How to reset HR and change work forever 

Happy colleagues looking at businessowoman while using laptop during meeting in creative office Luis Alvarez

07 September 2022

Last year’s solutions will not solve today’s problems. It’s time to reset HR. 

Article originally published on Forbes  on October 27, 2021.
In the 1993 classic movie “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Phil Connors gets trapped in a time loop — waking to the same day (and the same Sonny and Cher song) over and over again. In response to this situation, Phil experiences confusion, despondency, anger and, ultimately, hope. In some ways, living through the COVID-19 pandemic has trapped our organizations in their own groundhog day. A “great” pandemic has led to a “great” resignation and even a “great” migration. Like Phil, we are doomed to relive these moments over and over, unless and until we undertake a “great” reset.

The great HR reset

The reality of the current moment is that talent is tired, talent is scarce and talent is demanding change. Talent’s new empowerment is evident everywhere: from restaurants cutting back business hours due to staff shortages to retailers adding new benefits such as fully reimbursed college tuition. Combine this “democratization” of work with the unprecedented speed and scale of digitalization and you find an HR function breathless from the pace of transformation. As an organization’s talent strategists, HR now finds itself thrust into a new spotlight — with employees insisting on a reckoning and business leaders and boards insisting on solutions. Last year’s solutions, however, will not solve today’s problem. Fail to recognize this and your organization is in jeopardy of reliving today’s talent issues on a groundhog-day loop.

To avoid this trap, HR can start by asking itself two pivotal questions:

  1. How will we redesign work to enable talent to flow to where it is needed as seamlessly as possible, while enabling its perpetual reinvention?
  2. How will we re-envision the talent experience to meet the needs of all talent, both where they are and on their own terms?

The answers to these two questions will guide HR through the people and cultural transformations necessary for your company to stay relevant and profitable.

How to change work design

As I describe in my book — Work Without Jobs — redesigning work and re-envisioning the talent experience are both, ultimately, about making connections. Connections between people and work, people and the company, and people and, well, people. To help make these bonds happen, we need to consider three distinct ways in which people connect to work: fixed talent, flex talent and flow talent. Moreover, each requires its own unique work strategy.

Fixed

Fixed roles or jobs are best suited for situations where there is a volume of work that justifies a regular job, compliance or control reason, or circumstances that need unique or difficult-to-acquire skills that justify offering a fixed, full-time assignment. In such cases, organizations rely on job architectures enabled by ERP systems to connect talent to work. This approach is particularly relevant when the work and skills required are relatively stable. Traditional workforce planning tools, such as headcount planning, remain important.

Flex

Flex and flexibility have almost become generic terms these days to describe our current talent reality. In this case, however, flex actually describes employees in hybrid roles that are both partially fixed yet which also allow them to flow to new work as needed. Think, for example, of an employee in marketing who gets to take on an assignment with HR where she can apply her customer-insight and analytical skills. For such flex work to happen, talent marketplaces are needed to bolster traditional ERP systems and to support ever-changing work and skills requirements. Traditional workforce planning must be allied with skill-based planning to reflect the duality of jobs and skills that are the currency of this type of working.

Flow

As skills become the most important currency of work, employees are being liberated from the traditional constraints of a job and can fully flow to tasks, assignments and projects in short-term bursts as their capabilities are required. Think of a freelance or project-based data scientist who moves amongst projects in marketing, HR and operations as needed. To reset you will want a fully developed internal talent marketplace. Such marketplaces will enable you to stretch scarce skills as demand rapidly changes, while also providing opportunities for upskilling and reskilling. Headcount planning, meanwhile, is now much reduced in importance. For “flow,” agile work and skills-based planning take precedence.

Increasing agility in your organization is important

30%

Agile teaming (fluid teams that join and disband as needs)

26%

An agile workforce that can be deployed to meet different priorities

24%

Agile workers (workers that have broad skills)

15%

Agile organizational design

5%

Agile work practices

The Great HR Reset is about becoming more agile and that agility today means embracing our reality of perpetual obsolescence.
Ravin Jesuthasan

Global Transformation Services Leader

Employee personas ensure fix, flex and flow success

If you want to connect people to work, you have to connect with your people as individuals. Traditionally, HR has offered “one-size-fits-most” solutions. The future of work, however, requires an architecture built around the unique needs of your employees. The pandemic has shown how the demands for flexibility can strain our current systems. For example, can your current pay and benefits structure allow for four people to job share an eight-hour day? Can your employee value proposition (EVP) equally appeal to an employee who is focused on your organization’s mission and purpose, versus one who ranks personal safety higher on the engagement scale? Pressing the “snooze” button will not work here. What will work is getting up and bringing “human sensing” to digitalization. When you meet workers where they are, and provide an EVP based on who they are, you will build a sustainable workforce, a sustainable organization and sustainable communities.

It takes leadership to push the reset button

I will take great leadership and an okay strategy over a great strategy and okay leadership. Hands down. Because even though we are talking about a Great HR Reset, it is one that will ultimately influence every corner of your organization. Active engagement and support from leadership is pivotal to success. Center your leadership conversations on the need for:
  • Orchestrating a new ecosystem of work where every enterprise is a distributed one and leadership comes from the edges.
  • Curating the optimal set of experiences (benefits, development, engagement, etc.) for all types of talent.
  • Recognizing the necessity for ambidexterity in today’s complex and fast-paced work environment.
  • Enabling the culture to become the new structure for governing the enterprise.
Underpinning these conversations should be one essential truth: the Great HR Reset is about becoming more agile and that agility today means embracing our reality of perpetual obsolescence. 

Free from the time loop

Waking up each day to consistent change can make HR feel that they, like Phil Connors, are caught in a time loop. At the end of Groundhog Day, Phil frees himself from the time loop by resetting his attitude about life and what really matters. Rising for the last time to Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe,” he walks into a very different future because he is a different person. In a similar way, our new world and social order demand new ways of working and connecting. The Great HR Reset has “great” promise: to create a different future for a business’ function, organization, workers and community.
Author
Ravin Jesuthasan
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