Disruptive Transformation within HR

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Paul Rumsey

Disruptive Transformation within HR_Business woman and ecology issue

Industries continually revolutionize themselves in order to stay ahead of their competitors and to provide what their customers need even before they think of it.  Innovation is more than just being fun and modern.  It includes purposeful disruption when needed to transform the team’s mindset, skillset and subsequent solutions.  To remain relevant, organizations are elevating their focus on predictive data analytics regarding market trends, customer satisfaction insights, growth potentials/emerging markets, affordability opportunities and talent skillsets needed to meet future goals.  Companies that stay ahead of those analytics have a greater probability of success versus those that rely on historical reports and outdated reactions.  Otherwise, they risk expending a great deal of unfocused effort only to fail at realizing the results they seek.  They scratch their heads and follow the flavor of the month and steadily lose the confidence of their operational counterparts. 

Closed-door strategy meetings usually involve leaders from Operations, Finance, Corporate Strategy and Sales/Development.  HR, however, is often kept isolated until closer to the final decision point or implementation point.  At that time, HR is leveraged only to train or help with talent restructuring.  Not only does HR rarely have a voice in the decision-making process, but it also seldom even has a seat at the table.   HR is stereotypically kept at arm’s length in business meetings because HR has played the order-taker role.  It is time for HR to step up as the leader of process improvement, talent optimization and industry trends.  To counteract these common perceptions of HR’s weakness, HR must transform into being the catalyst of business change aligned to organizational strategy and proven metrics. 

Disruptive HR Transformation

HR’s Needed Response to a Changing Business Landscape

To become the strategic business partner needed for organizational strategy and success, HR leaders are trending toward disruptive transformation that provides its stakeholders with operational and talent business results and forward-thinking impact.  HR must continually shift from being a reactor to market trends and instead become the trend setter that anticipates future direction and helps the rest of the business progress toward differentiating strategies and initiatives.  The organizations that set the direction for others to follow are the organizations that survive environmental shifts and competitive maneuverings and HR must be a driver of that focus.

Years ago, my boss invited me to attend quarterly business reviews to discuss training initiatives my team was leading.  I listened to the sales leaders and their consultant support team provide their updates, yet I spoke up only when it came to my area.  After those meetings, my boss said, “Paul, I didn’t bring you to these meetings to talk only on your area.  You need to learn the business components of the other areas and provide input into their presentations to help elevate the conversation and redirect toward results.”  Now that was a wake-up call for me.  Years later, I told that story to my boss in a different company, and he replied, “You used to be afraid to speak up?”   I took that as a compliment that I worked on my business acumen and courage to add value to the business topics outside of my own area. 

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HR must do a similar internal analysis and up its game to be seen as a viable partner for strategic business discussions.  To get to that level, HR needs to conduct solid benchmarking in and outside of its company’s industry.  It must also analyze its talent metrics and draw correlations between HR and metrics tracked by Operations, Sales and Finance.  Furthermore, HR needs to present innovative solutions that cause other stakeholders to sit back and ponder, “Why didn’t we think of that?”  At that moment, HR will become a trusted partner to help drive the company’s response to the changing business landscape.

Growing Urgency for HR Transformation

If HR does not take the lead to transform itself, the business will either require that transformation or will totally work around HR and create its own shadow HR groups (e.g., learning, talent acquisition, talent analytics) embedded in other functional areas like Legal, Finance and Operations.  Businesses are moving too fast for antiquated HR groups to catch up.  However, a modernized HR team can actually lead the business toward the right structure, talent skills and talent solutions needed to meet the demands not only of today’s business environment but also of tomorrow’s unanticipated business needs.

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Key business stakeholders typically classify HR as compliance-focused, misaligned to the business, concerned more about protecting HR than transforming, transactional, inefficient, non-integrated into the business and siloed.  These are all extremely negative perceptions, yet many HR teams dig in their heals and cite employment law, risk-mitigation policies, outdated procedures, technological system limitations and lack of HR resources.  It’s no wonder that in these cases the business has decided to usurp HR’s role and consequently remove HR from the strategic discussions and business implementations. 

Some HR leaders, fortunately, have started to revitalize the impact HR can have.  It takes a strong, collaborative, influential HR leader to rebuild trust with the organization, to raise the expectations of the HR team, and to ensure consistent HR solutions that align to the business needs.  The road toward transformation is not easy, but it will be worth it.

Upcoming Articles

This is the first of a series of articles that focuses on Managing Intentional Disruption during HR Transformation.  In future articles, we will dive deep into each phase of a systematic approach to HR transformation:  current-state analysis, plan development to address analysis results, team restructuring/upskilling, stakeholder buy-in/communication/change management and sustainability. 

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