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“The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again,” a great line from Canadian politician Trudeau’s speech at Davos. The changing face of culture is grappling with automation, artificial intelligence, and the complexity and uncertainty of the global market. HR needs to not only keep up, but be at the forefront of this transformation. The key to the success of the HR function will be through our leaders, who are tasked with many challenges, an essential one being growing the business; and it is HR’s role to build their critical skills and competencies and to strengthen the leadership bench. On this bench need to be leaders who are comfortable being uncomfortable, change agile and take accountability for the culture their leadership shadow creates.
I remember walking into the office of a senior leader, who I was supporting as the Head of HR at the time, and being asked to produce a “Culture Change Plan;” a change plan which they assumed that I would not only develop, but also own and execute. I asked the leader, “What will be your role in our culture change?” The response was, “My role? Isn’t this what I hired you for?” Earlier in my career and new to this significant role, I was not yet able to find my courage to contradict those views.
Later in my career, when another senior leader advised me that they thought it was acceptable to be absent during a significant organizational change announcement, specifically aimed at facilitating a much-needed culture change, I knew that I had to find my courage. When they said, “You can handle it without me,” as a statement and not a question; I asked, “Are you the leader of this business?” When they answered “Yes,” I continued bravely, “While you are the head of this business, you need to be present at the announcement. It will not be going ahead without you.”The role of HR is not only to enable our leaders to able to operate in this everchanging, more streamlined, technology-enabled environment; but to ensure that we are not enabling the behavior of leaders who prefer to outsource the role of leadership to us or to external consultants.
What the role of HR is, and I believe will always be, is to enable the leaders to have the tools in place to be successful. We are asking our leaders to do a lot, in addition to the operational components of their roles. Our leaders need to be able to provide clarity, manage change, deal with under-performers, master organizational politics, foster an environment of innovation and creativity. We also need them to be commercial, appreciate the context of the business they are tasked with transforming and at the same time be authentic, vulnerable and focused on their own self-development. It is no longer ok to be locked in an office,they need to be inspirational, agile, innovative, transparent and available to their people.
"The changing face of culture is grappling with automation, artificial intelligence, and the complexity and uncertainty of the global market. HR needs to not only keep up, but be at the forefront of this transformation"
The recent research from Gartner (Source: Gartner 2017 Manager Effectiveness Survey) has found that in order to genuinely improve the high performance of a team, we need to develop connector managers. Connector managers compared to the always-on, teacher or even cheerleader managers triple the likelihood of developing a high performing team. It is in this space of leadership development that HR can make a real difference. And we are unable to make a real impact if we do not place the right data in the hands of our leaders. This is where technology comes in. Whether it is a Human Capital Management System; or employee engagement or 360 results; or the predictive technology of workforce planning data and AI. But even simple things like reporting around the employees’ birthdays and key service milestones can make a real difference. A leader cannot impact the productivity of their team if they don’t understand the commercial numbers and triggers which sit behind their day to day performance. These behavioral nudges can go a long way.
And the more we can automate, the more time our leaders can spend on building the strategy and engagement, developing their employees, focusing on their talent, assisting those who aren’t performing. High performing culture is simply the outcome of these actions. Whether it is through chatbots, gamification and AI for selection, or simply HCM technology which brings data to the fingertips of our leaders, HR needs to be able to facilitate this technological transformation.We also need to ensure that we don’t forget the humans who are driving the technological change, or as Anders Sorman-Nilsson recently said, we need to make sure that we “don’t throw out the analogue baby with the digital bathwater.” No matter how much the face of culture is changing, it will always have a human form.