Nearly all organizations, 96 percent, report undergoing transformative change. But fewer than half, 47 percent, feel they’re getting sustainable value from the changes being made. The gaping discrepancy between change and effective change is an omnipresent problem, and often it falls on HR’s shoulders to come up with a fix. The shift towards a more digital workplace and an increasingly flexible workforce has turned up the intensity of change over the last few years. As the business climate gets more and more change-friendly, HR professionals need to make sure their organizations are change-friendly as well. Here are some ways HR can deliver in a constantly evolving business environment.
1. Get Deep into the Business’s Needs
Invest time in understanding where your organization is right now—and what it needs to achieve its goals. HR professionals should be helping to drive change within a business—not just support or react to it. The first step is to gain a high-level understanding of what the business needs. This may involve meeting with principals and executives and asking several questions. Once you know what the business needs, you can position HR as part of the solution. To do this effectively, you can:
- present creative ideas about how HR can help a business achieve its goals. For example, HR can help build a task force to tackle a specific challenge. This could be done using current staff or by bringing in others.
- present methods of most effectively managing the workforce. HR has valuable knowledge about what makes individual workers tick. This knowledge can be leveraged not only to help workers perform their best but to figure out how each one can help meet the business’s needs.
- analyze needs, then brainstorm HR-powered solutions. HR controls the company’s most valuable asset: its people. Instead of waiting for direction from other principals, HR should have its hands on the wheel, contributing ideas as to how to get the most from the workforce.
2. Think outside the Cubicle Box
Believe it or not, there was a time when cubicles were innovative—even cutting edge. As an alternative to paying for the expensive construction of static, wall-bound office space, cubicles made workspaces modular. They can be erected in under an hour and shifted and snapped together like an erector set. But this former modularity has now been eclipsed by mobility.
“Open address” or “free address” workspaces were one of the first solutions to step out of the cubicle box. As employees were given the freedom to sit where they wanted, organizations soon saw the benefits of mobility. Free address workspaces also revealed some of the drawbacks of a static, office-based workforce: fewer interactions across departments, with little to no benefit gained from having everyone in a single physical space.
Now, aided by advancing telecommunications and mobile computing, some of the most effective models incorporate an external freelance workforce. Many organizations have learned this by accident: when employees are forced to work from home, leaders see an uptick in productivity. Higher productivity combined with lower office overhead means a more attractive balance sheet.
HR can capitalize on a freelance workforce by doing the following:
- Embracing a deliverables-based hiring structure. Relationship-based—and even skills-based—hiring practices often disappoint. A great personality doesn’t always get the job done, and skills may sound great in an interview but aren’t enough to deliver the necessary results. With a freelance workforce, you can compensate talent based on their production of deliverables. The return on your investment is instantaneous and tangible.
- Gaining access to multiple pools of talent. Don’t commit to one or two talent pools—regardless of how big they appear. Be sure you tap into many talent springs, because each one attracts a slightly different type of worker.
- Organizing your recruitment efforts. Be sure you use a systematic, scalable approach. An inbox cluttered with disparate messages from potential hires will detract from the efficacy of your program. But an organized recruitment infrastructure makes it easier to track potential hires as well as zero in on the top candidates.
1. Identify one of the company’s needs.
2. Locate a prospect who can fit this need.
3. Set up benchmarks for the prospect to achieve specific deliverables that benefit the organization.
4. After the hire achieves the benchmark, evaluate how things went—both for the organization and the person you hired.
5. If deliverables were attained and the process worked for everyone involved, give the hire more work. If not, go back to step 1 and identify a need. (You learned what doesn’t work without committing to a long-term business relationship with the hire.)
- Hiring according to benchmarks, not just skill descriptions. With the right infrastructure in place, you can use benchmarks to surface the most qualified candidates. If you rely on lists of skills, you may build a decision on a shaky foundation. For example, you can have two potential hires that both claim to be adept at C++. But how do you know which one’s better? Sometimes even a portfolio, which is often primped and primed before an interview, doesn’t provide an accurate portrayal of talent. If you set up concrete benchmarks, you can see how workers stack up against the standards—and each other.
3. Have Real Conversations During Times of Change
Conversation is 95 percent listening. As an HR professional, another 4 percent should be responding in ways that show you were listening. That leaves you about 1 percent to express yourself. And that’s OK. When conversing with a worker, your objective should be to listen to gain an insight into what makes them tick, their values, and their “superpowers.” You can’t really do this with SurveyMonkey. While surveys can be useful to establish satisfaction and engagement metrics, the most a survey can be is the start of a conversation.
Whether your workforce is mostly in-house or remote, you should set aside time to have meaningful conversations. Here are some tips to help make conversations both productive and genuine:
- Acknowledge the situation. Be transparent about why the conversation is happening. If you’re looking for feedback about a recent issue, communicate that. If you’re just trying to get to know the person better, put it out there.
- Be transparent about how the conversation will be used. If the feedback will be used to help decide a major company move, let the person know. If you’re just gathering information about what works best for people, that’s OK, but let the worker know who’s going to get the information and when.
- Make it a judgment-free zone. This is tricky, but it can be done. Reassure them that you’re just talking and none of what’s said will come up later unless the worker wants it to. For instance, if a great idea surfaces, reassure them that they’ll get credit. At the same time, if they reveal a vulnerability, tell them it won’t be used to characterize them or their work.
- Set a time limit and stick to it. Let the worker know ahead of time how long the conversation will be. The pacing will help them know how much to talk. If you approach the end and you haven’t covered everything, that’s OK. Set up a follow-up conversation for another time.
4. Use Concrete Goals to Help Manage Performance
You can’t improve performance in retrospect, especially during times of change. Reflection is helpful, but hindsight is, in reality, rarely 20/20. Things are too easily skewed and forgotten. Your time would be better spent using goals to motivate future performance instead of troubleshooting what’s already happened. Try the following:
- Work with management to design specific goals for employees or teams.
- Present these objectives to individual workers while presenting yourself as a source of support.
- Circle back frequently to check how things are going and how you can help.
Weave their goals into other conversations from time to time but always in a supportive way. Again, use supportive language like, “Tell me what kind of support you need with X.”
This kind of goal-based approach to management can help an organization become more agile. As the business changes, so do its goals. If you follow this approach, performance management will be built on goals. This makes it easier to align performance with the ever-evolving goals of a constantly changing business. As you converse with members of the workforce, it’s OK for conversations to reflect and embrace this change. When you welcome change instead of merely tolerate it, it goes from being an obstacle to an asset.
5. Incorporate a Flexible, Accessible Budget System
The direction of an organization often has the budget as one of its building blocks. So what happens when plans change? Your budget and budget management system need to be flexible. This means you can, at a glance:
- see how much is being spent on each worker, project, team, and department.
- see whether your budget is being used to execute the business’s plan.
- check the status of allocated funds, see what’s been approved, what’s in the pipeline, and what’s still unspoken for.
- See who has been approved for payment and check the status of payments.
However, budget flexibility is more than just something that helps you deal with change: it can create opportunities for greater agility. With a flexible budget, you can quickly deploy funds to meet a business necessity or invest in a potential opportunity. For example, there may be an emerging need your business can satisfy by adding a product or service to its portfolio. If you wait until the next hiring cycle, the opportunity may vanish. However, with a flexible budget, you can quickly deploy funds to hire people who can develop the product or service the market demands.
If you’re in the 4 percent of businesses not undergoing significant change, then the status quo may be good enough. For the other 96 percent, business is going to be anything but “usual.” By using a hybrid workforce and adjusting how you have conversations, manage performance, and manage your budget, you can attain genuine agility in a business world defined by change.