You Say You Want A Revolution?

I just got home from HRevolution and I am beat. I’ve been wrapping my head around some of the things we talked about, how it intersected with Talent Camp and some of my own personal revelations. There’s good news and bad news but first I wanted to touch on the unconference itself.

HRevolution Was A Resounding Success

You can correct me if I am wrong but I don’t believe Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Crystal Peterson or Steve Boese had any experience running an event like this before. Honestly, you couldn’t tell because everything ran incredibly smooth and surprisingly close to time. This is amazing simply because I know that this group of people can be some of the worst traditional conference attendees. Maybe that’s why the format worked but let’s hand it to these four who put in a ton of effort to pull this off.

Everyone has different goals coming into an event like this so you can take this as just one person’s opinion. I hope that future events like this will be more about equipping progressive people in the talent industry with the knowledge, tools and passion necessary to push our industry forward. We can talk about the future of HR, strategic vs. tactical HR, and those huge topics all day. There is a fear in my mind that we get caught up in circular arguments, questions about terminology or nitpicking advancements and failures on the part of the traditional talent models.

Let me back up here.

What Is Revolution?

July 4th, 1776 is a fairly significant date in US history. It is the day that our Declaration of Independence was signed and the birth of our nation. The document itself isn’t the reason that the day is significant though. After all, the document itself is a Dear John letter saying goodbye to British colonial rule with some fairly outdated language conventions. Without the context of everything else, the document is imperfect and written by one of the least diverse groups in history.

What did these guys know about starting a revolution?

What did these guys know about starting a revolution?

What makes the day and the document so significant is that it spurred us into heavy action. Those resulting actions, followed by many, many more, gave us what we have today in the US.

What would have happened if they just kept talking about the document instead of acting on it? What would have happened if they got together in 1779 and talked about how there are some imperfections or how some had some significant issues with the document itself? What would have happened if the Declaration were still on the table getting discussed in 1789? 1799?

We might have missed an opportunity to do anything. Rebellion could have been easily squashed, new power structures could have been installed and people could have lost the will to continue discussion with no inaction. The founders knew that the window of opportunity was swiftly closing and that 100% agreement was less important than capturing an inspiring statement and using it to thrust a cobbled collection of colonies into war.

Revolution Is Action

I may be burned out a bit from all of the future talk but at the end of HRevolution, I felt like there wasn’t a call to take real action that will push us forward.

I know. It is all so uncertain. We don’t have a crystal ball. That’s why there is hesitation to lead.

We can continue to wait for the right time, the right answer, the right set of circumstances and the right people. We can revise the mission statement a thousand times. Until we execute, until we move forward personally, and until we accept the fact that we will never have all of the answers about tomorrow today and that it might result in failure (spectacularly hopefully), things will simply change without our input.

The odds are always against purpose driven, proactive change. Simply reacting to a set of circumstances is too easy, too in line with human nature to impact those odds that much. That’s why I am not interested in convincing others (at least with words) to get on board with the future of business and people. It is actually more effective (counter intuitively at times I might add) to simply do something amazing without thinking a ton about it. The rules are written as we act.

I’d love to have a forum where we can talk about tactical ideas that align with this new paradigm and how we can implement them both within ourselves and our organizations. Then we could talk how those ideas actually worked and what we could change about them. Then we would change and implement again. Repeat forever. Sound easy?

It Won’t Be Easy

It seems like a simple thing but it isn’t. It is easier to talk about big ideas and never bring them back to action. It is also easier to think the former argument is more important than the latter because that feels more strategic and inspiring. To me though, the most strategic and inspiring stories come from people who have succeeded through imperfect action. A couple of takeaways that I have been using to ignite action in my life:

  1. Constantly question with the purpose of acting – I mentioned this on HR Happy Hour but I will do it again: I ask questions to help me take my next step forward. Just because I ask if HR is dying doesn’t mean I believe it is or whatever else was being implied. It means there is critical examination taking place so that I can continue to evolve and push for change.
  2. Constantly act, especially when you feel uncertain – I am in a place in my career where I don’t know what I am doing all of the time (some would say all of the time). Being paralyzed because of that would be easy but acting has helped define much of the constantly evolving strategy of our business. I would never know what actually is going to work without doing it.
  3. Constantly give, especially when you won’t get anything in return – I am prone to think about actions in the context of this “What’s in it for me?” mentality. When I drop this mentality and just do it for the sake of helping other people, I have found that this prompts me to act more than I normally would. And acting more means learning more means defining the best path forward.

How do we push for revolution? We find every opportunity to act. Are you ready?

The Power To Act

Yesterday afternoon, I got on the phone with Dustin and we were talking about a partnership call we had coming up. The conversation transitioned into what tremendous untapped potential the HR and talent functions in organizations have and how exciting it is to just meet with people who understand that. How getting people together and pushing great HR ideas across industries is a powerful force.

In the past, I used to frequently have these conversations and then go back to regressive HR systems that took all the will in the world to just fight through on a daily basis. I imagine many of the readers that still possess that optimism are in the same boat too. Maybe they have them in places other than online (at meetings, in conversations during or after work). At the end of the day though, it becomes a stream of conversation or a pipe dream instead of reality.

I have the power to act now. I have an extremely supportive company that wants me to push the envelope when it comes to uncomfortable conversations about the future of HR and the future of the employee. It means I get to not only talk about great ideas but I get to help implement them in the real world. That’s so exciting to me.

Here’s what I realized though: I had the power to act all along. The problem was that those conversations were uncomfortable and sometimes seemingly impossible to fight. They were mine to fight though. Nobody else was going to do it for me. Only after failing spectacularly on several occasions did I finally realize that.

Now I realize this is my fight and that I have the power to act no matter the circumstances. I am happy to have a career opportunity that makes it easier but I know that won’t always be the case.

Are you ready to use your power? Do you know the name of your cause?

Talent Camp And The Possibilities For HR

As many of you know, I went to Talent Camp last week and it was quite the experience. From getting to meet some of the great people to discussing some of the most important issues of the day to just spending some time out on the coast, it was a great experience to simply be a part of. I know people are dying to know some of the things we discussed and I wanted to share some of my key takeaways.

Did We Figure Out The Future of HR?

No. Figured I might as well get this shortcut out of the way. If that’s what you’re here looking for, you’re not going to be happy with the rest of this post. What we talked about are possibilities for the function.

The Idea of Freedom Versus Restriction

One of the things we talked about is the idea of freedom and tearing down barriers that make people work in less than ideal ways. Here’s the scenario:

You’ve got a workplace issue that you need to fix. Let’s say two departments aren’t speaking to each other as often as they should. What’s the first thought that goes through your head about how to fix it? You could create something that makes sure these departments get together on a weekly basis. That’s what I think initially.

What happens if you thought about the things that keep these people from naturally meeting and communicating? If, for example, the teams are in different buildings and they need to communicate more frequently, why not move them closer? Or if one team is being directly impacted by a business initiative that kills their available time, why not do more to reduce that responsibility or change expectations?

Freedom is a powerful mindset change and it is one that is often misunderstood as always being contrary to constraint. Sometimes constraint can be an extremely powerful tool of freedom. That’s a post in and of itself though.

The Talent Dynamic Shifting

For so long, that talent function in most organizations has assumed that being strategic meant making sure your plans fit with corporate needs. As an example, if the organization wanted to shift some functions to a different part of the country, the talent function is best served by a person who could tell you how to get it done right and efficiently.

The problem with that is that isn’t strategic at all. We’re coming into the conversation too late. If HR came into the conversation saying “We have key competencies elsewhere in our company that we can use to expand and one of our locations is close to a college that is one of the top ranked in this area as well.” that changes the dynamic completely. Speaking of which…

Building Your Business Around Talent

Let’s say you want to start a business. Where do you start it? How do you find the best people to run it?  I think that second question is going to start driving the first one. Rather than make the consideration solely based on where the entrepreneur is at or where the market is at, they are going to be building the business where their talent is at. With product delivery easier than ever, the major differentiation strategy will be pulling together those pieces from wherever they may be and making it happen.

As our economy and workforce continues to evolve, I think it will be more important than ever to think about this. Think about the business executives that will be retiring in five years. What happens if you could engage with them from their house in Florida on an ad hoc basis? It isn’t even a hypothetical anymore but it will become more of a business consideration as we work into the future.

Going Forward

These are just a couple of ideas that transpired through our conversations (I have pages and pages of notes and conversations in my head that I am still digesting). The cool thing of course is that these are only possibilities right now. There is a lot of work to be done to make these reality too.

As the conversation continues to evolve, I encourage people to get involved and opine on some of the ideas that get presented out.

Is Human Resources Fatally Flawed?

Don’t think about it. Just answer me quickly: Is HR fatally flawed?

How many of you answered yes? When I first started writing this in April, I said yes too. Yes, this has been on my mind since April, sitting in my draft folder waiting for me to answer the question. And I can tell you, if I waited until I had a perfect answer, you may never have seen a post. In that time frame, I’ve gone back and forth but I finally come to the conclusion that HR isn’t fatally flawed but it does need some work.

Is The Tide Turning Against HR?

When I wrote this question back in April, I knew my answer but was afraid to post it. So I thought about it over and over again for almost five months. Here’s why I thought HR was through:

  1. Most of HR’s value could be outsourced – Heck, it already was in many cases. Everything from talent recruitment and selection to heavy lifting in critical employee relations and benefits matters were being taken care of (or very heavily influenced) by outside agencies and consultants.
  2. Unclear goals and ROI – If you are a small to medium sized company, you can’t afford to have an entire department sucking funds from your other profitable departments. At some point, HR will become a luxury department for large Fortune 500 companies (the same one’s that can afford to run advertisements simply to raise “brand awareness”).
  3. No input on business direction – You don’t get a seat at the table without having business savvy. You want to know why C-level titles or so inconsistent for HR? A true lack of business courage outside of the talent world. If you have nothing to add about marketing messages, sales forecasts, or budgeting issues, you’re of no use at the table. Let’s just put that to bed.

So I saw all of that and thought that in a decade or so, you won’t see robust HR departments outside of large companies. And even at those companies, HR would be in a precarious position if bad financials started influencing decision making.

Of course, my thinking changed.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

When you have a near death experience, one of the common experiences is the light at the end of the tunnel phenomenon. One of the other common experiences was a feeling of warmness, comfort and an almost enlightened state. Now some will tell you that it is your soul going on to its next destination or a series of chemical and electrical responses to your body shutting down. Whatever it is, when people come back from an episode like that, it is one of the few ways humans become permanently rewired.

What’s the connection to HR? I am convinced that HR is going to be transformed due to a soon coming near death experience. It is going to become a fad to integrate high performing HR folks directly with operation groups in organizations (it already has in some forward thinking companies). This will end up reducing HR to a complete administrative function and to the brink of death. People are going to scramble and eventually, a new way of integrating the talents of HR will hit someone and it will become the norm for decades afterward.

We won’t get there until something drastic happens though. People in HR are still too comfortable with the current system.

New HR: Now More Than Ever

HR doubters and haters are reading through this thinking I am just making the case for them. Only in their mind, HR just ends up dying at the end and everybody is happy. HR has heard this for how long, right? Maybe the biggest indictment on corporate inaction is the fact that the HR department you see today is still the best thinking we have on how to best manage our “most important asset.”

So I began thinking about what critical functions of HR I would want to keep if I wanted to put together a minimalistic but effective corporate structure. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Workplace Process and Productivity Expert – I would want someone that could look at a workplace process and figure out all of the issues negatively impacting the productivity. While some would put this under supply chain management, I would want a person that could incorporate supply chain principles with organizational development to give a wide perspective.
  2. Functional and Effective Internal Ombudsman – This would be a person that becomes the next generation of employee relations. Someone who would be comfortable (and be given the authority) to call out management and employees on their detrimental actions and be compensated based on solving issues. An internal ombudsman will command respect (but not necessarily agree) because their recommendations and results will be explained and made public to all employees. Hard to wiggle out of that.
  3. Employee Life Cycle Manager – This person would be the guru on how to best integrate new people into an organization, develop careers internally and anticipate and plan exits for any number of reasons. As part of their internal career management, this person would also be in charge of all internal and externally coordinated training and development activities. If you thought of your company’s employees like a giant factory with thousands of moving pieces, this person would know where each piece is at  and will be in any given minute.

Those would be the functions I would choose to continue if I had to cut it down to the bare minimum with functions I could track ROI and clear cut goals on. Everything else I could outsource effectively if needed.

Obviously there are people in HR that cover these areas in various ways but I’ve yet to see an HR organization that organizes them around these sorts of functions.

Does this make sense? If it doesn’t, what does? And if you’re happy with how things are currently structured, what’s the argument against trying a different approach if your manager came to you with this idea?