ('How' this is communicated, Engagement at all levels in the cause etc. Survey findings from Jim Kouzes/Barry Posner show that honesty is the number one quality people want to see in their leaders).

On my responses on the top 2-3 factors that enable proactive change, I'll borrow from David Rock's Neuroleadership and Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence works:

1. Figuring how to create a 'Towards' state rather than an 'Away' state constantly.
2. Change involves a lot of complex scenarios and individual emotions. Emotional intelligent, highly 'visible' and encouraging leadership goes a long way in enabling proactive change.
3. Redefining change as something positive through active employee involvement and initiatives, rather than something negative that happens only to be addressed during a crisis could result in major shift. Would be useful to hear from people - if there are three buttons (Positive, Negative, Neutral Emotions) to press when one hears the word 'change', how would the trend look like?

Last but not least, the importance of making the process or frame a part of the organization's culture, that can also be measured and managed effectively.

Really interesting discussions and comments.


tojo-eapen's picture

Interested in hearing your views on the same questions Michele. What do you think?

Best wishes,

michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Tojo, your list of key enables of proactive change is really helpful--thanks for sharing. I also liked your point about being able to act on the basis of a certain "discomfort" with the status quo. Most organizations are really good at dismissing/rationalizing some the early signs that change will be likely, and therefore it's really important to create ways for organizations to face the inevitable, learn what's happening outside of the industry mainstream, and seriously consider alternative futures (or scenarios).

In terms of my top picks for things that enable proactive change, I'll add to your list with a couple more:

1. Invest in genetic diversity--all to often key decision-making bodies are comprised of long-serving veterans with similar experiences, views--and biases. Change often requires a catalyst, and the best catalyst is often someone with a radically different perspective on things.
2. Creating real competition for resources (including people)--in most organizations, the "party" of the status quo (established programs, product lines) have a distinct advantage at attracting resources, which makes things quite difficult for the "party" of the future (i.e., people with new and different ideas/perspectives on where/how to compete).

We'll be exploring these and other factors in subsequent phases of the hackathon, so I look forward to continuing the conversation as we progress. Thanks again!


tojo-eapen's picture

Hi Michele,

Thank you for sharing.

Love your point about genetic diversity. Agree fully with you that sadly this factor goes missing in many organizational contexts globally. In my view, it takes a lot of leadership courage at an individual level - self aware, personally secure, reflective, emotionally intelligent leadership to thrive with diversity (openness to contradictory views and opinions). The most comfortable and dangerous thing to do is to brush them away or ignore them.

On point 2 about creating real competition during times of change, how does an organization achieve an effecting balance between Competition & Collaboration in parallel? Is there a challenge with a related, different mindset or set of behaviors for these two environments?


giuseppe-gerardo-ciarambino's picture

A company does not need to change, a company needs to have a lean and flexible organization able to anticipate environmental changes and adapt before they become operational.
Is it a utopia?
No! and the lever of action is redesigning attitude, allocation, training and management of human resources.
After all, years ago, we spoke of the transition from "personnel management" to "talent search" going from "human resource management", but unfortunately we stopped to human resources management: it is time to move forward!

I believe the focus of HR should be on enabling experimentation and on making sure that experiments are exploited not only for immediate renewal but for learning as well. Learning through doing is the goal.

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Edna, I couldn't agree more. I'm working on a daily basis with innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs (the extra-corporate version of the innovator) to instill a Learning attitude. Learning from the market by continuously validating assumptions in an agile process of learning and adaptation of their vision. The same attitude would help all the workforce realize they are in charge of how their company will look like in the future!

Learnado i agree on the learning side as in most cases people always learn from other collegues in a differrent companies either through research collaboration projects , seminars or formal learning but often fail to make an impact or to put the new trends and ideas accross his/her org, No.1, if there is no innovation patforms in the company, No.2 the level of that person may at the the low-level in the org, No.3 may need to go pass the next boss who may from his/her personal opinion think the the time is not right, say we are not ABSA or think is not important to us or he/she does not have context or will suppress the ideas beacouse is coming from a junior fellow.Any advise as to how to overcome these challenges, shape our people and workfoce to operate in the same level and inculcate a culture of innovation, opportunities and transparency.

Leonardo - Thanks. Could you kindly elaborate on that a little more? How do you do it? Any little specific story you could share with us on "validating assumptions in an agile process of learning and adaptation"?

chris-grams's picture

Edna and Leonardo--great insights! Experimentation is clearly a key facet of increasing organizational adaptability. And as such, a crucial question for this hackathon might be, How can the HR function help create a culture of experimentation within the organization? A rich vein for us to tap in later phases of the hackathon-- looking forward to your thoughts!

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Edna and Chris, sorry for late reply.

We were all born with an experimenter attitude which is hardwired in our genome. That's how we learn to walk, talk, and do all the things that make us human. After having gone through that process, we are taught (by social norms, school, laws) that we should wait for someone else to tell us how we are supposed to do things. Which is good and fair if your environment allows or even requires it.

But in a changing environment, "the way you make things right" changes faster than the rules that regulate it, and you have to re-learn how to experiment for yourself (which applies to individuals and companies alike and which is exactly what has been going on for the last few millennia in our society regarding the definition of civil society itself)

Now about the question of how to ingrain the experimenter attitude in our people - we have to create an environment in which you
1) are allowed - or better, required - to fail and learn from it,
2) are taught how to fail with small failures that will not harm you or the company, but that will bring in an additional learning point about the exploration at hand, and
3) are equipped with a learning technique that resembles the one you used in your early stages of life to learn it.

While 2) and 3) are about L&D, 1) is about corporate culture and extends into Compensation.
On Comp, what about tying part of it to "experiments done and lessons learned"? How much did the employee contribute to corporate knowledge development? That's the 15 or 20% rule of 3M and Google. And if you need to make it more formal by creating a metric of lessons learned, you're welcome!

Hi Leonardo,

Loved your response about how to create an experimental environment in organizations. (Not-so) modern (anymore) organizations can and should learn new tricks from startups and their approaches on how to solve hypothesis via experimental validation :)

leonardo-zangrando's picture

Alberto, thanks!
And I would add, understand that many of our actions are based on assumptions, learn how to recognize theme, and learn how to test and validate them effectively!

Exactly! I'm eager to come up with a sort of a scientific-management-meets-lean-startup-model-hack in this hackathon!

Leonardo - YES! We need to unlearn the stifling rules and recall the natural curiosity of children and design work and learning as fun and use games when training for new skills and help managers become cheerleaders to raise the level of enthusiasm. This could be the new role of HR !

Dear Chris - thanks. I would love to participate in such an exploration !
Dear All - any initial ideas on how the HR function can help create a culture of experimentation within the organization?
One idea I remember from a former Hackathon is CELEBRATING FAST FAILURES.

Hi Edna
What springs to mind for me as a "starter for ten" idea is to start with what's already in place and start adding a new element to it. The idealist in me says hey lets throw it all out and start from scratch eg why the organisation exists in the first place and what each individual view is as to how help the organisation flourish. Maybe you can do that in some orgs especially newer types of org or creative places but there are a number of places where it would be a shock to the system! So the pragmatist says work with what you've got but in a different way. Eg add questions at recruitment and selection stage about what candidates would do if given the organisations vision and that is it and asked to show questions and ideas about how they see things and what they would do, including these same type of questions at team reviews, within existing appraisal material? So building an experimental/exploratory tone gradually and test as you go.
I realise that the idealist/pragmatist offers to extremes here but hopefully some food for thought to keep the conversation going!

Hi Kirstie - I believe in evolution - just like you.
The way I do it in my own firm is to encourage the team to take risks, I accept their ideas about experiments even when the chance for success seems low, and I return their questions for advice - with a question - what their advice is, and I insist on trying something new every day, every week.
Another example - when hiring - if I meet somebody I like - I don`t postpone the decision - but insist the candidate does not postpone it either. This is a great indicator for an entrepreneurial spirit - and it succeeds too! Thus I model risk taking and encourage risk taking up front. Do you like it?

Absolutely Edna. I'd be really interested to hear more about how you nurture these experiments. What insights you have had and learning along the way? Sounds great. Taking risks and being a buffer to risk is something that organisations give us by being a group rather than an individual force. Personally I think that means businesses/organisations/groups can be a great collective lab which has access to resources and can offer some protection and guidance to the experimentor. It means letting go of the assumptions of what is right and wrong for the traditional decision makers in large organisations,public and private, and thus resisting the urge to control the experimenting and manage the risk. So when I step inside those shoes I think "scary stuff"! The question is- as an HR community- to we build it incrementally into what is already there or do we pull down the walls so to speak and start again from scratch removing everything that we have been trained to put in place? What do you, and others reading this, think?

Kirstie - you pose a question which resonates with me and is so jam-packed with exciting things to think about!

If I can paraphrase - should we build on the wall, or rip it down? Should we seek to evolve HR or start fresh? Pragmatism vs. Idealism?
At the level of a single organization, this is a question of existing value. If HR disappeared overnight:

Who would care and why?
What real impact would it have?
For whom would life be easier, better, more enabled and vice versa?
What would fall down and what would stand up?
How many people would be saying "wow I never realized...", and consequently what perceptions and assumptions would be validated or turned on their head?

In my opinion, if there's more gunk than good this is a cry for radical change. Gunk probably won't easily permit gradually iteration of the good; or not in a way the business would see much tangible benefit from.

At one point in time, the CEO of Campbell's replaced the majority of managers. They represented a substantial barrier to enabling change. Given the chance to become supporters, it just wasn't for them. Fair enough, but the business needs to succeed. I'm not arguing this should be the default behaviour, but I'm trying to illuminate a point - sometimes extreme measures are necessary. In Campbell's case, this move facilitated a major turnaround. At the same time, they worked with those who wanted to help enable change. Lots can be said about how to minimizing getting to this point as Gary discusses…but…

Bottom line: when it comes to HR, chances are not *everything* is bad *all* the time. Explore what or who adds value when. Consider building there. You can exercise value-conscientiousness as both pragmatist *and* idealist; in the now and for the future.

I guess I'm saying when you rip down the rot in the wall, keep a few bricks.

keith-gulliver's picture

>> when you rip down the rot in the wall, keep a few bricks.

Hi Sean - I really like the notion of re-use and refurbishment in this statement.

To extend this analogy a bit further, I believe there's a good market in the building trade for using good quality, second hand bricks that can be re-built in to new structures, especially in areas where there is a desire to maintain a certain 'look and feel'. In addition, waste should be limited and some old bricks could be re-used as hardcore to help build new foundations. Anything that is discarded should be done so in an environmentally sound way.

So in terms of organizational adaptability, HR can help the leadership identify existing policies, processes and people that could be 're-used' in new, better organizational structures, where 'refurbishment' is required (e.g. learning) and where 'new materials' are required (e.g. new policies or recruits).

There will be some core characteristics of the organization to be maintained (e.g. values), this is the equivalent of 'look and feel'.

Of course, there may be some elements which need to be sensitively handled (e.g. a process may need to be simplified because of new technology or people may need to move on).


Hi Sean
That's some good analogy working there! I love a good analogy. Makes a lot of sense too. Certainly wouldn't advocate the extremes only, there are so many variations on a theme in between. So maybe extreme in some areas, light touch in others. It would depend on the context. It goes back to the "tending analogy" of the ecosystem, knowing when to prune and knowing when to let grow as it is. The trick is tuning in to what's really going on from a full systems approach!

Kirstie - one thing I have learnt is that in a culture of risk taking the objective is not "to do it right the first time" but to allow "good enough" in the first time and then improve as one moves froward.
Do you like it?

Yes we do something akin to that- prototyping. IDEO is a good resource (see Tim Brown TED talk) for design thinking and building up concepts. It works for products and services. Personally I don't think there is such a thing as right first time as it can only be right first time in that moment. Next week/month/year it might be irrelevant! So putting something out there and seeing what happens, tweaking it etc seems a reasonable way to go for me!

chris-grams's picture

Kirstie-- funny that you mention IDEO and the "building up" design thinking approach. That's exactly the same approach we try to use on these hackathons to get the best ideas and the experiments with the highest potential. Rather than getting into debates about which idea has the most merit, we encourage people to "build up" the ideas they personally find most appealing. It works because you quickly see momentum start to form behind the ideas that many people are getting excited about. It also keeps a positive spirit of creation (not destruction) that keeps people motivated to contribute. If you create one idea and it doesn't get a lot of traction, why, simply create another one!

YES Chris - this is why I love it!

Hi Chris
That's what resonates with me in these types of activities and something I fundamentally believe- there's no right or wrong way just lots of ways to try and do something! Once we let go of that need to be right through beating someone in an argument with facts and figures, tearing down someone else's view or creating a majority position that validates our view, we can start to see some really creative progress. Egos at the door please!
Btw, not seen any of that behaviour here which is great, it's more this is still a prevailing approach to problem solving in a number of organisations, private and public.

malcolm-oneal's picture

HR has the role for to serve as the organization’s trustee to provide a high level of intuitive insight about the ways the past and the present connect to the future. The role is part historian, part contemporary analyst, and part prophet to create foresight. This foresight creates the adaptability to perceive the significance and nature of events before they occur.

debbie-stivala's picture

HR need to change employee perspectives of change from fear to excitement in the new opportunities which lie ahead. Employees need be encouraged to come away from their comfort zones on a regular basis to better coach them in being adaptable and identify hidden motivations.

I think we need to dig a bit deeper. We need to look at the drivers of change and how those who communicate change do it. Are they able to create a shared vision? Are they able to be a positive change role model? How does the culture of the organization affect the way change is or isn't embraced? I do agree that if we can change the outlook people have about change, and teach them how to embrace adaptability there would be fewer hiccups in the organizational fabric which would allow for change to occur at a more rapid pace.

eleanor-hartup's picture

I couldn't agree more Debbie. A senior manager actually said to me recently 'nobody likes change', which I of course challenged. But if this is the kind of attitude we're working with, it can be difficult to get people enthused about the benefits of change.

chris-grams's picture

Debbie-- this is a fantastic point. The idea that by changing the environment and context, from fear to excitement, we might be able to create better conditions for adaptability is one that I believe very strongly in as well. I'm so looking forward to seeing hacks from you in later phases that explore how we might be able create this cultural change!

jon-ingham's picture

I'm really excited by the opportunity provided by the CIPD hackathon, but slightly disappointed by the way it's begun. Is this focus on experts and coaches really the best way to innovate HR? What has happened to innovation from the periphery?

It relates to the comment I made in the previous hackathon - http://www.mixhackathon.org/content/mix-20-real-community - we need you to be facilitators rather than providers of insight. Why not let us blog here and comment on OUR perspectives. Management 2.0 needs to come from a more 2.0 oriented approach than this!

I think the best way to be facilitators is using new metodologies and approaches like, open space, world cafe, U theory, my experience has been really amazing, related with the colective inteligence emergence.

conor-moss's picture


I concur with the concerns although perhaps the early stages are to provide some level of consistency to help get the momentum going. I do agree that there are lots that those on the periphery could add to the debate; I could go through my Twitter timeline today and link at least 4 new blogs from 'disruptors' in the HR field, perhaps that is part of the problem with a 'closed' platform such as the MIX i.e. it takes further effort and isn't part of the social media norm.

stephanie-sharma's picture

Jon and Conor, I appreciate the perspective about the 'how' this is approached and wonder and feel like this is a transition from past to future in the way we collaborate. It seems that this approach is going to attract a lot that think clearly about the future that we know can and should exist but we still have a past system of communication, not built upon collaboration even as simple as a virtual open platform such as this, by which we engage in discussion. Maybe this will be 'slow' for some and encouraging and inviting to those that are cautious to move from the 'old' systems upon which they have relied.

jon-ingham's picture

Maybe... there are a lot of contributions here but it's impossible to say whether we would we have had more or a higher quality of innovation if things had been done differently.

andy-gilbert's picture

The role of HR in spurring adaptability is to focus on developing the adaptability and solution focus of people's thinking. Without good possibility thinking skills, people will be unable to adapt.
No doubt the hackathon will produce lots of mini-hacks & management hack actions/methods for taking action. These will need to be underpinned by a robust shared "thinking system" for organisations to adapt. Thinking-Action-Results.
Happy to help & give free access to Go MAD Thinking methodology & iCheev technology when the time is right.

High level of adaptablity in resposne to government policies required. Role is all about multi-tasking through the day.
HR should model adaptabity that moves into creative responses to issues and adaptablity should be a key part of recruitment job specs.