Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

deb-seidman's picture

Mix It Up

By Deb Seidman on June 11, 2022

 A large part of creating adaptability is fostering awareness and understanding of opportunities and challenges that drive the need for adaptability.  Many companies have used rotation programs to provide entry-level new hires exposure to different parts of the business.  Once "settled" in an area, people build greater depth in that function and can lose site of the bigger picture.  Leadership development programs/talent management efforts select individuals to move to new parts of the business in order to gain broader business experience.  Diverse teams are pulled together to fix problems or innovate new products/services/businesses.  The pieces exist -- they just aren't integrated.

The Hack:

Cross-pollenate and cross-fertilize throughout the lifecycle of work -- an "on-the-job sabbatical".  Help to expand experiences and perspectives by creating connections through rotations (both inside and outside the organization).  Build into each employee's responsibilities, annual "visits" to other areas where employees can bring their perspectives to the problems faced elsewhere AND gain knowledge, perspective, and interpersonal connections to help them make shifts in their "regular" jobs.  Make this part of the expectation from the time someone enters the business and throughout their careers.  Ensure that non-client-facing folks gain external/client experience in this way. These short-term "visits" can spur innovation, while keeping the engine running.

HR process being hacked:Talent Deployment

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deb-seidman's picture

Hi, Team.

Welcome aboard! Looking forward to collaborating with you.
I have put this mini hack, and all comments, into a Word doc that I can share with you via Google Drive. Send me your contact info and I'll share the Mix It Up folder with you. I also set up Google Hangout. I believe I need your gmail addresses in order to include you in the Hangout. I am a first-time user, so your guidance on how to use these tools best for this collaboration is welcome.

I can be reached best at my business e-mail: dseidman@greensilkassociates.com. I use gmail as a secondary account: deb.seidman@gmail.com

It was a great experience working with this team on developing the Hack further.

All the best to all of us !

hendrik-dejonckheere_1's picture

Mixing is a great way to foster adaptability. The system one uses to realize that goal is often hampering that goal. Communicate the purpose of the mix and stimulate people to evaluate their own situation works often better than a forced carrousel.

Sounds great Robert. For those less keen for the stretch I guess there are some options -

1. Explore the core reason that's stopping them - is it the wrong opportunities, is it confidence to step out of a comfort zone, etc - then what can be done to resolve these challenges.

2. The org chooses for it to be OK for people to not join in but they might e.g. never be classed as a top performer and may therefore lose out when it comes to salary increases / bonuses - as long as the deal's clear up front then this is a choice for them to make too.

Great to hear this working for most of your team though!

I've tried to mix up the people in my team since I've come on board. The best thing it does is add perspective to the people being moved around. This mixing-up also creates a pool of talent that can be tapped for higher level responsibilities. One issue here is when people are too comfortable in their current role and no longer want to stretch themselves.

What better way to find opportunities for innovation than by offering an area 'fresh eyes' and by bringing in someone with different experience who can ask - 'why do you do things this way?'.

At a former job, the simple experience of sending senior managers out to work with frontline staff for a day had a significant impact. For a truly connected workforce who really understand the business, this idea has great merit.

fiona-savage's picture

On one hand what you say is a great idea, on the other it is quite scary and sad, to think there is little or no cross fertilisation of ideas. If a manager really wants to know how well customer needs are being fulfilled, get out of the office and spend time with the people where they work. It was Taiichi Ohno at Toyota who remarked to visiting Americans when they found him eventually on the factory floor "I don't make cars in my office!" Far better to rate, judge, quantify the performance of the system (the way the work works and which determines 95% of the performance of the organisation), than spend the futile behind a desk!

To build on what's already been shared, I love idea 3 and have heard of a version of this where the company 'advertises' the projects that are there to be worked on and colleagues get to choose where they go - can be described as turning on an electromagnet and seeing where people's energy takes them. A great way to play to strengths while also developing through new experiences, increasing cross-functional interactions and decreasing hierarchy - everyone that plays is at the same level.

Another snappier version would be to have a day, in the same way you might have a charity day, where the colleagues / the business throw out some challenges - could be big or little stuff - anything that 'gets in the way'. People choose what they work on and have 24 hours to come up with solutions. Brings an injection of energy, creativity and fun to work!

fiona-savage's picture

Great ideas Helen, I am all for decreasing hierarchy which I believe is the main enemy of adaptability. Organisations are living entities and living entities are highly adaptable, however, the legacy structure of the hierarchical, mechanistic, command and control structure does not enable adaptability.
I am also interested in what you said; "injection of energy, creativity and fun to work" It says a lot for the current structure when employees are not enjoying work, lack innovation and are not energized their work. Gallup show that up to 70% of employees are disengaged.

Organisation are organic and are living entities and our thinking and needs to reflect this.

fiona-savage's picture

Semco take mix it up to the top level! There are six of them including Ricardo Semler and they rotate the CEO job every six months. They deal with general policy and strategy, overall financial results, and work to inspire the Partners who make up the second circle.

perry-timms_1's picture

Now I didn't realise there was that much rolling leadership there thanks for illuminating that Fiona.

I tried this in a corporate role where I wanted to step away as leader and spread the leading on a rolling; tenure basis. Some were up for it, most were frightened by it and as I left, it wasn't taken up. Shame as I really wanted to prove that concept. A great way to grow leadership skill is to do it; I learned lots from temporary promotion opportunities.

Mixing it up like this as Deb has set out adds a real opportunity element and a strong learning focus where people's interests are shared and likely to have more people collaborate to see others succeed and not just focus on themselves over others.

There is hope!

Thanks for your comment and the follow on twitter by the way.


fiona-savage's picture

look forward to chatting on twitter.

I think it all comes back to a company being a living Complex Adaptive System CAS as we see in nature .But we have been brainwashed by Taylorism and others.
Business has great synergy nature and need to understand CAS

We know geese fly in a V formation, why should management not lead using the same formation ?

By flying in "V " formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.
It pays to take turns doing hard jobs, with people or with flying geese.

deb-seidman's picture

Great analogy and thanks for mentioning Semco. When companies need to adapt, people need to be ready to reconfigure what they do and how they do it more organically.

perry-timms_1's picture

I have done this in my career but by accident. It has taken me over 20 years. From admin to junior management to business projects to IT / change projects to huge programmes of change to training to OD and now to micro-professional. If you'd have offered me the mix-it-up approach as an 18 year old out of 6th Form, I've have bitten your hand off. Who needs an MBA when you can MIU (Mix It Up)

I really like this hack Deb - has lots to offer and supports my "agitated learning" theory - we learn best when we're dissatisfied about what we know to do our job well enough.

sam-folk-williams's picture

Thanks for sharing. I love this idea and I've been thinking about something like this for a Global team. That is, have people from one region visit their peers in another region (or do a swap), and actually have each person do the job of their counterpart for two weeks or so. I'd love to do it for longer, but more than that gets impractical. I think it's important for people to really experience the other perspective to gain insights into the nuances of how different teams tackle the same challenges in different ways.

I like the 'mix it up' philosophy, both it terms of broadening individual understanding/horizons and in terms of the cross-pollination that can occur. I wonder if there might be two types of implementation?

1. Short shadowing and visits that could be undertaken easily by a reasonably good proportion (e.g 20%) of the workforce each year.
2. Longer-term rotations or project secondments (up to 6 months in duration) that could form part of a career development or succession planning programme; modelled on the typical graduate leadership programme type approach.

The logistics of variation 2 (quality of placements, disengagement from previous role) make it difficult to extend this beyond a limited cohort of high-calibre staff. But the approach still has value in terms of developing longer-term leadership potential. Hence the use of variation 1 as a complementary approach that can spread some of the benefits on a wider basis each year.

Learning new things is a great stimulus to individual & team renewal.

deb-seidman's picture

I agree that there could be at least two ways of implementing this idea. A third would be to identify short-term assignments and invite people from other areas to take them on. This uses their skills and has them contributing to the other area in ways that shadowing doesn't.

Yes, happy with your number 3 !

Thanks Deb

michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Deb, thanks for your contribution--really interesting. One company that has tried to do this successfully is Hindustan Unilever (HUL). Every 6 months, all managers at HUL put their day jobs on ice to focus on one of the two things that really matter - the consumer and the customer.

You can get the full account on this initiative by reading this story on the MIX:
http://www.mixprize.org/story/project-bushfire-focussing-might-entire-or.... The author of this story, Stephen Remedios, is also a fellow hackathon participant...



deb-seidman's picture

What a terrific story! Thanks for pointing it out.
I like the external focus -- which had the added value of breaking down the silo walls.