How HR Can Help The Business Stay Relevant In A Changing World

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Dec 22, 2016

The November HR Roundtable was doing its best to play the part of soothsayer and look ahead to what hasn’t happened yet. The topic was “Anticipating the Shift,” which most companies miss. There are endless examples of how companies thought they’d stay relevant no matter what, and they ended up disappearing.

This forum was trying to look at some of the reluctance to change as well as how HR can be included instead of on the outside looking in, or left to pick up the pieces of what occurs when the “shift” happens. Here were the starter questions:

  1. What things keep companies in a cul-de-sac?
  2. What shifts are coming in the workplace?
  3. How can HR genuinely shift itself?

The conversations were more intense and less lighthearted than usual, and that was a great sign. People dug in and the answers that came back were solid.

1. What things keep companies in a cul-de-sac?

Being satisfied with their current success — It seems odd that success can blind people, but it does every time. Companies tend to want to shift and change as a reaction to circumstances that aren’t positive. Most of those reactive choices turn out poorly in the long run as well. Success is fantastic, and it’s also the best time to look ahead for potential shifts.

Fear of change — We like things to be constant and have little variety. It keeps us comfortable and makes things more palatable. That may not actually be true, but we convince ourselves that it is. The energy it takes to change is massive and not as simple as people will tell you. We assume the unknown will bring about a negative result. Too often we are hesitant to take the step to find out.

Leadership changes — Whenever new leadership takes on new roles, there is a shift in the dynamics of an organization. If there is constant change, then companies tend to stand put on what they know until things settle down. Any change in leadership will result in a new dynamic and wrinkle in a company culture.

Lack of a long-term vision and planning — This is different than the traditional five-year planning cycle. Companies regularly do this as part of their strategic planning cycle, and they’re rarely reviewed until the next planning session. We face the press of daily work, and it’s difficult for us to look up, let alone look ahead. However, a lack of vision and planning catches up to you quickly, and often before any five year period has elapsed.

Misread the marketplace — Here is where you can insert the name of many companies that bet on the marketplace changing little and always needing their products/services. It has happened since the dawn of technology – industrial technology. The buggy builder never thought the car would replace him. To read the marketplace, companies need to have a broad perspective and not only rely on voices within the organization.

The learning curve is too extensive — In a society and business market that expects instant turnaround and new initiatives, learning takes a back seat. It’s often regarded as being too slow or something that only drags things along. The assumption is that a learning curve is something that only needs to be touched at the high points. Since we don’t have the necessary patience, we tend to dispel the need to learn and take the path of struggling as we limp along through changes and shifts.

2. What shifts are coming in the workplace?

The gig economy — This is the newest descriptor for entrepreneurialism. People are willing to go into business on their own. Since there are more and more examples of people who are incredibly successful in doing this, people are willing to join in. They either start their own company, or they latch on to jobs where they can set their own schedules, pay, etc. Someone even mentioned you can now get a master’s degree in entrepreneurship!!

Work/Flex — We started with the whole concept of telecommuting. This has shifted to people working at various times and schedules. There are still traditional 9-5 roles, but they are diminishing. This doesn’t mean people are working less. They’re just working differently. This can be true within departments, entire companies or types of industry.

See a need – make it happen — With the dawn of fundraising platforms like Kickstarter, people are more and more willing to set out on their own. There is still considerable risk in doing this, but it’s astonishing to see how people will invest in ideas. Don’t believe me? Shark Tank is a reality TV show that now launches businesses and careers. It went from being a cute concept to a venue where people who have ideas try to get their company off the ground.

The virtual workplace — The traditional office that needs to be physically occupied to infer work is occurring is vanishing. It won’t completely disappear, but it can’t survive as it has over the last few centuries. People don’t need to go to the office to work. They need to go where the work is. The constant pace of technology changing more and more rapidly will continue to press on this long-held tradition.

“Loyalty” redefined — The only comment Steve would allow regarding a multigenerational workforce was this: Loyalty isn’t going away – it’s being redefined. New workers are still very loyal and have a strong work ethic, but they don’t want to do work the way the generations before them did it. (NOTE: Neither did the generations before them either.) The culture, work-space and norms are rapidly changing. It’s no doubt that the behavioral norms are as well.

3. How can HR genuinely shift itself?

Be relevant — Companies cannot afford to keep functions that aren’t relevant. Therefore, HR must intertwine itself into the fabric of a company, and refuse to sit on the outside looking in. If HR does not take the steps needed to remain relevant, then companies will have to find a way to do their work differently.

Place a value on people analytics — Analytics in HR are still “new” because now we’re asked how they make an impact on the business. Traditionally most HR analytics have been report cards to state cost, length of time and diminishing returns due to turnover. We must now start asking those questions about the HR impacts on the company, and then gather the data and analytics which will answer them. Data is a fact and a tool.

Promote and drive a risk tolerant culture — This will be challenging for HR since we are taught to be risk averse. However, if we can develop a risk tolerant culture, we will help position our companies better to be able to see and make the shifts they will need to make to stay viable.

Humanize the workplace — This is isn’t truly a “shift,” but it has to be noted because it still isn’t occurring. This isn’t the catchphrase of putting the “H” back in HR. We have people who work for us every day but we don’t allow them to be human. We’re so concerned with the worst case scenario – which rarely occurs — in order to maintain order. Workplaces don’t need order, they need people who want to perform and add value. In the end, a new “order” will be formed that is inviting and attractive to talent.

Own your role — HR has to quit apologizing for doing the good work that it does. No other profession does this. In taking hold of our role, we can show others how they can do this as well. When people own what they do, they will do it even better on an on-going basis. Think of how amazing cultures would be if this occurred.

This was a fantastic discussion and one that was needed. It will probably need to be revisited again because shifts are sure to occur again and again over time.

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