Change is mandatory, growth is optional” might be a fitting phrase for today’s CHROs as they manage the complexities of supporting organizational growth and transformation.
As a wave of company boards and CEOs set their sights on bold growth or business transformation, they’re asking CHROs to deliver critical support for these make-or-break strategies. To provide organizations with the right people capabilities to “pivot,” “transform” or “scale up,” the HR team must first diagnose the deep, underlying needs of the employee population to successfully support the ambitious transformation goals decided around the boardroom table.
Training design by gut instinct
It sounds like an enviable mission — helping CEOs evaluate and strengthen their leadership circles to drive fast-growth companies forward or launching comprehensive change management programs and complementary skills training, to help an established company respond to a shifting marketplace.
The problem lies in determining precisely what capabilities are needed to empower the workforce and support the company’s vision, especially under the pressure of urgent predictions suggesting organizational success depends on optimizing people resources.
In most cases, HR is forced to roll out programs without adequate time to assess needs and determine the best solution. They frequently lack an accurate appraisal of the company’s current capabilities or clear direction on where training efforts should be concentrated. So, they must rely on outdated or subjective assessments, or gut feelings held by senior leadership regarding the appropriate specifics, scope or scale of behavioural change required.
This challenge can be traced in part to the recent, reactive nature of corporate planning and strategy development, as companies scramble to adapt to industry disruption. However, an engrained mindset within HR functions is also a factor, since historically the profession has often viewed the organization as “a collection of individuals,” with training efforts focused on developing individual employees and the skills they contribute in isolation.
Viewing the organization as a system
An alternative is to view the organization as “a system” by which the inter-relationships between people, leadership, processes and cultural nuances are crucial to the entire team’s effectiveness and ability to drive high-performance results. As such, it’s essential to observe the larger organization’s strengths, limitations and combined skillsets to understand how it could adapt to change. Without doing so, aided by a data-driven examination of the company, any individual-focused or ad hoc, department-specific training is unlikely to have the desired outcomes — locally or collectively.
Whatever the root cause, the result is the same: CHROs must justify their recommended course of action before bottom line-minded executive committees question the expenditures and demand assurances that the proposed training programs will produce a measurable business impact.
With HR leaders often operating under the “fog of battle” in which an organization’s transformational strategy remains unclear or evolving, they are increasingly recognizing the need to take a more scientific approach to ensure programs can satisfy critical, core needs and to prove the impact of the training dollars invested.
To do so, they must first pinpoint the often subtle, interdependent or hidden factors that will enhance — or constrain — an organization’s ability to grow and change. HR leaders can start by thoroughly defining and clarifying the company’s strategy and operational mandate.
Then, they must obtain a clear view of the organization’s current readiness for its desired growth or transformation, based on a review of its workforce in terms of relevant, enabling criteria, such as leadership, collaboration, strategy and innovation. The most efficient method to conduct this audit is through validated online surveying platforms that can target the desired talent segments, and unearth rich data that can be broken down by level, business line, work group or geography.
In analyzing these targeted data sets, HR leaders can lead informed discussions with senior management about actual skill gaps and specific strategies to remedy them. They can confirm expectations before designing programs to upgrade particular skillsets among well-defined employee groups. In some cases, the survey may reveal certain areas of the organization already excel in key capabilities, and those best practices could be shared across the firm.
Finally, by repeating the survey process after the training programs have been delivered, and comparing the results to the benchmark survey data, HR can assess the impact of their efforts, both in terms of improvements in the immediate employee skillsets and in support of bigger picture organizational growth and transformation objectives.
Organizational diagnostics in action
There are many recent examples of organizations that have charted this course, with the aid of easy-to-implement quantitative solutions, offered by a specialist third-party provider or advisor.
For example, a major pharmaceutical company decided to perform in-depth self-analysis as it grappled to restore business growth in the midst of soft market conditions. The firm’s revised growth strategy hinged on instilling a heightened entrepreneurial mindset and a spirit of innovative discovery among its workforce. The vice-president of a recently merged business unit decided to examine his own group’s strengths and weaknesses against those success factors, before selecting a new training and coaching program to nurture the requisite skills. The HR team applied an online survey tool developed by Connective Intelligence, and administered the survey to key managers and contributors within the business line.
The results validated the essential link between an innovative mindset and revenue growth performance, providing the executive with added confidence that investing in innovation-oriented training was the right strategy.
However, the survey also revealed current leadership dynamics relating to role clarity and the span of decision-making authority were eroding internal trust and engagement and constraining collaboration between leadership tiers. With these data points, the HR team developed a targeted training strategy, including one-on-one coaching for each key leader, with tailored actions drawn from the analysis.
A sophisticated, quantitative diagnostic tool can help an organization objectively gauge its ability to grow, adapt to change and create value. This approach can empower CHROs to assess their organization’s vitality and readiness for transformation, and ensure those mandatory change initiatives generate the growth and results the organization requires.
Brett Richards is founder and president of Connective Intelligence in Newmarket, Ont., offering expertise in leadership and organizational transformation. For more information, visit www.
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