Looking ahead to HR in 2009

SCNetwork leaders predict HR’s focus for the new year
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2009

By all accounts, 2009 is going to be a very challenging years for employers. The economic downturn, sparked by the credit crisis that surfaced in the latter part of 2008, is expected to have a significant impact on the bottom line of many Canadian organizations. In such a difficult climate, what will be the role of HR professionals?

Editor’s note
: Canadian HR Reporter asked six experts, who are all members of the Strategic Capability Network, an association that provides a forum for leading-edge thinking and practice on HR management, what 2009 might hold in store for the profession. Here’s what they had to say.

Re-engagement strategies for gloomier times

By Sue Nador

Without a doubt, 2009 will be a glum year for many organizations, particularly those facing layoffs. And when the dust settles, some may be quick to assume employees who still have jobs are the lucky ones, but it may not feel that way from the perspective of “survivors.”

Many of us have lived through other recessions and know life is not so easy for the ones left standing. How many times have you heard people say they are “crazy busy” or doing two jobs?

Employee engagement has been a hot topic for years. The focus has been on developing strategies to keep people happy and motivated so they contribute to the best of their abilities, develop a deep sense of commitment and stick around. In the new economy, the mindset can easily shift to: “Employees should be happy to have a job, shouldn’t they?” Some organizations may start to believe the employer value proposition doesn’t need to go beyond this. But employee engagement is just as important now as before.

The good news? It doesn’t have to come with the bells and whistles characteristic of the “employer of choice” heyday when every organization was trying to outdo the others. This is an opportunity to re-engage in simpler, inexpensive yet equally effective ways to achieve organizational effectiveness. In chaotic times, people need a renewed sense of purpose. Many will be facing the challenge of assuming more work and new roles within the organization.

Now is the time for leaders to have in-depth conversations with their teams about new priorities and performance expectations, and how to achieve goals with fewer resources and people. They should define what success now looks like and how it will be measured. And they need to demonstrate a human touch in recognizing employees and celebrating significant milestones.

Leaders need to facilitate the transition of employees to new challenges and roles. Orientation is as important for internal candidates, who may be witnessing their organization from a different perspective and experiencing a different subculture, as it is for external hires.

By providing this type of support when the going is rough, organizations build the goodwill that will keep employees committed when the good times roll again.

Sue Nador is co-chair of programming at SCNetwork, responsible for the development and delivery of the programming curriculum, and is also on the national board. She is a Partner at NVision Consulting in Toronto. For more information, visit www.nvisionconsulting.ca.

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‘Leaders in a dangerous time’

By Helen Bozinovski

The 2008 financial crisis has precipitated a global recession that will drive some of the most significant restructuring and layoffs we have seen since the Great Depression. No industry will be immune from the effects emanating from the United States financial services sector’s “ground zero.” As capital depletes worldwide, the interdependencies become more clear as organizations are challenged to adapt and respond — survival will be the first priority, then sustained growth and productivity through the coming period.

HR leaders must drive a response through people. No organization will adapt without engaging its entire workforce in responding resourcefully, collectively and with utmost focus. Talent and teamwork will differentiate the winners, not experience — we’ve never been here before.

In 2009, for HR functions to be relevant, we need to focus on three things:

Talent: Talent-alignment initiatives that engage the right people, with the right skills in the right roles, to respond quickly to changing conditions. HR initiatives must be focused on selecting, deploying and managing people resources to ensure every ounce of employee energy is spent on results. No employee can afford to waste her personal contribution on anything other than what is essential to the business and to her own professional development.

Simplifying the transformation agenda: We can do this by ensuring long-term change goals are not compromised by complicated HR strategies, plans and tools. Instead, make the change agenda meaningful to people who need to remain motivated and steadfast. Organizational restructuring, compensation plans and training and learning initiatives must be simple, relevant and practical. Every organization will need to keep its eye on the horizon, knowing it must transform or die. The tools HR brings to the table must enable change without making it burdensome.

Cost-effectiveness: HR will be challenged to reduce or re-engineer service delivery as growing management and employee uncertainty places increased demands on us. Teamwork must underpin the solution, both inside the HR team and with business clients who must be savvy people managers, working with HR as a partner, not a supplier.

To shamelessly paraphrase from a song lyric: “We are leaders in a dangerous time.” Most organizations and employees fear what is ahead. At no other time in history has our contribution been more relevant nor our leadership more important.

Helen Bozinovski is a commentator on Strategic Capability for SCNetwork and senior vice-president of HR for Aviva Canada.

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A leadership tipping point

By Dave Crisp

Recently I was asked to chair a day of HR experts and a panel leading up to a luncheon keynote speech by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success.

My 10-minute introduction was just long enough to make three telling points about where leadership is going. First, we’re in an amazing transition stage in HR and leadership knowledge — one might say a “tipping point,” to borrow a phrase from Gladwell. There is irrefutable proof the leaders and organizations most effective with people are the ones that do better.

Second, to get there we need to simplify HR and leadership principles to be more understandable to the majority of leaders (and people) in organizations who aren’t fully effective in managing people. Many work primarily on the other business pillars: Sales and marketing, financial management and process and technology, where we tend to promote them mainly for technical skill. Yet, we need all leaders to wield more-than-average people competence for them to be effective.

Third, this “better leadership” tipping point is being pushed faster by Gen Y, the very people society has raised not to accept the command-and-control leadership style. If we don’t show leaders how to coach, develop and help Gen-Y employees grow and get ahead faster, we’re not only missing the spectacular results new hires can produce, but we’re going to lose them. This is a generation who can quit tomorrow and go elsewhere. They have the resources and the education, not to mention parents who will let them live in the basement until they’re in their 30s.

Dave Crisp is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on leadership in action. He shows clients how to improve results with better HR management and leadership. He has a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co., where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.CrispStrategies.com.

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Leading in a truly global world

By Anne Berend

Global leadership is not simply “buzz” — it’s a permanent reality with implications for HR. We must be enablers of global leadership across the business.

One of the fundamental aspects of global business is that work never stops. Colleagues are in contact across borders and time zones and, therefore, working at all different times of the day. True global leaders will understand this is not simply about understanding different time zones, it is about accepting that an employee may take time off during what would be a typical workday and then participate in a call at 11 p.m. with Singapore. Appreciating the need for flexibility in work and home life, and trusting that work can be done remotely, is essential for success.

The nature of work itself is also changing. Technical skills are not enough as a global business demands a different, broader view. It is increasingly collaborative and distributed and the inputs are constantly shifting. Trust is critical. Global leaders will build networks of colleagues and collaborators around the world, as well as foster and enable collaboration to accomplish goals. Those with a “silo” mentality and a focus on protecting turf will not survive.

Finding leaders in emerging or growth markets is another challenge. High-potential leaders in these markets may not covet the same things as those in mature markets.

Senior HR executives will flexibly evolve strategy, recognizing the pace of decision-making and the speed of change are very fast. This same flexibility will apply to consultation and support. On-demand learning, for example, is increasingly important as line management looks to us for alternatives to the traditional delivery methods of employee development that take people away from the business.

Strong global leaders not only talk about diversity and inclusion, they visibly attach importance to these values and live them every day. Successful leaders know diversity and inclusion are not just the right things to do — they provide a tangible competitive advantage.

Technology, of course, is central to global leadership. Instant messaging, blogs and wikis all equalize position and location and allow for multiple “conversations,” sharing of information in real time and rapid decisions from anywhere in the world.

From a leadership development perspective, a globally integrated database is a necessity. How do you find strong global leaders? How do you identify high-potential talent? How do you track who is mobile and could move to a growth market? Integrated systems truly enable the sharing of global talent and support tracking the development of future leaders.

Companies filled with smart, highly educated people understand competitive edge is gained not just by developing the next generation of leaders, but encouraging this generation to be more capable than themselves.

Anne Berend is a member of SCNetwork and commentator on leadership in action. She is also vice-president of HR for IBM Canada.

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Don’t let the change go to waste

By Edmond Mellina

The ripple effect of the economic crisis will be felt throughout 2009. It will bring both threats and opportunities to organizations, and its impact will be profound. Being preoccupied with continual, complex and uncertain change is the central issue that will keep senior executives awake at night.

In its Global CEO Study 2008, IBM found eight out of 10 chief executive officers anticipate substantial or very substantial change over the next three years, yet they rate their ability to manage change 22-per-cent lower than their expected need for it — a “change gap” that has nearly tripled since 2006.

By and large, the magnitude and depth of this crisis caught business leaders by surprise. CEOs are undoubtedly even more concerned today with closing the change gap than they were at the time of the study.

“You don’t ever want to let a crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do important things,” said Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff under U.S. president-elect Barack Obama. This should be a motto in all organizations.

To tackle the challenge, organizations should help the teams responsible for executing change by equipping them with proven change-management tools and methodologies, and by supporting these teams with effective support and coaching. This is about integrating learning and execution to effectively support the implementation of change, mitigate risk and make the challenge easier to handle.

Teams learn the most about change management when they have to execute complex change in an uncertain environment. So, this year presents organizations with a great opportunity to further develop the ability to manage constant change.

Strategy is a coin with two sides: Defence and offence. When organizations make a concerted effort to support teams through integrated learning as change is executed, they play defence by responding more effectively to waves of change. They play offence in two major ways: First, they capture market opportunities by implementing the necessary change faster and better than the competition; second, they build a strategic weapon for the future by narrowing the change gap.

Edmond Mellina is a commentator for SCNetwork on organization effectiveness. He is president of TRANSITUS, a provider of learning and consulting solutions to master organizational change, and creator of the ORCHANGO Change Management System. For more information, visit www.transitusinc.com or www.orchango.com.

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A fight for survival

By Matt Hemmingsen

We are undergoing a seismic shift in the global marketplace. Organizations once viewed as permanent fixtures of the Fortune 500 have disappeared or are likely to disappear. For many we are no longer talking about organization growth — we are talking about survival.

Fundamentally, leaders are accountable for the welfare of their organization. They create value for all stakeholders — shareholders, employees, suppliers and community. How well they do will be depend on how well they manage internal and external variables in play. The critical challenge for many leaders this year and in the future is their understanding of strategic planning from a fresh perspective. It will test their ability to fully understand the multidimensional dynamics that impact their business.

Remember the “learning organization?” Peter Senge introduced this concept in his seminal work The Fifth Discipline 18 years ago. How can this apply to what leaders are required to do now? In a learning organization, “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

Strategic planning tends to be a linear process — getting from A to B with the assumption nothing will change its course. The current reality tells us otherwise. Given the lack of divergent viewpoints (reference the North American auto industry) and, for many organizations, a lack of supportive environments that actively promote different points of view, debate and conflict, is it any wonder the strategic planning process never achieves the desired results?

“Organizations that are continually expanding their capacity to create their future require a fundamental shift of mind among their members,” says Senge. My sense is the leadership team in the new world must be open and receptive to new thinking; agile to capitalize on new market opportunities; manage change proactively and aggressively; and establish a learning culture throughout the operations. Leaders will reinforce a learning organization when they provide that supportive environment, embrace different points of view and allow time for reflection. In situations of rapid change, only those who are flexible and adaptive will survive.

For the most part, leaders have focused on the results and process, not on embedding collaboration and leveraging the human capital of the business. “The biggest lie told by most organizations, ‘that people are our most important assets,’ is a total fabrication. They treat people like raw material. If you’re serious about treating people as an asset, we’re looking at a dramatic increase in investment in them,” says Michael Hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution.

Matt Hemmingsen is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability. He has held senior HR leadership roles in global corporations. He is a managing partner with Personal Strengths Canada, a member of an international company focused on improving business performance through relationship awareness. For more information, visit www.personalstrengths.ca or e-mail mhemmingsen@personalstrengths.ca.

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Next Executive Series

You’ve read the opinions of some of the members of the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) on what’s in store for 2009. Would you like to attend one of their upcoming breakfast series in Toronto? The next event is “Leader to leader — How the ‘new’ mentoring is growing the next generation of leaders,” with Catherine Mossop and a panel on Feb. 26. Visit www.scnetwork.ca for more information.