The cost of inaction is huge. There are two types of companies today: the quick and the dead. When business leaders hesitate, they become lost leaders—literally. HR has never been known as a forward-looking, fast-moving actor in organizations. This is partly because HR’s view of itself has been fuzzy and ill-defined, and partly because others have limited perceptions about what HR can accomplish. These old views of HR don’t stand up to the weight of current research and best practices, and if the accepted purpose of HR is to drive business results, then this frees HR up to be more aggressive, proactive, and bold. A shared sense of purpose enables faster decision-making, quicker action, and less confusion.
A second way to drive business results is to more generally prepare the company for an uncertain future, almost regardless of the short-term plan.
So how does HR become a bold leader that addresses Gary Hamel’s concern that the most crucial question for every 21st century company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? Can we be a lead time ahead, as opposed to always trying to catch up? There are essentially two ways for HR to drive business results. The first is to create the context and systems that enable the achievement of immediate business goals and objectives, often articulated in a business plan. Examples of such targets are: grow revenue by 15 percent, increase new product sales by 30 percent of total revenues, improve market share by 5 percent, implement an improved supply chain management system that reduces costs by 8 percent, or improve quality ratings by 18 percent. Each of these goals requires specific talent, resources, focus, and execution to be successful.
A second way to drive business results is to more generally prepare the company for an uncertain future, almost regardless of the short-term plan. The pace and intensity of change can be so turbulent that futures appear before we are ready for them. Strategic workforce planning helps organizations see around corners and prepare for different futures. HR’s responsibility is to prepare the workforce for these relentless and unexpected changes.
Many experts and opinion leaders have identified the factors that are likely to shape our future. Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late, is an excellent account of the impact that technology, the market, and climate change have on us—all the time. My list of these external and internal accelerators, as Friedman calls them, is probably no different than yours.
- Volatility and constant change
- Competitive disruption
- Technology shifts
- Global reach and market pressures
- Changing customer expectations
- Ubiquitous and constant connectivity
- A threatened planet
- Shifting labor sources and the gig economy
- Security and threat alleviation
- Emphasis on innovation
- Shaping employee experience and organizational culture
- Availability of multiple learning and growth opportunities
- Collaboration with diverse individuals and teams across borders, disciplines, and spaces
- Talent, knowledge and resources sharing
- Social purpose and being accountable for multiple bottom lines
- Simplification of process and practices
- Life-work sensibilities
These factors—and others you can add—are the meta-business issues of our time. They aren’t going away, and will only become more consequential as time passes. We don’t need to do a needs analysis to understand their relevance. So what are we doing now to better prepare for these inevitable forces? And what can we do quickly and meaningfully, before we get disrupted by being complacent or ill-prepared?
The answers may be easier to accomplish than you think. It is not about training courses, formal programs, monolithic corporate initiatives, and expenditures of large sums of money. It’s not about centralized control and carefully crafted, approved answers. It is about focusing on the critical capabilities needed for an uncertain future, linking people together, encouraging participation, telling stories, and tapping into our human aspirations to solve problems and help develop others.
Give these suggestions a try:
- Identify three to five foundational skills and capabilities that are essential to functioning in a turbulent world. Three that make my list are learning agility, resilience, and anticipating change. I might even add a dose of influencing skills to the mix.
- Create mini-activities on these skills that can be woven into existing programs. Keep these activities short and meaningful, which allows for easier reverse engineering.
- Create new insights by crowdsourcing learning moments by asking people to share their experiences in innovation, responding to change, simplifying processes (or whatever the relevant factors should be). Encourage people to tell their own stories and the lessons they have learned
- Have employees rate and select the most meaningful insights.
- Reward, recognize, and publicize the most valued insights throughout the organization.
- Role model the foundational behaviors yourself and work with key influencers to do so as well.
- Coach and mentor others to continue to develop and demonstrate these behaviors.
This is the type of bold, yet simple leadership that HR can provide right now. No waiting required. If HR’s purpose is to drive business results, then what could be more relevant than helping to prepare ourselves and our organizations for the turbulence and uncertainty that lies ahead? Anyone want to calculate the cost of not doing this?
By: David Forman