Guest Blogger

Now is the time for HR to adopt the tools in use in other business units to contribute directly to organisational success.

A Time like No Other

Never have Joseph Schumpeter’s observation been more relevant: “economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil.” On average, an S&P 500 company is now being replaced about once every two weeks. We’re experiencing economic acceleration ten times faster than seen in the industrial revolution at 300 times the scale[1].

Innosight by-lined their “Creative Destruction whips through Corporate America” report in 2012: “To survive and thrive, business leaders must ‘create, operate, and trade’ without losing control.” This refers not only to financial control but also operational controls and social control, “the standards by which business is done.” In that same year the IBM C-Suite study heard from CEOs around the world that leading in their industries and markets would be enabled by empowerment; releasing control to allow for more significant and consistent collaboration, innovation and growth. What are organisations to do?

A Challenge Like No Other

Although it may seem somewhat counter intuitive, in times of significant ambiguity, revising beliefs about ‘control’ may be best. Popular models of human motivation suggest individual commitment follows from autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Indeed, offering individuals clarity of purpose (in your vision, mission or strategy) can allow room for workforce autonomy and mastery, resulting in collaboration and innovation, and the growth your organisation requires.

More easily said than done! Few organisations realise the opportunity to create the sort of culture that cultivates business success. Instead, studies like the “Talent Pipeline Draining Growth,” report 43% of surveyed Directors’ companies missed financial goals in the previous 18 months because of inadequacies in talent management. So what alternatives exist, to take a systematic approach to realising this opportunity?

Tools for our Time

It is time for organisational leaders, and particularly Human Resources leaders, to recognise the need and opportunity to treat their workforce like their customer base. Customers are as diverse and individual as employees; yet they have been won over to support your organisation. Product designers, Marketers and Sales professionals have learnt the art and skill required to persuade customers to willingly do what your organisation requires (purchase your product/services) at their own cost. What can we learn from their approaches? How can those tactics win over the hearts, minds and loyalty of those we pay to work for us?

Great gains can come from taking data from and about our employees as seriously as data from and about our customers. HR is rapidly increasing its adoption of analytical approaches. Hopefully soon HR will also adopt systems of insight akin to those being used by Marketing and Sales to advance this further. When they do, they’ll be able to efficiently tailor their workforce solutions to create a workforce that is fit for purpose, responsive and accountable.

HR as a Profit Driver

Your workforce has an insight into your customers’ experience, your product/service quality, potential organisational issues and risks, opportunities to innovate and ideas for continuous improvement. Systems of insight (like those used by Marketing teams) can enable HR to actively listen to employees, through direct and indirect channels, and collect this insight.

Listening to, analysing and acting on this insight will increase employee advocacy. More importantly perhaps, it will enable HR to contribute directly to ensuring organisational success. And your CEO will gladly invest in these solutions as you demonstrate the opportunity to generate ever greater value from the workforce.

As a first step, consider what more you could do to measure metrics that matter in your workforce listening/engagement processes.

Written by Clodagh O’Reilly

Clodagh is a specialist in applying behavioural science in organisations to predict and enable optimal performance for individuals and organisations. She leads the Workforce Science & Analytics Practice for IBM’s Smarter Workforce unit in EMEA. She is a former Chair of the Association for Business Psychology, Non-Executive Director of learning transfer tech start-up, Lentum Ltd, a member of the Engage Employee Advisory Board, Founder and Leader of the annual Workforce Experience Awards programme, Editor of the book, “Delivering Excellent Workforce Experiences,” recently rated by NodeXL as a top 5 social influencer on the topic of the ‘Future of HR’ and a guest speaker for various universities’ business psychology degree courses and conferences including Chatham House.


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