From “No Future” to a New Pivotal HR Role in Agile Organizations

How to become the best people ally

What’s cool with the 2021 role revamp of HR is that the hybrid constraint pushes practitioners and business decision-makers to put people first in the competitive war.

Considering people are the best asset of modern management and top-notch companies, it offers a bright future to the HR role. What other functions can recruit, make all the people love their companies, grow and stay to such an extent? It’s also a huge responsibility. 

In one of his latest podcasts, Josh Bersin shared that he knows from facts and stats that the HR job has the most impact on attraction, retention, and employer brand. 

The most satisfying experiences I’ve had through my career were about retaining talents tempted to leave by facilitating promotions, internal mobilities, or simply improving onboarding sessions (which reduced by 20% the turnover rate in the first year). 

When people grow instead of leaving, everyone wins, and we show that HR people can impact the bottom line.

In the best-case scenario, HR can be the connector and the first brand ambassador for the organization. And when the organization is agile and resilient enough to follow the market, HR will be able to do so, too. 

On the other hand, If the organization is rife with a toxic culture, unfortunately, one HR person won’t change it. However, it’s still possible to remain human and limit harm as much as possible. The ultimate HR responsibility, its unwritten rule and calling will remain to make people grow and keep the damage as low as possible.

Suppose we’re fortunate enough to be in a fair company with fair leaders generating the best impact. In that case, it’ll be fascinating to see in the coming years the positive effects of the real purpose of HR: how to make people grow and happy in a changing world and market.

The hybrid new deal - a new shift in power

I’ve heard that strategic HR projects have been postponed because HR people are busy in their support role, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. It’s hard, but it’s also a way to build trust, and it could give an advantage later to better influence people to create new processes and practices for the company’s success. 

Whether in-person, remote, or hybrid, something has shifted in all companies' structures and cultures under the new value of flexibility. 

The traditional hierarchical pyramid no longer makes sense in the hybrid workspace as we need more ownership, responsibility, and empowerment. Being a trusty connector and facilitator gives HR that pivotal position to start critical conversations or take the pulse.

It’s a huge change and, we can’t yet measure the impact on a new wave of leadership ready to share its power with its subordinates. But hopefully, it’ll limit managers’ stress by relying more on their team’s capabilities.

In this power shift, our organizations and companies are becoming more and more matrix and flat. 

It means that:

If not yet the ultimate dream of the total team power without managers in the holacracy model of some tech giants or influencers, it’s an exciting power rebalancing that gives the time benefit to leaders to be more strategic and less hands-on with teams’ tasks.

Learning delegation skills becomes essential in the new agile structure. With more responsibilities being distributed, we can also create more communication channels to increase the collaboration level in the virtual environment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of the no-communication/no-talk attitude that negatively impacts high-performance.

What about the HR role in agile organizations? 

I’m getting back to the story of my HR friend who is gaining influence for the future. 

When it’s crystal clear that people growth is the only way to create high-performing teams (instead of compensating for attrition by recruiting), HR practitioners will quickly work on more strategic projects. These projects will help measure, assess and close the gap for an increasingly skilled workforce with a better team collaboration at its core.

Within this new framework, the employee experience becomes a big deal. 

How can people communicate more in the hybrid workspace without adding more complexity, more meetings - and generally speaking -  more work hours?

Here, HR people can also help by supporting their managers in overhauling their processes and workflow. 

Recently, I listened to a presentation of a productivity course that you might have heard of, “the second brain” by T. Forte. It’s an excellent inspiration with the best tips for structuring and organizing your knowledge into a personal workflow embedded in the latest tech tools. It helps you harness and leverage all your best ideas for your projects and personal goals. 

It works on a personal level, but we can transpose the idea to the professional sphere.

It’s happening with the new employee experience tools coming to the market. The brand-new Microsoft Viva platform is an example of a giant experience platform paving the way for all the specialized tools to improve well-being and productivity at work. 

Work-life integration is a pioneering path for new HR tech trends. 

The goal here is to simplify information overload by using the most accurate data to improve productivity. But it’s also about customizing the best workflow possible for each step of the process and then tying them together. We call it software integration, and it’s the purpose of a marketplace like the AppSource or the Slack app directory, to offer the possibility for “add-ons” or “add-ins” to the primary tool. 

In the new hybrid workplace, if we consider the new value is a better collaboration among teams, then it’s logical to start the first step of the process with a communication tool. For instance, Slack/Salesforce or Microsoft are positioning themselves in the new Work Tech market that combines HR and productivity tools.

HR can’t ignore this new tech revolution. But, to support people to perform at their best, they might help their managers customize the best workflow to meet their productivity needs.

It’s a reverse engineering process. It could be frustrating to build a new workflow with new tools putting team communication, knowledge management, culture, and well-being at its core (as opposed to the more traditional HRIS). Still, it makes perfect sense to start from individual needs to meet collective expectations in the new work-life integration situation. And not the

Think of it:  before - in the traditional top-down pyramid in the workplace - technology mainly served roles, jobs, and functions to serve customers. Until we started to realize that organizational silos don’t benefit customers.

Fluid communication and personal well-being supported by an inclusive culture have a far more positive impact than lack of communication in siloed services. To that end, let’s now take a look at how HR can help build the best hybrid culture. 

How HR can help build the best hybrid culture 

The new values for success in the hybrid environment are collaboration, agility, and trust.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to transform a culture for a hybrid environment is not to mirror all in-person interactions to sustain the company culture. But instead to start promoting new behaviors more aligned with the agile organizations’ new values.

Why? Because research shows that the most effective change and transformation happens first, with new behaviors becoming recurring habits over time. New rituals can become norms. 

As the best company ambassador, HR can live out these new behaviors by fostering positive relationships, good judgment, and expertise and be a role model to build trust.

HR practitioners can promote agility by helping create new processes when needed or make decisions faster by taking advantage of flat organizations. They can create internal events to help people connect, network, and establish more effective collaboration. Thinking outside the box here to redesign processes will have the best impact. 

For this, HR must be the business partner of managers and leaders. The team leader is the first to shape new habits within its team, but the HR power can be more subtle and very present as it can be the one-person accessible to everyone. 

My best indicator as an HRBP was to have both managers and employees calling me. An independent mindset can be such a gift in HR. You can help fight toxic behaviors and help everyone grow. And there’s always an opportunity to learn and room for improvement to foster a great culture for everyone.

New behaviors come with new habits, new processes, or new tools. 

Changing new habits is very hard, as we have to go through the habit loop and its four phases: cue, craving, response, and reward. The first two steps represent the problem. For example, an employee is calling you because he wants to resign. High probability that he decides to make contact to open up the dialogue first and eventually to discuss the decision. 

The craving might be that he wants to know your opinion as HR about a team dysfunction, a salary raise, a promotion, or other reasons that might have been behind the decision. And his response was to call you. If you can influence the manager to find the appropriate solution to retain the team member, it’ll always be a habit to contact you first in the future. 

It goes through the same cycle for new processes or tools. If there's a problem, the change comes with a solution (response), and if that works, the satisfactory solution (reward) will be the trigger for habit repetition next time. 

And there so many opportunities at the moment to find new kinds of solutions to problems:

  • Do people not talk to each other enough? 
  • Do new hires feel isolated? 
  • Are tensions taking over a new team? 
  • Are managers frustrated at losing track of their teams? 

Here too, new tools or processes can help craft new workflows while promoting a great experience. These solutions are related to Team communication tools, Knowledge management, Well-being, Talent management, Team building, Performance management, Recognition, and Rewards or Workplace analytics. 

Conflict resolution and compliance remain the exclusive human touch that algorithms won’t solve anytime soon, as context specificity prevails for the best problem resolution. Yet, knowledge management tools can still push best practices as a starting point. 

For all these reasons, HR people will always bring value through their communication and people skills, so critical in the new decentralized world. 

The HR Upskill begins now.

Seven years ago, in my talent management course, I learned about the HR competency model. I took a test on it to regurgitate the six most essential skills for successful HR professionals. It was about being a strategic positioner, an HR innovator & Integrator, a change champion, a technology proponent, a capability builder, a credible activist. 

The latest update from HRCS came with “round 8,” published on April 2021, featuring the results of a survey of more than 1,500 organizations across the globe. 

The new competency model for HR is a quest for further simplification and context understanding. It’s also - with no surprises - about communication and people growth with a particular focus on “championing, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.” Eventually, culture is now recognized as the central puzzle piece for high-performing organizations. 

The HR upskill for 2021 and beyond comes with a new soft skill concomitant with this new trend of improving employee experience: simplifying complexity first, managing uncertainty while maintaining a good internal communication and knowledge level. And grow all the people within the organization with fairness. 

I must say that I like it and I’m relieved. It’s not marketing nor contrived to believe in a vital HR role. It's the future. 

By moving the workplace center to the home office or a more distributed workplace, we’re making our new workplace more “Human-centric,” and we can design new workflows for team empowerment with an essential HR function to ensure performance. 

And since tools and processes can help, the HR function can then focus more on culture, leadership development, team building, knowledge management, internal communication, and work analytics all the cool stuff, and strategic projects to develop and retain talents.





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