HR transformation? Mwahahahaha!!!

Google HR transformation and you’ll find so many pages and so little concrete information.  Mostly, you’ll find consulting firms not defining it, but rather making a case that you need it [Brilliant sales tactic!]

If you're lucky, you have someone in your network who has “done it” and can offer you a perspective.  But once you talk... I mean really ask find that their definition is not quite spot on either. It's never completely satisfying, is it?

So, let’s try this one on: HR Transformation is the change required to ensure HR’s effectiveness in the digital age. The outcome is that we are successfully executing on our objectives as an HR function even though digitalization has changed everything in both the organization we support, as well as the operation of our own function. 

Because digitalization is the central theme, many HR organizations think that it’s the point of the change.  After all, it conjures up images of cool chatbots, oh-so-easy-data-driven decisions, the deconstruction of jobs, automated recruiting, etc.  But digitalization and cool, new concepts are not the point of it.  The point of transformation is to increase our effectiveness in this new space, using these new tools.

If we were having coffee and chatting, I’d want you to say something like… “Is this a distinction without a difference? After all, we still need to leverage the tools and we still need to do it well.”  My response would be to ask you if you have really considered effectiveness as your north star as you think about change in your function… like really let that be the point of every, single change you make. Because once you do, the ambiguous or tactical transformational ideas of cool tech and chat bots fade into the background of a more focused picture. We start thinking about what effectiveness really is and how drive it through our employee experience, and how to measure it (without surrogation – cover story on the latest issue of HBR...check it out.). With this as our guide, we can create a plan to achieve it. And within that plan, the implementation of all that cool tech gets appropriately prioritized according to what adds the most value to the process! 

So, how did we get to this place where everyone is considering transformation at the same time? I think the answer is twofold:

  • The speed at which technology advances and the speed at which we can share new ideas has driven change within our businesses so quickly that an appropriate articulation doesn’t exist. This has put enormous pressure on HR’s outdated operating model.
  • And most of us don’t have enough understanding of all the philosophical, technological, historical, cultural, strategic, and tactical pieces to feel comfortable moving away from David Ulrich’s model outlined in his book, Human Resource Champions published in 1996, brilliant as it was at the time. 1996, ya’ll... 1996!!!

As companies and organizations change and transform super quickly, HR is holding on to this traditional operating model complete with performance programs, incentive plans, job structures, and endless employee training that are not taking into account the changes in the world.  And to be fair, part of it is because HR is also responsible for employment compliance and employment risk mitigation and that complicates everything.  But even if HR is AWARE of the changing world, they aren’t integrating changes seamlessly enough, but rather in silos. We are often criticized because our processes have become check-the-box in nature rather than ensuring the outcomes add value.  This perpetuates the idea of HR driving bureaucracy rather than business enablement.

But truly, HR's objectives have never been more impactful to the bottom line of organizations.  In a world that so focused on automation in its all of its forms, talent is the competitive advantage, and managing (and measuring) it is critical.  In a time where the best talent can choose to work in a different way and has more visibility to opportunity than ever before, organizational health and effectiveness become crucial if you want to be an employer of choice.  We need to evolve our best practices so that our function adds value to the organization it supports.


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