Re-visualizing the HR Function

| Feb 1, 2021 | Blogs

Often in my experiences, while working with the human resource functions at clients, I have found a lot of pre-occupation with tasks, that take the bulk of HR professionals time – acquiring, managing, developing, and deploying talent. Working with business leaders to remove roadblocks for business continuity and growth takes away the time of business partners, CHRO’s, as also the COE functions. A lot of people would say, well, this is the task of the HR function – playing a strategic role in “resource” related requirements.

On the other hand, HR functions are becoming increasingly technologically-savvy in the last decade or so – automating tasks and implementing technology for nearly every transaction in the HR life cycle, and so working intensely on the employer brand and employee experience – to ensure attraction and retention of the right talent.

Human resources function today is far more pro-active and far more business savvy, then it used to be. What then is there to re-visualize? Human Resource specialists today also think more entrepreneurially, accepting challenges, and bringing in new ideas, that certainly are best for the companies, they work in.

While the technology and new age practices, coupled with newer trends have all been focusing on employee experience, the focus if we closely observe – still remains on “management”. For organizations and human resource functions, that want to break the glass ceiling, they must realize that management is a myth. The lesser you manage, better are the outcomes you desire. This in a sense is counter-intuitive to our common beliefs and practices.

Let me explain this by way of some examples, and with reference to some of the live client interventions, we carried out in the HR Transformation space.

  1. The company wants to retain and develop high potential employees for their career growth and future availability of right talent. The moment this problem is defined, the “management” kicks in with a system for identification, assessment and relentless focus on hi-potential programs that start “managing hi-potential talent”. Nothing wrong with the approach, but if one closely looks at the ROI, management time and manhours spent on these programs – they may not have a rosy picture to show. There may be other impact on morale of people who are not high potential, that’s another aspect of it.
  2. For another, the organization wants the workforce to be skilled and grow the competencies based on the business requirements. We all are aware, how “learning management” kicks in. Nothing much to be said about this, apart from the fact that, organizations spend considerable resources and energy on acquiring learning management systems, content and creating an infrastructure of learning professionals and instructional designers – who are supposed to “teach”. Just like in our schools and colleges, what we study is seldom what we do in real organizations. So out of teaching – comes a whole new industry of unlearning and relearning – on the job.

These are some of the live examples we dealt, and found the resources deployed by organizations on managing this is humongous. There are platform expenses with respect to technology, and to maintain the practices, organizations need to invest a lot of time, effort and people on sustaining these practices.

Then, how do we manage significantly differently? How do we re-visualize these outcomes for an HR professional and organizational leadership alike. How to drop this “over-management”?

In recent times, we have seen there is a lot of push for remote and gig working environments, with a lot of companies and organizations letting their employees to be remote or hiring employees for a short duration based on work requirement – there is a clear shift towards “self-management”. This is the first thread, we started working with even with our clients. From “human resource management” to “self-management”.

This to me is the first major shift for Human Resources Function. So how do we visualize self-management? We need to understand the work in management more deeply before we look at self-management. So, what does HR manage?

  1. “Manages the information” – for example, who is talent, where are they, what are their assessment scores et al. The regular career management systems.
  2. “Manages the decision” – for example, where are the positions, where they can deploy the hi-potential talent in the first example, or what courses are available, who can register in the second example – and so on.

We, in reality, are managing the information and decision involved – for others, who we call employees or talent, or workers. From our experience, we know information is no more a brokering point. Information is now more freely available, and the best is to make it transparent.

So, this is the first principle in re-visualization – Make information transparent and let the individuals decide for themselves. This is often referred to as the marketplace principle. Stopping to manage careers, talent, learning and so on – and operating it like marketplaces, where people decide what is the best for them – within the context of organization fabric, opportunities and means. People prefer transparency and that lets them choose. Choice brings better experience, we all know. We may be surprised, without a heavy management of career and assessment systems, we are still getting the best performers and potential to manage the challenging roles.

If there is less management of information and decisions, what else does the HR do? In a live client intervention (akin to the second example above) we looked at the learning practices of a large organization.  So, how we helped re-visualize the HR and learning function’s role here? From management, we suggested the role shifts to “curation”. Curation is one of the most important work in the information heavy era, we live in. It is no more about subscribing content – one must think of curating information, so that, it is available at the “right time” to the user – whether it is an employee looking for learning or career growth. In more complex organizations, the curation is further elevated, as everyone starts playing a role in curation of content for the entire organization. So, this second shift is towards “curating” rather than “managing”.

The third important shift is “integrating”. If one deeply looks at both the examples above, they are deeply connected. One does not work without the other. The greatest value add that the HR function can bring is in integrating the marketplaces for growth and learning and tying up the ends from a CoE view to a business view. Often, learning, careers, remuneration, experience, and performance run in isolation. How to integrate these into one common whole, as we re-visualize HR?

As we move to newer horizons in organizational management, re-visualizing human resources from an organizational point of view, therefore requires a re-look at:

  1. Push towards self-management, by bringing higher and higher degrees of transparency.
  2. Management as curation – it is not about managing people, it is about curating knowledge and information for them, so they make right decisions.
  3. Integrated human view, rather than the CoE view of isolated outcomes. As humans are complete as an experiencing self, so should be the practices and systems.

People “management” is no more a subject matter of HR, and that is the greatest shift for re-visualization. As people evolve, they manage selves and organizational work, is to let them make choices in the context of their business. Sooner, we start re-visualizing HR, the better would be the talent we start attracting.