My colleague Ea & I took the opportunity for a field trip in the closing days of October, to see what is new and exciting in the world of HR, and HR technology. We had a chance to talk to some great people in the industry about our current research into what role (if any) HR professionals are playing in organisational development today. If you would like to take part in this research or learn more about the work we have been doing in HR and social recruitment, please get in touch

There was a vast array of technologies on display, and we met a number of different ‘types’ of HR people with various viewpoints on what the key challenges are for HR in the coming years – from the ability to visualise HR data for a real-time view of the organisation, to questions about performance management and moving towards ‘fact-based’ HR. Unsurprisingly, for a conference focused on technology, there were a lot of vendor sessions and unveiling of new platforms. The range of talks on offer was impressive, and you can see a selection of reactions on twitter, as well as a range of good blog posts summing up the two day event.

Last year, my colleague Lee Bryant provided thoughts on how HR might approach the new challenges appearing within the organisation, especially in a world where productivity has gone quantum – with small teams providing massive amounts of value to an organisation when provided with the tools and techniques to do their jobs. So this year, I was keen to see how much progress had been made by HR thinkers and doers working at the nexus of organisational design, collaboration, culture and new management ideas and concepts.

There were three key themes, that stood out for me.

First, there were some interesting case studies of the benefits being generated by early adopters of E2.0 technologies, whose social business needs are more mature, moving past the initial growth potential into deeper, more strategic use cases that move them towards digital transformation. We have been talking about E2.0 and social business for a long time, so it’s not new, or novel. But for us, it is great to see some of the mature adopters are starting to bring together systems, processes and people to create a more holistic approach and moving beyond social business strategy towards simply better business strategy informed by the need for digital transformation.

  • We heard Robert Bosch speak about their journey towards becoming a highly connected company, using the power of their internal networks, external networks and new organisational structures.
  • We also heard from Virgin Media on their programme of work to generate value through internal collaboration. Colin Miles shared some of their future-looking use cases aiming to connect the engineer on the front-line to the knowledge needed, wherever it exists in the organisation, adding the tantalising advice that ‘it doesn’t take many people to change a company’ – the power of small teams in action once again.

Second, there was a focus on culture in its many dimensions at this year’s event, with various contributions looking at clashes in culture that occur between teams located in different regions, aspects of organisational culture, and how to merge culture with practice to form high performing teams.

  • We heard from Rawn Shah about the changing nature of collaborative cultures, especially when viewed through the prism effect of digital collaboration. We share an interest in the M&A space and the ways in which social technologies can help integration through a shared focus on culture and ways of working, rather than systems and processes. Drawing on the work of Erin Meyer and her recent book ‘The Culture Map’, Rawn provided a framework to match collaboration technologies to regional culture traits to find the platforms most likely to succeed.
  • We also heard from Josh Bersin on his new framework for building ‘Simply Irresistible’ organisations as an approach to address the top global talent challenges, as highlighted in the Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report. As a survey of 2500+ leaders in 90+ countries the report provides ample material for anyone looking to understand the challenges that face Human Resources departments the world over

What was clear from all of the discussions around ‘culture’ is that none of the frameworks or models discussed yet developed enough depth or breadth to address an organisation’s unique combination of national, regional, organisational and individual cultural traits, whilst also addressing organisational structure limitations and better ways of working. From our point of view, only by addressing structure, culture and practice together, in a holistic way, can an organisation truly transform for the 21st century.

Thirdly, it was great to hear some of the thinkers discuss new managerial concepts we believe in, practice, and implement for our clients.

  • Dan Pontefract shared insights into creating a ‘Flat Army’ as an approach to dealing with the issue of employee dis-engagement. He cited the Gallup research (as did several other speakers) into employee engagement, which showed an increasingly disengaged workforce, and estimated that each disengaged employee costs an organisation approximately $10,000 a year in profit. He spoke about a TELUS case study, which looked at three models of organisational change needed to re-engage the workforce: learning, leadership and collaboration. I recommend reading more about this case study, there are some great ideas for engaging leadership and good data on the outcome of their particular programme.
  • Finally, Gary Hamel closed the conference with a session looking at the new principles for leading organisations in the 21st century, referring to the case studies of Morning Star and WL Gore, he called for organisations to start small, with clear principles to pursue a small experiment in adaptability, and with managers and leaders facilitating change by removing barriers and blockers, one at a time, using the principles of ’The Future of Management’. Above all his message was one of collaboration and transparency – a good lesson for us all.

Gary Hamel’s closing rallying cry is a good place to end:

“You are responsible for the working lives of millions of people, and if you are willing to take on that challenge, you will create a world that is better for millions of people… We’re going to kill bureaucracy, and believe me it must die!”