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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: How to … From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 2
Practical advice for HR professionals
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Next Generation HR report is impressive; its vision will transform HR’s purpose and methods, even its people. It is a vision of an “insight-driven, process-light” HR – “an applied business discipline first and a people discipline second.” It is unrelated to HR’s roles and structures; it is about HR’s values and focus (Sears, 2010).
Think of HR’s transformation as two journeys. There is an “efficiency” journey, which rationalizes and modernizes HR’s processes, with service centers, business partners, etc. Many have taken that journey and achieved impressive improvements in HR costs and transactional services. However, the second, the “next generation” journey, is completely different. It enables HR to deliver strategic interventions and commercial results. That is a crucial journey and one that few HR teams have progressed (Goodge, 2010).
Here is advice for the next generation journey
1. Agree and plan
We have learned lessons from the last decade’s efficiency journeys. First, within HR teams there are different, often hidden, views about HR. Changes cause the differences to surface, then complicate and obstruct progress. That is why some new HR roles seem compromised and overlapping. Second, ultimately HR does what executives want. That is why many “strategic” business partners are entangled in operational issues. It is what executives expect.
So, begin by planting ideas about next generation HR. Stimulate informed thinking with meetings and articles. Then, determine where stakeholders believe HR has got to, and where it should go. Do that carefully and get both qualitative and quantitative information. Use a survey. Finally, use workshops to decide on HR’s continuing journey. The whole process has to be informed, impartial and challenging.
2. Gain organizational insight
Initially develop “organizational insight” – the nous that enables you to decide exactly what HR needs to do. The CIPD concludes: “[…] where HR is most highly rated, it is […] founded on this penetrating insight into just what would make a difference” (Sears, 2010). Ask executives about their business aspirations, challenges and plans. Use tools for exploring and stretching executives’ thinking. Do not simply accept what you are told – it will contain assumptions and omissions.
Then, ask questions to identify HR’s strategic opportunities. What will people have to do to implement the strategy? What information, tools and abilities will people need? What will provide powerful feedback on performance? How will great performance be rewarded? And, crucially, who is central to delivering the strategy, how many are there, and where will they come from?
3. Intervene in joined-up ways
Research underlines the importance of simple, easily communicated “bundles” of HR projects that support one another and other people processes. Isolated initiatives really do not work, no matter how impressive, popular or expensive. To quote the CIPD, in an “insight-driven world, HR no longer seems to run HR initiatives” (Sears, 2010). All of this means HR has to analyze, decide and plan very carefully. It is HR thinking at a new strategic level.
Try strategic mapping as a tool for describing, questioning and improving business plans and HR’s interventions. Mapping is visual, engaging and rigorous and, crucially, it creates understanding and consensus. Use it with executives to demonstrate convincing “line of sight” arguments linking HR’s interventions with strategic objectives, e.g. reduced costs or sales growth.
4. Lead change
HR needs executives to drive change, but it should not depend on them alone to do it. So, there is a big, crucial role for HR in engineering business change. And, we have to ask who changes executives’ thinking, if it is not HR?
Thanks to Kotter (1996), Kouzes and Posner (1995) and others, there are well-established methodologies for leading change. Perhaps something similar to the following:
Challenge. Question current practice, highlight problems and create the impetus for change.
Lobby. Build relationships, understand what people want and find supporters.
Sell. Use presentations, meetings and reports to promote benefits and tackle objections.
Negotiate. Reach agreement with, haggle and compromise.
Deliver. Show early benefits from the change and convince people it was right.
Demonstrate. Throughout, build trust and commitment through personal example, effort and integrity.
Peter GoodgePartner at NextHR.
About the author
Peter Goodge is a Partner at specialist consultancy, NextHR. For the past decade, he has helped HR teams switch on, and get beyond “routine HR.” His background is in organizational development. A degree in psychology was followed by an MSc in organization development, and then HR consultancy, with a focus on helping people understand and strengthen their skills. Peter Goodge can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Goodge, P. (2010), “HR transformation as two journeys”, NextHR, available at: www.nexthr.co.uk
Kotter, J.P. (1996), Leading Change, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA
Kouzes, J.M. and Posner, B.Z. (1995), The Leadership Challenge, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA
Sears, L. (2010), “Next generation HR – time for change”, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London, available at: www.cipd.co.uk/research/_next-gen-hr/_time_change_next_generation.htm