In my July ReWork column, I described agile work as perpetually upgraded work, constantly "becoming" something new. Every day, work becomes a little more automated, the source of talent becomes a little more boundless, the rewards become a little more immediate and non-monetary and learning becomes a little more virtual and community-led.
An Accenture report asserted that "HR will fundamentally reshape itself so that the function becomes a critical driver of agility. In this role, HR will enable a new type of organization—one designed around highly nimble and responsive talent." I agree. But while it's important for HR to be agile, leaders and workers have a more significant challenge (and opportunity): rethinking the very nature of their relationship.
Agility Lessons from 1999: Closing Kellogg's Battle Creek Plant
At a recent panel sponsored by Viridis Learning, I spoke with former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who observed that a competitive and agile U.S. economy depends on a competitive and agile workforce. Perpetual agility rests upon an important, but often overlooked leadership challenge: transparency. Secretary Gutierrez was the CEO of the Kellogg company in 1999, facing one of the toughest decisions of his career: whether or not to close the Battle Creek manufacturing plant. It was the original plant, and an icon of the company, but its manufacturing processes had become obsolete.
Kellogg leaders informed the workers shortly after they made the decision. Yet, the forces requiring the closure were known much earlier to Kellogg leaders, and I suspect to the plant workers as well. Gutierrez and the Kellogg team did what they could to treat workers humanely, but future employment opportunities were limited, particularly for workers who were unable or unwilling to relocate.
Today, workers faced with a plant closing have more options, including living in Battle Creek but using virtual tools and freelance platforms to find new opportunities. Future events like a plant closing can be less "shocking" because of new agile work pathways, but it also requires a new mindset. Workers and leaders must perpetually prepare.
Secretary Gutierrez suggested that even today's leaders will instinctively wait to engage workers until after making a tough decision: "Looking back, my team and I had a choice about how early and transparently we would share our knowledge that the plant would soon change drastically."
Agility and Transparency Go Hand-in-hand
Leaders assume that if they reveal disruption too early, it will produce worker stress, contentious labor union or community reactions and departures of key employees. Why risk such things to start an unpleasant conversation earlier than necessary?
This assumption must be questioned for leaders and workers to embrace agile work.
Every day, your leaders and your workers choose how transparently they share knowledge about how work is changing. Are your leaders and workers driven by old assumptions to keep quiet until disruptive change is unavoidable? Or is HR equipping leaders and workers to perpetually and transparently perceive, discuss and prepare for inevitable work changes?
It's time for candid and honest conversations about the perpetual upgrade of work—it will provide both parties time and opportunity to adjust to the future of work, even if it's painful.
Photo: Creative Commons
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Alexander Mann Solutions wins Cornerstone OnDemands sponsored categories at the TIARA 2020 Talent Solutions Awards
Here at Cornerstone, we absolutely love to hear inspiring stories and share them far and wide, especially when they are about talent management! We were recently headline sponsors of the TIARA 2020 Talent Solutions Awards. These annual awards, hosted by TALiNT International, celebrate excellence across the RPO, MSP and Talent Solutions marketplace, and recognise the wonderful ways companies are demonstrating exemplary growth, innovation and leadership. For 2020, it was the usual great awards with a bit of a difference. As we know, everything has now moved online – even this year’s Convergence! But this didn’t seem to impact the TIARA Talent Solution Awards at all. Despite not being able to celebrate face-to-face, the event was filled with laughter, engagement, and most of all, lots of fun! This year, we also supported the Best Use of Technology Award as well as the Overall Winner. The winner – triumphing in both categories – could not be more deserving, and so we duly wanted to pass on our huge congratulations to Alexander Mann Solutions! Alexander Mann was awarded the Cornerstone OnDemand Best Use of Technology Award for their brilliant ‘Find Your Fit’ technology solution. The platform offers users personal preferences and assisted future growth through interactive videos, personalised one-to-one calls, and a dedicated platform to match skills with current roles within the organisation. The solution had 1,200 employees enrolling within just six months of implementation and is continuing to improve every day. Find Your Fit helps employees to understand how their organisation functions better, including the areas that are growing the most rapidly. In turn, this helps employees to develop the skills they need in order to take advantage of these developments to enhance not only their personal career progression, but overall business performance. After all, businesses don’t innovate, people do! The judges commended this entry for “the clear way in which an innovative technology solution clearly delivered in results”. The judges also applauded Alexander Mann for demonstrating customer care by really listening to client’s individual challenges and using inventive technology solutions to help design a custom built solution that helps to support the overall internal career options and pathways available to each organisation. The award was accepted virtually by Stephen Gordon, Recruitment Tech Lead at Talent Collective/AMS. In addition to being awarded Best Use of Technology, Alexander Mann was also recognised as this year’s overall winner of the Talent Solutions Awards. Chair of Judges, Jim Richardson highlighted that “the overall winner is based on the organisation that consistently demonstrates excellence and innovation across all of its activities”. Both Peoplescout and Guidant Global were highly commended by the judges for their brilliant work, but ultimately, Alexander Mann took home the award for demonstrating consistently high standards across all areas. Jim Richardson added that although Alexander Mann has the resources to support many initiatives, it has still managed to deliver consistently on large scale and complex global projects. This is a phenomenally impressive achievement that all of us at Cornerstone also wish to say a huge congratulations for! The other winners and nominees from this year’s TIARA Talent Solutions Awards have highlighted more excellent work and brilliant stories across the recruiting sector and HR community. For the full list of winners, check out the TALiNT International’s September/October 2020 edition here.
Blog: Why HR need to lead the agile change journey
It's been going on for a while now - the shift towards more agile and flexible companies that quickly can adapt to the fast-changing times of today. Organisations that are unable to make this move are gradually losing competitiveness and finding it more difficult to prove themselves against smaller and faster players. Those who recognise the need and are able to create new conditions for the business, in the form of new structures, will survive and flourish in tomorrow's economic reality. Agile HR can be viewed from two different angles; How HR should work together within the HR team and what / how HR should deliver value to the business for which they exist. All HR processes that are part of Talent and People Management will be different when you start working agile, and each of the processes have their specific tools and working methods. Here we will look at HR from a more general perspective, to get an overall understanding of how the HR role, and the corresponding deliverables, change in a company that wants to increase its business agility. The goal is to focus on creating better workplaces through the development of teams and individuals, throughout the whole organisation. Small and medium-sized companies are easier to change, as they have less hierarchical structures, and often a more decentralised business, where everyone has an ability to make the decisions that need to be made, locally rather than centrally. The larger and more complex a company is, the more systems, processes, and structures there are that cannot be easily and quickly changed. Although it is possible to change a department in the organisation, some issues might remain that forces the department back into the central structures. This happens because it is not possible to isolate a specific part of the business. You can compare it to an attempt to change a rubber ball. It changes when it is being squeezed, but when you let go, it quickly returns to its old shape. However, there is one functional department in most large organisations that can influence all the other parts at once – HR. In many large companies, HR controls; ● Leadership programs and development ● Change management ● Organisational development ● Employee engagement ● Employee training and skills development ● Rewards and bonuses ● Recruitment ● Goal setting and performance reviews ● Long term mix of employees All these processes or areas flow through the entire organisation. These are the structures that can support, or prevent, a more radical change towards a more agile company. It all depends on HOW we work with processes and programs. They can be developed in a way that, paradoxically, prevents performance and commitment. Or they can optimise performance and employee satisfaction. HR struggles with criticisms, it is accused of being some kind of "organisational police", which hinders performance and commitment by implementing Talent management processes in a way that was intended to increase the same. This needs to change. HR has been in the back seat for too long and now it is time to take responsibility for a change in how to support the organisation. Because it is about people, and relationships between people, this is the key to how the company performs as a whole. It is the system that fundamentally needs to change, not the people. We do not need to do more things or implement complicated frameworks and methods. Instead, we need to understand how we can make it easier for people to make their best contribution to the company, by providing supportive structures, instead of hindering structures. It is through more experiments and by trying different working methods, that one can find the best path for each organisation, and each team/individual. Here, the agile principles and the agile mindset serve as a guide. Agile tools and frameworks work sometimes, but not always. The only way to continually improve is through constant learning, which also means that we sometimes fail. Companies that learn faster than others, and turn that knowledge into new ways of working for employees, but also new products and services for external customers, gain a competitive advantage and will be the winner of the future. HR has the power and the ability to design the structures that aim to either support or make it harder for employees to contribute in creative and innovative ways. If HR sticks to the old, traditional ways of working, the consequence will be rigid and non-agile organisations that use inefficient systems and processes. HR can either hinder or support the change, so HR must show the way. By providing opportunities for alternative and more agile working methods, and by focusing on value creation and value flows for the internal and by extension also external customers, HR can lead companies through changes that no other department is capable of. The next blog chapter will dive into HR's changing role.