Thursday 23 June 2016

Co-authored with Dave Ulrich: Building Better HR Departments

One of the benefits of speaking at conferences around the world is that I frequently bump into Dave Ulrich speaking too, eg in Australia last year, at the Art of HR conference in Croatia before and on our tour of South America the year before that etc.

In one of our chats Dave suggested we do some writing together and this is the result - an article on building better HR functions published in the new issue of Strategic HR review:

Jon Ingham (Strategic Dynamics Consultancy Services Ltd, Bracknell, UK)

Dave Ulrich (RBL Group, Provo, Utah, USA and Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)

Jon Ingham, Dave Ulrich, (2016) "Building better HR departments", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 15 Issue: 3, pp.129 - 136



The purpose of this paper is to provide answers to four questions on building a better human resources (HR) department: why?, who?, what? and how?


The paper is based on the accumulated experience of the co-authors.


The paper finds that better HR departments create better organizations and will often do this by enabling better relationships between the people working in them. Developing the right relationships is also an increasingly important part of creating an effective HR organization.

Research limitations/implications

Much attention has been spent on developing HR professionals. The authors also want to make HR departments better. This paper steers future research on HR effectiveness in this direction.

Practical implications

Senior HR leaders charged with improving their HR department may do so with the roadmap offered by the authors.


For businesses to receive full value from HR, it is very important to upgrade the quality of HR professionals. It is even more important to upgrade HR departments. This paper suggests how this can be done.

Performance, Culture, Organization development, Strategy, Collective leadership

Conceptual PaperPublisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited


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Tuesday 21 June 2016

#FutureWorks2016 - Digital Technology, Productivity and Skills

Tom Standage, the Economist's Technology and Deputy Editor presented his ideas on the most critical technologies impacting the future of work and with the potential to increase productivity.

 History suggests that increasing use of technology increases the number of jobs.  When we have lots of delivery drones flying or self driving themselves around these will take delivery jobs away.  Eg Uber are open about their current drivers only being a short-term strategy and have hired the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University to design their own driverless cars.

However will create new jobs elsewhere.  Eg we won't order a coffee delivery from the local coffee shop because today the delivery will cost more than the coffee.  But what about if in the future the delivery costs 10p rather than £2?

We discussed the well known research suggesting 47% of US jobs are going to disappear.  Stefano Scarpetta from the OECD suggested the true figure for these is likely to be closer to 10% than 50%.  But there is a further 20% of jobs where 50% of the work could be done by machines.  So the jobs will still exist but the work they perform will change significantly.

Tom suggested that the authors of the well known research deny they ever suggested that 47% of jobs will be automated, simply that technology will make it possible to automate them (see tomorrow's Economist for more on this).

All of this is having impacts on organisations and workers.  The shape of companies is changing - how many people do Uber employ?  And risks are being pushed back onto individuals.

Eg individual people need to keep their own skills up to date.  Evidence suggests they're not currently doing this.  50% of the workforce has little or no technology skills and even 25% of people entering the workforce today have little or no technology skills.

This is partlicularly important as learnability becomes more important than hard skills (the suggestion of Jonas Prising, CEO at Manpower).

Some people value this independent lifestyle but many people don't.  How do we help them make the necessary shift in thinking?

The change also implies that our labour legislation and tax systems which today tend to treat independent workers like second class citizens will need to change.  Independent workers are not subject to this and hence not protected from unemployment or the risk of an accident etc.

We also discussed the potential of moving to some form of universal income, particularly if productivity does start to go up because more work is being done by machines (a good problem to have!).  There are some fundamental problems with this eg if everyone in the UK received £5k it would mean pensioners get a lot less, but the rich would receive more which they wouldn't notice.  See also the Economist's recent article on this.

However the current way of redistributing wealth clearly isn't working either.  A suggestion was made that social protection needs to follow the worker rather than the employer.  Eg for unemployment benefit to depend more on the type and activity which is performed rather than the form of the contract between worker and organisation.

Organisations also need to change the way we manage people to respond to this agenda.  Eg Jean Oelwang from Virgin Unite talked about the role of purpose to provide people meaning and reduce a culture of fear prevalent in too many workplaces.

Diane Gherson, CHRO at IBM talked about diversity - celebrating everyone as a human being and celebrating their differences.  IBM uses one on one feedback tool to review each other eg at the end of a meeting.

Employers also need to get better at using the skills of their people.  This is partly about investing in learning but also needs them to recognise the skills which people have.  And how they can motivate people when it sounds a bit like going back to school for ever.

Technology can help with this too, eg Diane described four example of AI in IBM to help with managing their workforce:
  • Job matching, helping people find non-obvious jobs they could do
  • Predictive analytics on who is likely to leave (saving IBM $330m in replacement costs)
  •  Propensity to learn ie who is likely to benefit most if upskilled
  • A 'Netflix for learning' providing personalised learning - what development people may want depending on what they've done before, their career trajectory and how they like to learn.

Economist Events #FutureWorks2016 - The Productivity Puzzle

Today is the Economist's new annual conference, Future Works, replacing their previous Talent Summit and continuing the theme around digital and other disruptive change started in last year's talent management event.

The morning has focused on digital technology and its role in boosting productivity (although we have also heard about other factors eg migration - not just the upskilling of digital migrants - too).

The productivity puzzle was outlined by Sandra Polaski, formerly at the ILO.

UK productivity has stagnated post the global financial crisis.  Even the US has slowed down.  And let's not start on the EU!

Capital inputs have been significantly reduced.  Labour composition (quality, skills etc) has remained low.  Labour inputs (number of hours) has increased hugely.  The suggestion seems to be that we're avoiding investments in infrastructure and R&D and just using more cheap labour instead. 

Multifactor productivity - the residual - has also declined.  Is this that technological innovation is not actually as profound as the basic invention of the computer.  Or that technological innovations aren't diffusing out of leading organisations into the others, perhaps because the leading companies are controling use of these systems and platforms, putting up barriers to entry for other firms.

We've seen an increasing divergence in productivity and wages.  Sandra suggested that workers do understand this and that it reduces their motivation to work.  The ILO suggests that whereas we often believe that increases in productivity allow organisations to pay more, the link is the other way - increases in reward trigger motivation and hence allow productivity to rise.

This is why Britain still needs a pay rise.

We also discussed a number of issues relating to this.

Eg are we measuring productivity properly?  Are the measures developed for the steel age still relevant for the information economy?  Eg can we even count the numbers of hours people are working any more?

Ajaz Ahmed, CEO of AKQA (Glassdoor's third best employer) suggested that since productivity and efficiency don't matter to people today, the things we need to measure need to focus much more on things like beauty, serendipty etc - things which really do matter to people.   He suggested the key tool used by AKQA is a cultural barometer.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Data-Driven Organisation Design

This morning I’ve been at a masterclass on organisation design hosted by Kogan Page and chaired by Andrew Campbell from Ashridge.

The main focus was a presentation from Rupert Morrison, CEO of Concentra, supplier of the OrgVue analytics and visualisation tool for organisation design, and author of Data Driven Organisation Design.

I like the OrgVue tool (and participated on the judging panel at HRTechEurope where they presented their system in the iTalent start-up competition) so I’ve been looking forward to finding out more about the approach behind the tool.

I’d also agree with Andrew and Rupert that organisation design is too often performed in a data free environment and that we need to get better at using data to inform our decisions about OD, and also, and importantly, identifying the right measures to support the questions we need to be answered.

I liked Rupert’s suggestion that this process often starts with intuition and creative thinking.  To me, intuition needs to be continued and combined with analytics throughout the OD process.  Eg in his book Rupert promotes the use of Harvey Balls which I think just tend to distort conversation - people end up spending more time arguing about the splits in the balls, rather than the overall conclusion about the most sensible design.  To me, a subjective / qualitative approach is much better.

But that's not to discount from the need for a more objective and quantitative approach to OD.

Tools like OrgVue make this process easier, providing easy analytics and compelling visualisation, also enabling users to change the main data through playing with the visualisations.

We also need to understand what we’re doing (Rupert talked about the ecological fallacy taking correlation for causation, and ignoring statistical significance) - we can’t leave this all down to technology.
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