To Make Workforce Transformation a Success, Put HR in the Driver’s Seat

As a senior HR leader, are you helping to drive transformation? Or, are you a passenger on a journey being led by other senior leaders?

Sharon Patterson
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Your organization is facing a generational workforce transformation. Your people are being retrained to do new things, in new ways, to produce new and better outcomes. It’s the challenge of a lifetime.

If you’re a senior HR leader, are you helping to drive that change? Or, are you a passenger on a journey being led by other senior leaders? Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that the organizations that succeed at workforce transformation have HR firmly in the driver’s seat.

A recent survey of HR leaders conducted by LHH and revealed that 55 percent of high-performing organizations ensure that their HR leaders play a “major” role in any workforce transformation. In contrast, across all organizations with varying levels of performance, only 25 percent classify HR as having a major role.

The lesson from the survey data is pretty clear. Successful organizations give HR a hand on the wheel when it comes to navigating workforce transformation. Even when HR is given a leading role, however, there are a lot of other conditions and building blocks that need to be put in place to ensure that HR can bring to bear its full expertise and value during a workforce transformation. 

Why is HR often left out of central planning for a project that is, in its essence, all about human capital? It usually comes down to perception.

The role of HR is viewed as largely transactional, focused on compliance and by its very nature, administration-heavy. To earn a seat at the table, HR must demonstrate a clear understanding of business needs, talent needs, learning and development needs, and drivers of profitability. With this knowledge and understanding, it’s more likely HR will be invited into strategic conversations.

When HR plays a role in developing the transformation strategy, its responsibilities must be viewed as more than merely communicating the plan. There are a number of issues that HR is uniquely positioned to help tackle when a workforce transformation is in play.

Get the message out. We cannot communicate a workforce transformation plan by sending an email; we need to explain and reinforce the message via various channels. We must fully and repeatedly explain the key elements to the transformation—what is changing, why are we doing it, how will it support the organization’s business objectives and how will it affect how we get work done—to the entire organization. HR is uniquely suited to be not only the messenger, but a key author of that message.

Identify change champions. Cascading information throughout the organization is important to success, but employees can’t wait for the CEO to update them on every stage of the transformation process. HR can play a crucial role in assessing and identifying key influencers within the organization and tapping them to champion change efforts and act as agents to help facilitate transformation efforts.

Senior leaders need to model new behaviors. Senior leadership needs to not only be a voice sharing key messages and keeping employees informed on milestones about transformation initiatives, they need to energize the workforce and model new behaviors. This may require assessing current leadership competencies to ensure your leaders have the right skills to drive transformation. Identify the competencies you need and design leadership development programs to build new capabilities, ensuring your leaders have the skills and behaviors to lead transformation.

Agility is key. Regularly track and assess key milestones and objectives, as these are critical aspects of a successful transformation. HR can incorporate checkpoints into the journey to measure and capture employee feedback. There will be obvious signs that people are struggling with the plan—flagging financial performance, failed initiatives and talent attrition all tell a tale. Often these warning signs can switch to red very quickly. Regular checkpoints help ensure you can shift course and address issues before it’s too late. 

Build a talent bench for the future. HR plays a vital role in building an organization’s talent bench. It’s especially important to target mission critical functions and roles that will have the greatest impact on the business. To be successful, identify what success looks like in these roles, develop profiles, use assessment tools to identify the right talent, and leverage development tools to upskill current employees who have the greatest ability to learn. 

Ultimately, people are the catalyst driving transformation. Far too often, organizations overestimate people’s capacity to absorb significant change. Change weariness is common. With HR in the driver’s seat, organizations will be in a better position to ensure they are focusing on important people-related issues that link to success.

Download the full research report, People Power: A Catalyst for Transformation, a 2019 Global Workforce Transformation Trends Study.

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