Being prepared for growth is vital to a company’s success
People tend to think of disruption as a calamitous, generational event. Ask someone in business for an example, and they might cite how e-commerce has disrupted physical retail stores, or how social media and the internet have disrupted the newspaper business.
The truth is, industries, markets, and businesses don’t have to be wrestling with their very existence — or even their accepted way of doing things — to be disrupted. In ways big and small, through new technologies, cultural shifts, geopolitical events, unexpected competition, and many other transformations that only seem to accelerate with time, disruption has become part of business and is changing the way organizations manage the workforce.
As we well know, the only constant is change. Markets are shifting, and organizations have to respond with new services and ways of thinking to be nimbler, and to work more fluidly. We all have to find ways to sense the environment and get new ideas to market faster than ever before.
HR professionals play a critical role in helping their organizations grow by developing a workforce that is capable of delivering against changing corporate goals. Attracting, training, motivating, and retaining talent are all key to organizational success. Organizations will thrive in a disruptive environment only when the right people, with the right skill sets, are equipped to innovate at rapid pace against shifting business challenges.
Building a flexible workforce involves fresh thinking and new strategies. The traditional approach to problem solving is linear: identify a problem, come up with a solution, execute that solution, and move on to the next problem. When your business is constantly being disrupted, being reactionary only gets you further behind.
To stay ahead of disruption, HR must be proactive. It must:
- Sense the organization’s external and internal environments for the factors that are driving workforce disruption.
- Lead and take action. Critical to this step is the ability to test, evaluate, and iterate ideas quickly.
- Extend internal capabilities by accessing an ecosystem of resources and strategic partnerships.
Disruption can only be sensed by looking at what’s ahead. Predictive evaluations of trends, customer and worker sentiment are better indicators of future disruption than historical review can ever be.
What does this look like in practice? Here are some insights:
Sensing is actively listening to the subtle, and not-so-subtle, sources of future disruption. There must be a commitment to the process. Like craning to hear far-off thunder before a major storm, HR must be willing to tap into, monitor, and interpret both the internal and external shifts that are likely to impact the workforce.
Most enterprises are very good at tracking market forces and consumer behavior to inform decision making — but not as adept when it comes to using internal and external data to create workforce insights. From an external standpoint, that means employing tools and advisory resources to analyze a wide array of factors including macro shifts in worker behaviors and the organization’s brand, especially as a place to work. Once an organization understands the trends, it is equally important to have the capability for testing hypotheses and receiving feedback on potential solutions.
HR must also sense what’s happening within the organization’s walls. Workforce sentiment analysis is essential, as are reviews of employee actions and behaviors that may predict change (or impact the enterprise’s ability to react to change). A key source of information behavioral data. Portal analytics, as an example, will reveal what workers are accessing most or how much time they spend certain pages.
For example, at a macro level, many Oil and Gas companies are struggling to attract and retain millennials due to concerns with environmental practices. These companies need new ways to communicate their carbon reduction goals and engage workers in environmentally sustainable programs. HR can use external sensing, from industry experts and external social data, to better understand this trend and the impact on the workforce. Combined with an internal sensing tool, like an always-on people analytics retention model that combines HR data and behavioral data to identify at risk employees, would allow HR to target specific programs to retain that population.
Once these insights are understood, leading is taking action to improve workforce performance. This means proactively developing solutions with business leaders, equipping them with the tools to test new ideas, and offering ways to monitor and tweak those programs to meet the broader needs of the business. It also includes being your own internal communications agent by making sure employees know their feedback matters, and that you are responding.
For many organizations, it takes months, even years, to implement new programs due to resource and budgeting constraints. Continuing from the example in Oil and Gas, leaders want to be able to quickly launch and pilot new benefit programs to engage employees in sustainability — like e-recycling, alternative transportation, and carpool programs. HR can take the lead by capturing unique insight into employee needs and preferences, giving them the opportunity to intelligently allocate investments — which can boost ROI and improve employee satisfaction.
Finally, extending is using new resources and creating strategic partnerships – accessing both experts and technology – so you can move quickly and tap into new capabilities that may not exist within your organization. Accomplishing this involves an ecosystem of partners that allows the organization to extend in three categories: people, practices, and platforms.
In the Oil and Gas example, you may need to quickly launch a targeted employee communications campaign and need to access experts who understand best practices in communicating with digital natives. Using a partner that both understands employee communications strategy and has resources to create them can help a company solve the immediate need. This practice also empowers HR staff with access to leading practices and accelerators — which not only save time, but also prevent HR from reinventing the wheel. On another front, HR can access platform technologies that can grow with the organization — in this example, maybe it is a corporate social responsibility platform. External platforms may offer new features and functionality to help the business stay ahead.
Disruption isn’t stopping. And neither should you.
There’s no question that the pace of change is accelerating. Shifts in technology, social norms, communications, and global trade that might have been considered extraordinary in times past are common and even expected today. With challenges, however, come opportunity — and HR has within its power the ability to help their workforce not only adapt, but also thrive, in this era of change. By sensing what’s ahead, leading with innovation, and extending capabilities for the tasks at hand, HR professionals can be leaders in making their organizations the disruptors instead of the disrupted.
Written by: Michael Gretczko and Emily Scott
MICHAEL GRETCZKO is principal national service line leader, and EMILY SCOTT is senior manager, in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice, focusing on helping organizations develop HR and talent strategies.