Thursday, 10 May 2018

#HRSummit2018 Rethink the Way you Work

I've really enjoyed being out in Singapore for this year's HR Summit. Actually I always enjoy being in Singapore. But I think another reason is that the conference has retained a focus on big, strategic issues, mostly related to HR in the 4th industrial revolution (being badged here as HR 4.0), more effectively than most conferences I've been to over the past few years. (I find most of these events have had peaks and troughs but this one has generally managed to keep at the peak level.)

I also enjoyed speaking both days at the event. I didn't really plan it this way but in hindsight, my inputs have focused quite tightly on the main conference theme and hashtag of 'rethinking the way you work'. For me this is about alignment - working out what we need to achieve, which will probably be different to what we've achieved in the past, then what qualities / outcomes we need to create in our people and organisation to do this, then what HR activities we need to use or change to make this happen.

In my first session I suggested all things 4.0 are moving people towards greater specialisation but that increasing complexity requires these specialists to be brought together in teams, other groups and networks. This makes these groups, and the relationships between people working in these groups, more important, and potentially more important than the individuals themselves. We need to focus on social capital rather than human capital.

Conference attendees seemed to agree with me - 90% suggested the way their people work together is more important than the quality of the individual employees.

This means that we should be developing our HR processes to produce these outcomes rather than the ones we used to need, ie they now need to support and enable groups and relationships rather than individuals.

But they don't do they? What do we measure, manage, develop and reward? 65% of my session attendees suggested their processes still focus on individuals, not teams and other groups. (And this is the most highly aligned set of scores across all the sessions I've asked people these two sets of questions.)

I also suggested that the way we support groups needs to change depending of the nature of the group. My best example of doing this came from Titansoft and the development of their non-conventional HR practices to support the company's agile IT teams.

Similarly to the examples I described in my own session, I thought these were some great, and even better, greatly aligned, HR practices for the type of groups (horizontal teams) used by this company.  Ie for me, it's not the non-conventional practices themselves which I'd suggest you use, it's the selection of the practices to fit the need of the type of group, and the focus on group vs individual (eg team vs individual based performance management).

In my second session  I argued that groups are so important we need to do more than align HR processes with the type of group, we also need to incorporate the highest priority type into our organisational structure.  When these groups are communities and networks we need to do this very carefully. We can't tell people in a community what to do, and as soon as we try, we've no longer got a community. But I also think these groups, which most people see as informal, are today often too important not to be formalised as part of the structure.

My suggestion, to continue the alignment, is that structure, and hence form of the organisation, should be based upon the main elements in my organisation model, the Organisation Prioritisation Model (OPM).

I asked my session attendees which of the element are most important in their organisation. Perhaps not too surprisingly, in this audience, although actually still quite surprisingly, 90% suggested the most important element are people, with the others responding the connections and relationships between the people. Ie we need to invest in our people, and their relationships, in order to achieve quality processes and business excellence, in order to deliver work and support customers. Customer results are a result of looking after our people, not the main aim itself.

For me, the type of group(s) we structure around should link to the priorities of the above elements. Work focused organisations should use horizontal project teams. Infrastructure based organisations should use simple groupings (functions). People companies should use communities (I loved Tanvi Gautam's suggestion that digital is all about human and a core human need is community.) Connection organisations should use distributed networks.

Yet again that doesn't seem to be what we do. Most (42%) of attendees' companies are still organised based on functions, though communities do come second, on 29%.

That's actually really high! - I don't generally suggest companies just use communities but introduce communities to support their functions or project teams. And it's also not represented by the case studies in the conference.

So we've had loads of examples of horizontal project teams: Siemens, Amazon, Netflix, Titansoft (above).

We've not heard much about communities. Really just Lo & Behold Group. This is from their website: "We operate like one big close-knit, wacky family that works really hard but plays even harder as one. We take the time to get to know our people as individuals in order to tailor career paths based on their personality, interests and strengths. We have a deep faith in our people, so we arm them with the necessary know-how and create opportunities that stretch them, making their years with us not only fun, but also incredibly fulfilling. We term this a 'LAB-er's stretch potential.' "

I don't know if the people in their establishments work as communities, but I suspect so. And if people really are the most important element of our organisations, I'd like to see more of our companies operating a bit more like this too. 

And I don't think we've had any case studies on networks at all. And actually given that so much of what we've been talking about is concerned with digital technology, we should have done.

I was particularly concerned that in an otherwise excellent presentation on the use of digital technology, the HRD from Singtel suggested that digital was so important, they'd set up a department for it. Departments / functions may be the traditional and fall-back solution, but they're generally not the best fit solution for digital. A network would probably be a better idea.

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