This is a recording of a webinar from November 2022 from DISRUPTIVE LEADERS.

We look at what it takes to be a leader in today’s disrupted world, share our unique EACH framework (Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings), and give you lots of practical ideas and tips to help you increase productivity, engagement and innovation in your team.

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If our organisations and our teams are going to survive and thrive in this new, disrupted world then we need a fundamentally new way of relating to our people. This video explores how leaders can do things differently using the EACH model – Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings. 

We keep saying that world around us is changing but in many ways we continue to lead, engage and develop our people like we did in the 1980’s – with tired old processes designed to prop up poorer managers and based on ticking boxes to achieve compliance.

If our organisations are going to survive and thrive in this new, disrupted world then we need a fundamentally new way of relating to our people. Disruptive HR would like to introduce you to the EACH approach – employees as adults, consumers and human beings.

We keep looking for the next alternative to the ubiquitous “3-legged-stool” model for HR. We have almost given up trying to find enough outstanding (and affordable) HR Business Partners. We continue to struggle to find and keep CofE professionals who can deliver truly innovative, commercial and flexible approaches that are relevant for today’s world. And those of us who have spent time in outsourced, shared-service hell are beginning to get nostalgic about the days when it was all in-house.

Moreover, the demands of our clients increase daily. The impact of the current crisis has turned so much of our HR world upside down. Most of our clunky, annual processes feel irrelevant. There doesn’t seem to be any C-suite executive who hasn’t read about how other companies are getting rid of appraisals and are questioning what we are doing about it. Those pesky Millennials won’t stop making demands for greater flexibility and wanting everything on their Smartphone. And just when we thought our budget might increase for the first time in a few years, the FD’s begging bowl has reappeared.

More for less. More agility. More innovation. All HR professionals face the same challenges, regardless of sector.

Of course, focusing on the future HR organisation structure is a bit of a “physician heal thyself” scenario. For, as we would urge our clients not to leap to the org chart, so we need to ask some fairly fundamental questions about what we do and how we do it if we are going to actually deliver more productivity and innovation. But, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the HR Team that can meet the demands of a modern world. I’ll focus on 5 key trends in HR design that we’re seeing that will offer greater opportunities for real creativity, increased capacity to deliver and happily, should save money too.

From Business Partner to Account Management

When looking for a new HRBP, I was often tempted to advertise for a Superhero with strong interpersonal skills. “We need a strategic and commercial HR business partner. They must have experience in the full range of HR elements, be a coach, a law enforcer, a spoon-feeder, a tear-drier and the conscience of the business. They must be prepared to come up with lots of new ideas, only to have them ignored, take the blame when things go wrong, and always to have their item put last on any team meeting agenda, after finance, operations, marketing, IT and problems with the toilets. They must be relentlessly cheerful and be prepared to listen to the ravings or woes of anyone who seeks them out. Above all, they must be able to present the latest Group-wide HR initiative that has absolutely no relevance to their business unit, to their MD as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread.” When you look at what we want from them, it’s amazing to me that we can find one, let alone the numbers that most HR structures depend upon.

Estimates vary but it was seen that typically between 20-30% of traditional HR advisers would be unlikely to make the step up to full HR Business Partner. In my experience, it was significantly higher than that and most companies can count on one hand the number of HRBPs that can fulfil all that is required. Given this resource is both scarce and expensive, we are seeing a move to reducing the number of them and moving towards more of an account management role. This person does the strategic and commercial parts of the role, the relationship building, the diagnosis of what’s required, the resource planning and the oversight of the delivery. They then call upon a pool of HR generalists and/or technical experts who can deliver. The key benefits of this approach are a reliance on a fewer number of HR generalists, a genuine strategic/commercial focus from HR and the deployment of non-partisan generalists who can go to the greatest point of need. Clearly, these ‘super-BPs’ are tough to find. If you’d like to grow your own, it might be worth checking out our programme designed to develop the skills the modern-day HRBP needs.

HR Advisory – More than a Transaction

All of us who bear the scars from outsourcing our well-loved and local HR advisers have learned some hard lessons. We have come to realise that seeing HR advisory as a transactional service that can cost less by simply lobbing it over the organisation fence to an outsourced provider who offers ruthlessly efficient processes has some major flaws. Our HR processes are rarely beautifully streamlined at the point of transfer and so we import significant additional costs as the provider tries to navigate all of the “special and different” approaches we have historically accommodated. We ignored the loss of institutional memory as we marched these advisers out of the door. But most critically, we forgot the fact that when a line manager is asking about a particular policy – they are not actually asking about a policy – but how to get round it! The in-house HR adviser knew their line managers and their employees and deployed a big chunk of judgement along with their advice. They would weigh up the maturity of the line manager, the precedents that had already been set, the risks with this particular employee, etc, etc. Our HR Advisory service is a key part of the employee experience, often the first and most frequent touch point for our people. The painful outsourcing experiences of recent years have led some organisations to take this service back in-house. But we are also seeing a new trend – of next generation outsourced providers who are fundamentally different. One example of this is Adviser Plus who have built in an intrinsic understanding of the value and risks of HR advisory into their service – for example, providing a proactive phone call to a manager who is downloading a policy document that can be more high risk if they get it wrong, such as redundancy policy – and seeing if they want to talk anything through. HR advisory will continue to offer significant opportunities for outsourcing – but with a new style of approach that involves empathy, understanding, capability development and the ability to assess risk.

Employee Experience not Centres of Expertise

The approach we take in Disruptive HR is based upon our unique EACH model – Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings. We therefore really welcome the next key trend – to cluster Centres of Expertise around a focus on the employee experience – as it supports and reinforces one of these elements – the employee as a consumer. One of the (occasionally legitimate) accusations that is levelled at the CofE teams is that they are too focused on their own discipline and producing the perfect recruitment, talent, development, diversity, performance management, reward (delete as appropriate) solution and fail to connect to the needs of the business. In the same way that many consumer organisations have grouped many of their functions around a Head of Customer Experience, so this is starting to be adopted by HR for their people.

This is more than just a change of job title. By re-focusing on the actual experience that is desired at each stage of the employee life cycle, organisations can create a more joined up and holistic employee proposition that is greater than the sum of its HR parts. Driven by improved and genuine employee insight (not just an annual engagement survey but a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis), created through effective user-centred design and delivered in ways that are relevant to each segment of their employee “market” – there are huge opportunities to increase cut through and reduce wasted effort.

Building capability not just compliance

This trend comes largely through a fresh response to a disrupted world where the abundance of employment policies and rules often stifle innovation and increase frustration of employees. The role of HR as The Enforcer is not what many of us who went into this profession wanted, but is one we have continued to play. Of course, rules matter. But any of us who have had to draft interminable employment policies recognise that this comes at a cost – to our capacity to focus on building the capabilities of line managers. Disruptive HR is often brought in to provide fresh challenge and ideas for HR teams. Whilst they like the innovation, they equally are concerned about their ability to deliver as their managers “wouldn’t do it”. They may be right but this means we are stuck in this vicious cycle where – we don’t trust managers to manage – we therefore produce rules and processes that make them do it – we spend our time enforcing and monitoring the process to make sure they have – which means we don’t have the time to develop their capability – so we don’t trust them to manage – and so on ….

Moreover, our seeming reluctance to let go of the role of Compliance Officer seriously dents our HR brand. If we spend our time ensuring cost efficiency and operational compliance – then why should we be taken seriously when we start to talk about value creation? I know it is hard to see a way out – I have tried and failed often, but only when we release ourselves from the compliance burden and focus instead on building judgement, insight and space for creativity will we be able to break the cycle. The Netflix HR team’s determination to steer clear of the role of HR police is well documented, but we are starting to see this as a trend in HR and not just within Silicon Valley. Interestingly, it is gaining traction in sectors that are often perceived (wrongly) as less innovative – the public and not-for-profit sectors. The continual cuts in support functions has forced them to consider a more radical alternative than some of their commercial and less cash strapped cousins. I know of examples in the Housing, Education and Local Government where they are having to focus on rolling back HR’s role in compliance – with highly productive results.

Contingent vs Permanent

This final trend has been evident in piecemeal form for many years. We have regularly deployed contractors, temps, and consultants to supplement or enhance our FTE levels. But we have rarely used them as a strategic choice – more as a tactical fill in. The accelerated pace of innovation in the HR space, the new freelance tech platforms, the continued pressure on costs and the need to deploy rapidly to resolve issues or bring about change all lead you to question whether a standing army of HR people is relevant in the future. This trend is about “Smart Contingency” – a belief that you can get a better level of innovation, a better resource flow and increased delivery capability if you include non-permanent resources as a key part of your HR team. This is more than getting in additional bodies to fix a problem or to cover maternity leave, it’s more than buying a consultant to give specialist advice – it is about building an eco-system of a mix of contingent HR capabilities that meet your medium and longer term needs. Contemporary HR teams are building up their abilities to commission work and to contract effectively to get the most from this growing resource.

But you haven’t mentioned digital?!

I do realise that not mentioning digital in an HR blog about the future is likely to get me chucked out of HR club (not for the first time!) but I have done so intentionally. Digital is a channel, a medium and an underlying approach that should permeate everything we do and is not an organisation trend. Of course, we may need to create a specific focus on this in the short term to raise its profile and build our capability. But very shortly, it will be simply the means by which we deliver our services – after all we wouldn’t have an Email team or Face to Face team would we?


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We know that it’s a really difficult time for everyone right now and we hope that you are all safe and well – and that you are managing to get through it as well as you can. The Disruptive HR team are all isolating in our various locations around the UK and in Spain and trying to keep in regular contact with our families, (Zoom is our new best friend) and not go too insane with our kids!

Work and HR will still be full on for some of you – whilst others may be worrying about getting through the crisis and still having a business. We have been debating about whether we should just keep quiet for the duration – or whether we might be able to provide something of use – even if it’s just to take your mind off things! We recently ran a virtual session for a client who wanted to start looking ahead at the implications for HR of the crisis – and whilst it may feel too early for some, we have put down some of our thoughts.

What we thought was disrupted, now feels stable and boring!

As you know, at Disruptive HR we focus on how HR can change to meet the needs of a disrupted world. Now, that was the old disrupted world when all we needed to cope with was moves to digital, a faster pace of change, new business models shaking or wiping out traditional industries, the growth of the gig economy, the need for cross-border and cross-function collaboration – when we thought the world was disrupted – and which of course now, seems stable and boring!

We were already living through uncertain times and of course no-one can predict when or how this will end. Maybe the only thing we can know is that nothing is likely to be the same again?

On a practical level:

But we don’t know what or how any of these will pan out exactly.

The changes you had already made will stand you in good stead

The need to radically change HR from the bulky, process-driven function had been gathering momentum for some time, especially in the last three years. We have noticed HR teams making significant changes to the way they operate – and the positive news is that all of these changes are likely to stand them in good stead for facing the new post Covid19 world. For those HR teams who haven’t yet made any progress, now could be your time!

I am going to try and do a couple of things:

This is not going to be anything more than an opportunity to take a different perspective for a short period and of course, it might be that this is too early for you – in which case, park it until it feels right.

The HR trends that will continue

At Disruptive HR we have been banging on about our EACH model for a while now; Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings. Our view is that these trends will matter more than ever in a post-Covid-19 world.

Adult to adult is even more important

Our parental approach to our people has always been a major constraint in enabling our people to do their best work. We have typically taken an approach that is over-protective (assuming that our people can’t make sensible judgements, own their own careers and performance and have needed to be spoon-fed), or we have based our rules and our processes around the rogue minority who are going to behave badly and applied over-prescriptive rules to everyone.

We had begun to see companies taking a more adult to adult approach with their leaders and employees – moving away from long lists of prescribed rules and instead putting in place ‘freedom within a framework’ where the starting point is that ‘we trust to you to behave well and trust you to use your judgement’. Or moving to an environment where employees own their own learning, career development, performance, etc, rather than having it done to them.

Covid19 has reinforced the need for this

We are witnessing how people are capable of amazing things when freed from traditional constraints; the creativity, the energy, the things they can achieve with very little, how they can adapt to change really fast. Smart companies are already responding to this and taking more of an adult approach. For example, CEO Dan Price of tech company Gravity is currently choosing to meet virtually with 10 employees at a time across the whole company to get their views on how they can get through losing half their revenue overnight as a result of the Covid-19 crisis without layoffs, rather than consulting just with his senior team and communicating their decision.

Of course, people are also capable of behaving badly in – usually when they are frightened – and we have all seen news reports of the stockpiling, or other acts of selfishness. But the potential for brilliant or appalling behaviour is not determined by grade or seniority. We just have to compare the heroism and selflessness of the shelf stackers and the delivery drivers vs the appalling behaviour of some CEOs such as Mike Ashley of Sports Direct or Tim Martin at Wetherspoons to know that we can’t determine how much we trust our employees on the basis of their grade.

In the future we will no longer be able to afford to keep compensating for people we don’t trust or designing our rules, our processes and our communications around the lowest common denominator. It will no longer be acceptable for a line manager to say that they won’t let people work from home because they don’t trust them enough.  We will spend more time ensuring we hire people we can trust, and we will have to finally tackle the ones we can’t.

Of course, there will be leaders who point to some of the irresponsible behaviour that we’re seeing during the crisis as evidence that they need to continue with command and control. But I think we need to help leaders recognise the difference between people acting out of fear during a crisis, when more clarity may be required, and when judgement is called for because the right course of action cannot be easily dictated. Our leaders will need to be more adept at flexing their style and responses from crisis to ‘normal’ and back again – really quickly and fluidly.

One-size-fits-all cannot ever make sense again

Our one-size-fits all approach to HR, where we have a universal approach that is applied to everyone, was already being challenged and the need to tailor and customise our approaches and products was already beginning to take shape in progressive HR teams.

This will matter more than ever.

We are witnessing the very different needs that our people have through this crisis and the different ways they have responded. In the future we will see employees wanting to make different life choices and have different work priorities. One-size responses from us cannot make sense.

The need to adapt the techniques from consumer marketing and user-centred product design will become even more important as we begin to recover from the crisis.

For example:

Our ‘critical’ HR processes have been replaced with human interactions overnight

We had already seen the gradual dismantling of some of our most irrelevant and ineffective processes and the replacement of them with approaches that tapped into how human beings actually behave, think, feel etc. We’d already seen the slow erosion of performance management reviews and the annual talent review based on a 9 box grid, and the alternatives of frequent and undocumented check-ins and talent discussions being put in their place. The crisis will undoubtedly speed this up.

All of those ‘critical’ HR processes that we said we ‘couldn’t live without’ have disappeared overnight and no-one seems to be screaming for their return. As things begin to return to normal, this is our opportunity to get rid of them for good

When the crisis began, what mattered most was human connections. We started to ask our work colleagues about their families, to care more about people. Overnight our leadership seemed more human. We see them in their homes, with their kids on webcams, struggling with stuff like the rest of us. Those leaders who are showing vulnerability and their human side are going down well right now.

Many leaders are now doing what the great leaders have always done. They are showing compassion, demonstrating empathy, doing the right thing without waiting to be told, keeping it simple and showing a pragmatic optimism – all the while building trust with their people.

When we take stock after the crisis, those leaders who behaved like truly decent human beings will be the ones we thank and celebrate – not the ones who complied with the HR processes.

And what about our own HR teams?

HR was already changing before this happened. We were starting to become more agile, less focused on slow annual processes and more sprint based, less siloed and braver, more prepared to pilot and experiment and less focused on getting things perfect and more around making things happen.

Josh Bersin has done a great short video recently talking about this being an opportunity for an HR re-set and I think he’s absolutely right. We will have dramatically reduced budgets, there will be the confusion and fear created by the chaos, priorities will have to change. We will have an opportunity to make changes very quickly. We have an opportunity now, not to implement a new system but to take a hard look at ourselves and say, how will we change? How will we emerge from this as a different type of team?

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NB: If you’re working in public health services you can get free membership of the Club to say thank you for the amazing work you’re doing during the crisis – just email us at hello@disruptivehr.com to get details

If you’re in HR, then I’m sure you experience those awful moments when you question whether the processes you and your team have worked so hard to create are actually delivering results. Continue reading Putting the Human at the heart of HR

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I am going to assume that anyone reading this already gets the need for better and different HR practices. I am not going to bang on about the demands of a “VUCA” world, the pace of change, the rise of the Millennials, or a more globalised, networked economy. Continue reading Treat me as an adult