This week’s curator, Livio Hughes, looks at the enabling and strategic role that HR professionals should play in developing more agile, digitally-fluent, and responsive organisations; he also shares some related guides from Shift*Base and picks 5 links for further reading on the topic.

How HR can support new, more agile ways of working

On Tuesday I spoke at PeopleFluent’s EMEA WISDOM 2016 conference at London Zoo, which was very well attended by a mix of mid- and senior-level HR professionals across many different industries, joined together by a wish to learn more about enabling their function to become more digital.

A morning keynote on the Future of Talent Management from Peter Wright struck a chord with me as it focussed on the existential threat faced in the recent past by companies like AIG and Malaysia Airlines, both of which could be related in part to their respective management teams’ inability to ‘sense and respond’ to very different – but equally complex – challenges when disaster struck. Peter was AIG’s HR director at the time of its collapse in 2008, so his perspective was invaluable. These collapses may not have been entirely predictable, but Peter argued that the role of modern HR functions must be, in no small part, to lead the evolution of their organisations towards the development of the key skills and capabilities needed at all levels to operate in today’s VUCA business environment.

My keynote focussed on the rise of teams in all their variants, and how HR professionals can support new, more agile ways of working by developing the right mix of in-house digital capabilities, skills and software tools like ESNs. Rather than think of it as software ‘adoption’, ad hoc ‘training’ or big-bang ‘change management’ projects, HR should lead the development of an operating system for the organisation, helping to evolve its structure, processes and practices over time based on a clear strategic framework for meaningful digital transformation. Inevitably, this also raised some key questions, which in some form or another became a key theme of the event: as businesses move towards agile and teaming, what role should HR play in enabling business transformation, and how does that change the role of HR?

I argued that, like IT/IS, HR is a function undergoing a bit of an identity crisis, with its activities increasingly split between commodity, transactional processes (which can be increasingly automated or outsourced); and providing truly transformational inputs, which can have a profound effect on business outcomes, workforce effectiveness and customer happiness. HR have a crucial role to play, but unfortunately often lack the mandate or internal resources to do it, so I hope my contribution provided some internal ammunition for HR professionals to use in their next strategy meetings because, as our friend Jane McConnell has argued: “If there is one function in an organization that can help shape work culture, it is HR. Close to people, close to management, close to business. HR is (or should be) at the heart of organizations.”

Shift*Base Guides

Shift*Base’s New Culture of Work section focusses on how to engage modern workers and is a good entry point to some great related articles, while the Shift*Base Guides on Organising People & Work provide access to a rich collection of curated research on a host of relevant case studies, topics, tools and techniques for advancing the role of the human capital function in modern organisations.

Weekly Linklog

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