Articles 3 min read

HR. What Should we be doing? by Andrew Fox

Social, political, technological and economic conditions may never in recent history have been as influx as they are today.

Neutered leaders lacking popular support to effect change (May, Merkel) and a few who seem intent on rocking the boat (Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-un) are themselves struggling to navigate the choppy waters they have helped create.  Trumps’ shameless promotion of America, his apparent disregard for Asia and his radically different approach to politics has many nervous and the uncertainty is unnerving markets.

As leaders try to navigate this uncertain environment, we have to hope that over reactions to uncertainty do not become self-fulfilling prophecies.  In organisations, HR leaders have a role to play in ensuring that leadership decision making processes and governance structures are robust enough to meet the prevailing challenges and that skills and capabilities essential to the organisations future are not lost, rather retained and grown and acquired.

Perhaps more now than at any other time, HR leaders are positioned to potentially make a significant difference to the business they work in.  But this will not happen automatically or easily.  The HR profession has missed opportunities in the past to become genuine key contributors to organisations and so we need to be mindful not to miss out again.

External Focus

Understanding, to anticipate the external context is now more critical than ever before.  This means moving significantly beyond simple benchmarking and external referencing (both of which remain important).  Moving to enhance the sustainable success of the organisation, HR leaders must use external data, benchmarking and contextual awareness to create insight, develop a hypothesis and well-crafted problem statements to guide Executive Leaders as they seek to navigate increasingly volatile and complex landscapes.

This includes, by the way, assisting Executive Leaders in determining which internal and external stimuli and trends to respond to and which not to respond to.

Organisational Development

We need to think much more broadly and ambitiously about OD (Organisational Development).

The level of agility and quick decision-making and rapid response times are increasing exponentially.  Often existing structures, governance and capability sets do not allow for this.

HR leaders should seek to define the organisational challenges within the current context and perform a thorough “MOT” (SWOT/PESTLE etc.) with the Executive Leaders in order to determine priorities.  This should include a thorough evaluation of the organisation’s culture and where or not it is future fit.

Prioritisation will become increasingly important where the misdirection of scarce resources (skills/resources/CAPEX/OPEX) will increasingly be very risky.

Jan Husband in “Wireachy” talks about how communication, information flows and relationships in organisations are fundamentally changing in response to/and to drive greater responsiveness, agility and innovation.

To thrive, organisations will have to become more fluid, more dynamic, less structured, less rigid and less hierarchical.

Jan talks about the importance of fluid collaboration, networks and leading from the side.

“As organisations grow flatter and more diverse, and as the global operating environment becomes increasingly more complex, there is a stronger demand for people who can lead at all levels of the company.” – Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016.

Executive leaders are not automatically equipped to deal with this new way of working.

Even as large more traditional organisations set up “innovation hubs” outside the traditional organisation’s boundaries, recognising that fostering an innovative “start-up” type culture is challenging inside the organisation, failure to change the organisation frequently results in the body rejecting the organ.  With these so-called innovation hubs struggling to engage with the host organisation and often failing to get meaningful traction as a result.

HR Executives, therefore, need to focus more thoughtfully on holistic change and OD to help the start-up and the parent, integrate more fully.

HR needs to be fit for purpose

HR is itself impacted by the forces which have such an impact on the organisations in which they work.  Whilst assisting the organisation they must at the same time embrace the changes and ensure they modernise and change to at least keep pace with the changes.  In many instances, this appears challenging.  Legacy systems, structures and capabilities are often not up to the task.

OD or change strategies need to include the building and probably acquisition of certain capabilities.  This investment in change has to also recognise the important role culture plays in such ambitious undertakings.

HR leaders, therefore, need to ensure that their functions modernise rapidly otherwise they will not be positioned to provide Executive Leaders with the support they need for ensuring a sustainable business.


HR leaders could be well positioned, because of the intersection of all drivers of change, to contribute meaningfully to the sustainable success of the organisation or perhaps even industry.

Executive Leaders need help in adapting, changing and succeeding in an environment where agility, innovation, flexibility and responsiveness all need a significant overhaul.

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