Outmoded ideas can’t solve today’s problems

Monumental business failures are occurring all around us, yet we are still
using models of organisations that were created by the Napoleonic army. While
we’ve tinkered with structure, the world has changed dramatically and too many
HR people have not.

Firms continue to fight every downturn with the same bureaucratic weapons,
while they should be planning radical new ways to overcome the next one.
Three-quarters of the jobs created in the US over the past 10 years have been
in sectors and industries that weren’t even thought of at the start of the
decade. What’s next – what will the business world look like in 2010 and how do
we take a lead in shaping it?

The implications for HR are profound. We are accountable for transforming
business. This means setting up and leveraging a myriad of virtual networks
where alliances need to be built on trust and sharing learning.

How do we learn how to do this stuff? We need first class, structured
development programmes for our talented people. It almost certainly means time
spent outside the function and plans that include hard-edged business projects,
secondments and risky creative assignments in new areas.

If you have only ever managed a huge cost budget, it’s your reference point
and it is virtually impossible to throw it off. If you want to understand what
it means to manage customers and products you have to go and do it for

We also need access – via real consulting projects, not role plays – to
innovative organisational models as it is a key requirement to know when to
suggest that the current organisation has outlived its usefulness.

A further development imperative is for us to understand behavioural
influences. Increasingly CEOs are only worried about talent. HR people need to
throw out bureaucratic processes that attempt to classify everyone as the same
– truly ground-breaking people are different and we need creative HR solutions
to manage them.

Another fundamental need is coaching and mentoring. Working in this new way
would be frightening and lonely, and coaching would build confidence –
essential if we are to really question business strategy and truly transform
the HR function. Great coaches will also help us manage complex change
programmes and push the boundaries of the function out further and further.

At the end of the day, if we don’t become great quickly we will die as a
function. We will be outsourced if we cannot command a premium price in the
internal marketplace. To secure this, we need entrepreneurial HR people who
feel they are running their own transformation business. They need to be
prepared to be fired almost every day in the single-minded pursuit of changing
their world and preparing their business to sprint towards the future rather
than trying to protect the past.

By Chris Matchan, Vice-President, consumer practice at Korn/Ferry

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