Nick Torday, Managing Director, Edo, explains why the role of HR is pivotal in helping business culture respond positively to change
Most industries right now are experiencing seismic change engendered by disruptive technologies and the pace of change in the external market. This manifests itself in many ways, none less than in the make-up, shape, skills and capabilities of people. Now more than ever, the role of HR in shaping a progressive business culture to respond to this change is significant.
Quality of leadership
A lot depends on the quality of leadership. Progressive leaders understand the need for ongoing iterative change and continuous business optimisation. Very often this involves making big calls around the cultural and structural framework of the organisation. In a digitised society, leaders must ask themselves: is business set up to be genuinely customer-centred and meet the rapidly changing needs of the marketplace?
If the leadership mandate is clear, and a change program is defined, HR and Organisational Development functions then have a key role to play in delivering successful outcomes. Very often the catalysts for change can sit within technology and digital functions, or a dedicated strategic change function, whatever the particular setup is. HR need to be equal partners in the delivery, so that they can help to design the right processes, systems and capability planning to support technology-led business change.
Moving away from hierarchical structures
For instance, a common transition with progressive businesses is a move away from hierarchical, top-down structures to multi-disciplinary and autonomous “self-managing teams”. This can provide interesting and existential challenges from a traditional HR perspective, but with the right leadership and guidance it provides a terrific opportunity for HR to enable this transition and realise the full potential of their people in doing so.
Working with other departments to transform recruitment
Another key area is talent management – you will doubtless need new skills to come into the business, and, yes, you may need to move some people on that don’t really fit the new model. Recruitment is a challenge at the best of times, particularly in key areas around data and technology, where demand tends to outstrip supply of really great talent. HR can benefit here from working closely with marketing and comms functions to reinvigorate their recruitment processes and sell the vision of an agile and progressive business environment. Using different channels, hosting practitioner-specific events and sponsoring key industry meet ups are all examples of useful tactics.
Learning and Development
A critical area, and one that we support a range of our clients with, is Learning & Development. What our experience tells us is that the best HR practitioners work with the subject experts to construct specific, outcome-focused training programs that deliver immediate business benefit. For instance, if one team are on a customer acquisition drive but have limited access to the relevant internal resource, train them up on social marketing (1-2 days training max for the basics) and provide them with the tools to execute themselves. Today, the progressive business model is about distributed skills – not overloading people but recognising a core skill-set that will help them do their job more effectively.
Finally, the relationship between HR and internal communications is more important than ever in the change process – being able to humanise and contextualise change and understand how it will make the business smarter, faster and more responsive to customer need. People will inevitably feel unsettled, but also inspired. This needs to be managed by consistent, positive human reinforcement to guide them through it. Ultimately if the direction of travel is correct, you will retain the right people and offer them fantastic professional development opportunities along the way.
In our experience, any major change program that doesn’t involve a coordinated and collaborative approach with the HR functions doesn’t deliver the best outcomes. HR has a central role to play and indeed will need to evolve and modernise as a function in its own right, to command credibility within a tech-led, progressive business culture.