Lessons from San Diego: HR central to ‘historic watershed’

Highlights from 2010 HRPS global conference

Conference highlights: Dave Crisp, a regular contributor to Canadian HR Reporter and a lead commentator for the Strategic Capability Network, took in the HR: People & Strategy 2010 Global Conference in San Diego.  He shared what he learned at a recent SCNetwork event and put his thoughts to paper below.  For more information, visit www.scnetwork.ca

Lessons from San Diego: HR central to ‘historic watershed’

Trust impacts almost everything (Leadership in action)

New business management agenda (Organizational effectiveness)

Collaboration: Watchword of future (Strategic capability)

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Lessons from San Diego: HR central to ‘historic watershed’

By Dave Crisp

The Human Resources Planning Society (HRPS) has a new name — HR: People & Strategy — which updates the HR think-tank tone of the organization. The HRPS 2010 Global Conference — held in San Diego in April — lived up to that tone with presenters and topics that have far-reaching implications for anyone involved in HR.

A number of remarkable points stood out.

First, the organizers didn’t seem to know quite what they had created — and that’s not a slight. A hallmark of innovation is it reaches beyond what is planned.

Second, the conference confirmed what I see in my work: We are at an historic watershed moment for HR.

Widespread education, media coverage and the Internet have paved the way for an era of change. An adaptive, collaborative style of leadership will be the most successful in the future, in contrast to the traditional (and limited) “command and control” style that has dominated until now.

When it’s finished unfolding, we’ll wonder why anyone ever thought otherwise.

The Google approach: Fostering innovation

Google’s HR department consists of one-third traditional HR staff, one-third line managers and one-third consultants.

To encourage innovation, Google gives employees one day per week to work on their own projects, but many observers wonder how long it can sustain this level of self-directed learning. (Interestingly, at another event, a presenter talked about an Australian IT company that is getting great innovation mileage from just one day per quarter for personal projects.)

Freedom to innovate comes back in dividends, especially at Google, where ideas are posted on the intranet and others join in, rapidly producing projects that are no longer one-person explorations but genuine new products.

Toyota’s 300,000-plus employees suggest as many as 50 ideas per person per year, of which nearly one million are implemented. This deluge of creativity within a single company sets a standard others will have to reach to survive.

One HR thrust at Google is to translate all practices into numbers. Google staff are engineers who don’t listen to anything unless it comes wrapped in numbers, said Shannon Deegan, director of people operations, central staffing and business development at Google. The mix in its HR department clearly makes it easier to do this — and the result is some startling findings.

Google balances cost versus the attractiveness of benefit options to assess what to bring in and what to drop, and measures the impact of benefits on engagement, said Deegan, a Verdun, Que., native (who will speak at a Strategic Capability Network event in August). These capacities — which most HR departments haven’t seriously developed — can make a tremendous contribution.

There are five things Google is emphasizing more than it did in the past:

• ethics (Google is on the hot seat worldwide, so it’s very conscious of the topic and taking it seriously)

• numbers (getting measurable results and managing by them)

• innovation

• collaboration

• diversity.

All five scream talent management and put HR front and centre as a core contributor — but there are interlocking aspects most HR departments are not yet fully geared to manage well.

The Tata experience: ‘Leadership with trust’

Tata, most famous for manufacturing a $2,500 car in India, is more than 150 years old, manages 90 companies worldwide, employs 350,000 people and uses interlocking boards that contribute members to a worldwide “talent acquisition service” with the authority to say, “No, you can’t keep your best executives because we need to rotate them into other businesses for development so we can continue to grow and excel.”

Two-thirds of all profits flow into irrevocable charitable trusts set up many years ago by the founding family (which is still very much active in the business) and the core principle enunciated by the head of HR is: “Our primary company product is leadership with trust.”

Here’s an example of Tata’s ingenuity: It built the world’s fourth largest supercomputer in just six months, shaking the industry. How was that engineering team put together?

Tata manages in a more collaborative way than most companies. Interestingly, SCNetwork’s winners of the recent Focus 2040 student competition (which looked at what work and HR will look like in the year 2040) unanimously put forward the idea collaboration is the core leadership style for the future, whether it’s the collaboration of interlocking boards, collaboration of employees via social media or collaboration to a far greater degree in C-suite teams (our winner pegged it as “the chief executive council” replacing the CEO). We haven’t begun to figure out how to make this work yet.

Subtle shifts: More women, more power

There were some subtle shifts at the conference. In the past, HRPS emphasized presentations by pairs of CEO/CHROs so the business impacts of HR could be noted and discussed.

The pairs were there but there were somewhat fewer as more HR people appeared in keynotes on their own, apparently now able to credibly represent the numbers and results as well as their bosses can. Moreover, when a pair did appear, the CHRO typically led off — a reversal of past practice. They gave the numbers, the justifications for why they undertook whatever change and the substantial results.

The CEOs, who previously were the highlight speakers with all the concrete facts, were now being introduced by the CHROs to say, “That’s right. And we couldn’t have done it without HR holding my feet to the fire.”

More than one-half of the CHROs were women. It seems only yesterday (actually, it was just a couple of months ago), a survey of Ontario HR executives found respondents were marginally worried women have become predominant in HR and that might mean a lower profile or credibility. Based on the HRPS showing, it’s not true in the least.

Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based consultant with 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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Trust impacts almost everything (Leadership in action)

By Trish Maguire

Ethics, trust, diversity and collaboration emerged as four critical success factors from presenters at the 2010 HR: People & Strategy (HRPS) conference. Nothing particularly new for HR leaders but if we dig a little deeper behind the words, it becomes clear trust is the overarching imperative.

There are other compelling reasons to care about trust at work — reasons that are likely to affect the bottom line.

Trust affects leadership effectiveness, the way people work with their managers and each other, turnover, motivation, commitment and engagement. The ability of an organization to be competitive, operate efficiently and successfully really depends on the willingness of people to trust each other. Personal trust is linked to co-operation, performance and communication. Consider that:

• employees are more likely to stay with their organization when they trust their manager and the people they work with

• employees who trust their manager demonstrate a substantially higher organizational commitment than those who do not

• employees who trust the people around them focus on their work rather than spending time protecting themselves or their job.

If the willingness to trust is missing in an organization, you may find conflict, low productivity, increased inefficiencies and low motivation. If employees perceive company policies and management practices are unfair, you can expect lower commitment, increased turnover and a loss of trust in leadership. Employees need to trust they will be treated with fairness and provided with the appropriate support and interdependence to finish their work successfully.

As an HR leader, your own statistics will show the more employees are satisfied with their jobs, the less likely they are to think about leaving and the better they perform. When trust is high, retention is likely to be high. When turnover is high, costs for recruiting, selecting and training new employees increase. If you agree high turnover is directly related to low performance, inefficiencies and morale challenges, then perhaps the trust factor is missing?

How about the impact of trust on motivation? People are more likely to say they are motivated when they trust the people they work with. And increased motivation leads to increased productivity and decreased motivation leads to less productivity. This suggests the more motivated employees are with their work, the more aligned they are with an organization’s goals. This can result in organization-wide improvements, greater efficiencies with measurable effectiveness and positive impacts on the bottom line.

Last but not least is the challenge of leadership trust. The effect of the recent recession on trust has been profound. To develop an open, trusting environment, leaders need to reflect on how they support and trust people, care to create a culture with meaningful and effective procedures, policies and systems, and act upon their commitments. Trust is crucial to an organization’s health, and not just for increasing retention. Without it, communication, accountability and innovation suffer.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions, focused on developing customized talent management strategies for small entrepreneurial businesses. She can be reached at [email protected].

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New business management agenda (Organizational effectiveness)

By Tom Tavares

The 2010 HR: People & Strategy (HRPS) conference covered many familiar themes: innovation, alignment, measurement, collaboration, engagement and leadership with trust. Although these are perennial organizational-effectiveness issues, there was a heightened sense of urgency about them due to the increasing intensity of the competitive environment.

Challenges such as alignment, innovation and trust are not separate issues. They are all related to the isolation of working in organizations. Firms of more than 20 people break work into jobs. When people focus on doing their jobs, they lose touch with others and become isolated, which shows up in perennial issues such as weak internal communication, poor teamwork and low levels of employee engagement.

Isolation also undermines innovation. When leaders focus on solving problems, they lose touch with employees. As a result, the 10 per cent of people in managerial roles end up trying to fix 100 per cent of the problems, which is impossible in today’s complex environment. The “command and control” leadership style is on the way out because it limits the problem-solving power firms need to keep pace with change.

To get on top of the change curve, companies must access the intelligence of the 90 per cent of minds not in management. However, to productively channel the intelligence of employees, they need to stay aligned as changes unfold.

While measuring alignment is useful, it is not sufficient. If leaders are to access the 90 per cent of minds not in management, they have to break down isolation through high-quality interaction between levels, departments and direct reports. Unfortunately, when activities are at a fever pitch, communicating with employees is often the last thing on the minds of executives and managers.

Many leaders treat internal communication as a “soft” issue and neglect it day-to-day. In reality, high-quality interaction is at the core of innovation, engagement, alignment and leadership with trust. These intangible factors have become as basic to business performance as finance, operations or sales and marketing.

Leadership with trust has never been more challenging. Over the last decade, management breakdowns, such as those at Toyota and BP, have become regular occurrences, fuelling concerns on two fronts. These have raised fundamental questions about the values system of business and shaken confidence in the ability of leaders to get the job done.

We are at a watershed in management. As change has accelerated, discipline in managing the internal environment of companies has become critical to preventing organizational failures and maintaining superior performance. One measure of progress in meeting this challenge will be whether intangible factors remain perennial HR issues or move to the top of the agenda at business management conferences.

Tom Tavares is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and a senior organizational psychologist. In addition to managing in large corporations, consulting in varied industries and coaching executives, he is also the author of The Mind Field, published by Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Collaboration: Watchword of future (Strategic capability)

By Karen Gorsline

Key themes from the HR: People & Strategy (HRPS) conference and from students in the Strategic Capability Network’s Focus 2040 competition (which looked at the future of the working world) include: a global perspective, innovation, diversity, trust and ethics, understanding value (knowing the numbers) and collaboration.

The term collaboration alone could signal the most meaningful insight into the future and the journey organizations will need to make.

Consider some of terms in use in organizations and what Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has to say about these:

Alignment: To put in proper position or adjusting the parts in relation to each other; forming a line; a ground plan as distinct from a profile; arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another.

This is not three-dimensional thinking. It is linear (or two-dimensional — a matrix, not a cube). It relates one to another: A to B.

Co-ordination/co-ordinating: To put in the same order or rank; to bring into a common action, movement or condition; harmonize; harmonious functioning of parts for effective results.

This definition implies a framework. While the framework may function in a multi-dimensional way, it is by no means dynamic.

Co-operate: To act or work with another or others; to act together or in compliance; to associate with another or others for mutual benefit.

Now, work begins to take on both a multi-dimensional and a social characteristic, but mutual benefit or compliance is the organizing force.

Teamwork: Work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.

Teamwork is multi-dimensional, social and organic. The whole is more important than the individuals. The effort may be dynamic and is often described as being more than the sum of the parts. But there is still a whole.

Collaborate: To work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavour; to co-operate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country, especially an occupying force; to co-operate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected.

Collaboration is clearly social, dynamic and multi-dimensional. But, most of all, it introduces the concept of connecting with others who are not immediate associates and are possibly even “enemies” (competitors) based on intellect and beliefs of the individual (or the team, company or even country).

A world of work where collaboration is the keystone incorporates many of the other key themes. It is diverse by nature, operates based on beliefs, is not restricted by local environment or affiliations and is intellect- (innovation) and value-driven.

Ready or not, organizations are going to face very different ways of doing business and managing people.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Would you like to attend one of the upcoming Breakfast Series in Toronto? Here’s a look at the next session:

August: Scaling innovation, with Shannon Deegan, director of people operations, central staffing and business development at Google (Aug. 6).

Visit www.scnetwork.ca for more information.

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