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How can HR help organisations conquer disruption?
Perry Timms
January 13, 2021
5
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To master non-stop organizational disruption, businesses must throw out the old rulebook and champion values that allow teams to adapt quickly and with all stakeholders in mind.

For 20 years, since the dot-com bubble, we have obsessed about technology as a source of business risk and bottom-line opportunity. Responses to this ‘disruption’ inevitably have fallen to IT and innovation departments.

Scratch below the surface, however, and disruption is more complex.

Companies have to cope with shifts in consumer appetite, societal values and regulatory controls. Climate change and economic slowdown, anti-capitalism crusaders and hashtag politics also upturn business as usual.

To thrive in our constantly shifting world demands thoughtful approaches to strategy, leadership and capability, as well as to dialogue with all stakeholders.

Organizational disruption is less a matter of technology and more a question of people. A challenge for HR, then, is to serve as a catalyst for (if not an owner of) internal adaptation.

A sustainable approach to non-stop organizational disruption means having the capacity to turn on a dime and align day-to-day practice with new realities. For this to happen, people also have to embrace fresh ways of thinking about what they do.

Let us, then, see this challenge as a question of corporate culture, one which we can describe through values – the principles that guide how people work.

We need values that help everyone to navigate shifts beyond the control of the boardroom. Five core imperatives apply across industries, firm sizes and national boundaries.

1. Put stakeholders first

Companies have directed their efforts toward shareholders since 1919, when the court of Michigan ruled that a business corporation existed to profit owners of its stock.

Financial returns are no longer enough. Generate value for all stakeholders: customers, employees, asset owners, wider society and, of pressing importance, the planet we live on.

2. Let go of the familiar

Past success often prevents companies from adapting at pace. Familiar systems – as well as thinking and expertise – may not be relevant when disruption hits.

Let go of cherished practices: new external realities throw up new problems, which in turn demand fresh approaches.

3. Direct through culture, not bureaucracy

Most organisations have complicated bureaucracies to monitor goals and performance. The design of bureaucracies is informed by historic experience.

When disruption hits, the past tells us little about how to navigate the future. Reduce bureaucracy; harness values and specify outcomes to provide clear direction; allow people autonomy to adapt as they confront new problems.

4. Grant authority to the front line

The call for a rapid response means little time to educate managers on day-to-day complexities. Appeals to hierarchical authority quickly become bottlenecks.

Allow people who have hands-on information to make decisions. Again, use cultural imperatives and clear outcomes to guide work; capture exceptions with light-touch monitoring.

5. Experiment

Five-year strategies are no longer helpful. Nor are huge projects that take years, or even months, to deliver results – the world will change before value emerges.

Experiment; be bold; talk to the eccentrics in your team. Invest time and money in ideas that show promise. Remember: an experiment cannot fail – there is always learning, regardless of the outcome.

About the author

Perry Timms is the Founder & Chief Energy Officer of PTHR, with 30+ yrs experience in people, learning, technology, organisation change & transformation. His personal mission is to see more people flourish through their work, and help shift organizations as a force for societal good (not just profit machines). PTHR's mission is defined as "Better Business for a Better World". In October 2017, his first book, Transformational HR - was published by Kogan Page and the Energized Workplace published in August 2020. He was an extremely proud new entrant to the list of HR Most Influential Thinkers for 2017 and again in 2018 + 2019 (in the top 10 both years).

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