Spotlight on HR

Clive Morton writes on his views of the latest initiatives in HR

The world of work has changed dramatically, for employers, employees,
consumers and communities. There is little doubt that the notion of "jobs
for life" has ended and security is based on performance, not paternalism.

The perspective on what gives employability is light years away from
previous experience. Gone is the predominance of qualifications, enter the
challenging issues of "soft" skills, competencies and personality.
Communication is not just about understanding; today it is concerned with
emotional commitment, buy-in and energy.

For employers, speed of response is everything. It used to be about total
quality – now that is a qualification for market entry, not sustainability.

Consumers, we are told, are learning six times as fast as producers. Speed
of response is a function of agility, while agility is a child of culture.
Being faster does not necessarily produce speed and quality of response – it
certainly does not produce innovation. How do organisations evolve the right
culture for success today and a business of tomorrow?

Networks, e-commerce, B2B, B2C we find all need stronger degrees of trust in
relationships than yesterday’s transactions, so the limiting factor is not
technology or money after all, it is the people.

"To be sustainable you need trust, social glue and networks"

Changes in the world of work affect consumers and communities. Communities
embrace all but often feel confused by the changes around them. What business
is that of HR? Everything. This is the context in which business operates.

Today’s trainees are tomorrow’s employees. Internal branding of
organisations must match the external brand in order to excite demand for
product and to attract, retain and motivate employees. Organisations need to
understand and influence its context to give growth and sustainability.

Where can HR make a difference?

Every aspect of the scene above is not only relevant to HR – but it often
has a central role.

One area where this applies is in leading change. This is an area of
expertise for HR and where often other managers and leaders need guidance and a
strong interventionist approach from HR. The psychology of change, relating to
the grieving process, is often lost on those coming from a technical

HR needs to persuade that the leader who empathises with those going through
change is the leader who will inspire and energise those involved in the
process. Not an easy message to get across.

Managing diversity is not often an attractive subject. From one perspective
it can be seen as boring compliance with somebody else’s rules. From another,
it can be seen as the key to creativity, leading to new business. HR can put
the business case and can demonstrate real gains.

What’s the latest initiative? Fads and fashions come and go. They all have
their detractors and "dangerous enthusiasts" and neither helps
business. HR needs to remind the management team that such initiatives need to
be seen from the individual’s perspective, "What’s in it for me?" and
"How does it affect me?"

Any change also needs to be faithful to the principles of the organisation
(vision and values). I am sceptical of the "best practice" syndrome
that encourages the "sweetie shop" where attractive jars are accessed
according to whim and fancy. What to do when the obvious solutions do not
prevent decline and demise?

I have discovered the need to go beyond dealing with operational excellence
in organisations. This is all about efficiency and effectiveness, highly
necessary to be part of the action. But unfortunately not enough for

Organisations need to be employee-driven, which is about buy-in and energy,
not employees making all the decisions, although they do need to be deeply

HR needs to help the peer group with assessing where the business is in
terms of its market place and the competition. Leading benchmarking studies
into other organisations not only sharpen the HR contribution but also gain
support from other leaders and managers.

Having done this, HR is in pole position to contribute to business strategy.
External knowledge is available to HR, employees are involved, they understand
and contribute, effectiveness is achieved and the organisation can be
strategically led.

Carefully chosen measures can help the organisation raise its game and
reinvent through shared vision and values. Terrific, what can stop us now?

Behaviour. I’ve discovered that great change can happen at the
"coalface", "shop floor" or wherever. People have often
been undervalued at that level and in the right circumstances become corks out
of bottles, contributing in a way both they and others never thought possible.

However, managers and directors are a different kettle of fish. With a
strong individualist culture and concerns over position, status and control,
change is fraught.

The first step, in my view – and where HR contributes again, is to convince
managers and directors that inappropriate behaviour from the top can ruin the
best of initiatives. They must understand the impact of their behaviour and what
they need to do to support change further down the organisation.

The next step is to tackle middle management, the most neglected section of
industry. It too has been progressively marginalised over the past two decades.
However, middle managers can become knowledge engineers, and help reinvent the
corporation, it needs a mind shift but HR can be formative – encouraging them
to think laterally and share knowledge.

Last, develop the antennae. A sustainable business must be in tune with
external trends and act with innovation and creativity. HR has a key role as
the conduit between internal organisational factors and outside trends and
influences – and encouraging others to get involved.

Dr Clive Morton runs his own HR consultancy, The Morton Partnership.
Leading HR is published by the CIPD. ISBN 0852929226 price £25. To purchase,
contact Plymbridge on e-mail:

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