It’s been going on for some time now – the shift towards more agile, nimble companies that can change on the fly and adapt to the ever changing environment that we live in. Organizations who don’t manage to make the shift will slowly get weaker and die and the ones that manage to transform into a new culture and structure, more adapted to the needs of todays and tomorrows participation economy, will survive and flourish.

The small and medium sized companies can manage the shift pretty easily, since they have less top-down structures that hinder people from realizing their potential. The problem starts when the companies get bigger and more complex, with systems, processes and structures that cannot easily be changed. You can try to change one department (often functional) of the company, but the problem remains in another and since all parts are depending on each other, the brave department that initiated the change, will soon be forced to give up and return to the old structure, like a rubber ball.

But there is one functional department in most large organizations that can affect all of the other parts at the same time: Central group HR. Central group HR control, in most large companies, control:

  • Leadership programs & development
  • Change management
  • Organizational development
  • Employee engagement and retention
  • People development & learning
  • Reward strategy and bonus systems
  • Talent acquisition
  • Long term workforce management

All the above areas cut through the whole organization and are the processes that can support or stop the change to a more agile future. And it all depends on HOW we work with these processes and programs. You can develop them in a way that will limit performance and engagement, OR you can choose another, more agile way of working with these areas, where you optimize performance and employee satisfaction.

HR has been struggling lately with criticism of being some kind of organizational police that stop organizational performance and engagement by implementing the very processes that were supposed to increase the same.  And I believe that this needs to change. HR has been sitting in the backseat for too long now, it’s time to step up and take responsibility for change, in a way where you show what you can really do for the organization.

It’s all about the people, the relationships and the system in which the people live and work. If we can give the right prerequisites to people, they will take care of the rest.

It’s the system that needs to be managed, not the people. We don’t need to do more things, or implement difficult frameworks, methods or models – we just need to learn how to stop hindering people from giving their best effort to the company by providing the wrong structures. It’s a path of trial and error and to find the best way for each company. Not easy but necessary. The agile principles and mindset can guide you and the tools and practices will work sometimes, but not always. Best practice is already old practice, only used by mediocre companies. The only way to move forward will be to continuously learn and the companies that can learn faster than the others will be the winners. Continuous learning from trial and error will be the only competitive advantage in the future.

HR has the power to decide on these structures that can support people to perform or make it more difficult to contribute in creative and innovative manners. If HR keeps holding on to the old, traditional way of designing how we work with learning, development, acquisition, performance and people planning, we don’t have the possibility to change in any part of the company. The consequence is a rigid and fixed organization, chained to the systems and processes that were supposed to fix everything.

HR can support or hinder the change towards a more agile organization and that’s why HR needs to go first! By providing different structures and focus on customer value instead of rules, HR can lead the company through the change in a way that no other department is capable of.