From HR to People – musings from the Mews in Mayfair

CPO dinner

Last week we were delighted to be joined by HR and People leaders from our customers at the Mews Restaurant in Mayfair, London. The firmographics provided an interesting mix of industries, company size and ownership who we’d gathered – as leaders in their field – to explore how they are reinventing the way organizations manage their workforces today. There were many points of discussion from a lively and highly engaged table and here are just a few of them:

Agreement of transformation

Just as there was a shift from Personnel to HR over thirty years ago, now a change from HR to People is underway. There was widespread agreement of this shift from managing people as resources or capital to engaging them as people, and while lots of changes are happening incrementally, this is often not as part of a broader strategy. We’ve come from a depersonalized past – human resources; human capital. Significant change is happening as we put the ‘people’ back in the picture.

Enabled by technology

We all know that technology is the big enabler. A good example is the power shift that has happened in recruitment from old world print ads to contemporary digital recruiting. Companies can choose to make the change or will be forced to do it – with the ongoing skills crisis there is no choice. The resurgence of artificial intelligence is likely to be the next driver, impacting people management and engagement through improved personalization, automation, recruitment and prediction.

Advent of People Science

There was universal recognition that adopting People Science is critical for companies to understand their people and be able to analyze workforce information such as the gender pay gap, mobility, comp trends, tenure and so on. Sage People is appointing a Head of People Science to the delight of our customers who will work very closely with this role. You can find a collection of further views on the subject in Hot Topics’ People Science feature magazine.

Requiring cultural change

There is clearly a need to help managers be the best people leaders they can be. The People function is about driving cultural change, attaining a coherent culture across the frequently dispersed organization, and using data driven insights to support this.

New mindsets a necessity

HR needs to act and lead the agenda as the “CMO of People”. New roles are required but the reality is that HR teams are not likely to remain lean. This means fluid roles and responsibilities across both HR and the wider organization.

People marketing

Leveraging skills and competencies from other functions such as design or communications, will be necessary in the transition from HR to People, and views were expressed that HR may need to become much more aligned with marketing in the future than with functions such as finance. A good example is the evolution of hiring and recruitment, where people marketing to talent pools and networks can help keep organizations connected with all talent.

Continuous conversations

Measuring performance is critical but how to do it is very difficult. Forced ranking is generally no longer accepted as a sensible approach; however, there is a need to weed out poor performers. Annual reviews and feedback are typically poor with both managers and employees dreading the very thought of them – the whole process can create bad experiences and often fosters the wrong culture for today’s fast-growing organizations.

The group wanted to be able to fully embrace continuous conversations as a form of performance review but there were widespread concerns over how this can be tied to pay and performance with bonus pools inevitably limited. Recent thinking is to focus less on individuals and more on the collective success of teams, with employees recognizing and calling out those teams which are most valued.

Colleagues for life

With the shortage of talent, the ongoing skills crisis, the rise of the contingent workforce and the gig economy, companies must build talent networks and using marketing techniques to nurture, engage and keep connected to people that can add value. Former employees may become colleagues for life and alumni groups need to be part of the talent pool.  HR can learn from and borrow many of the processes and approaches used by marketing, in that both functions are actually remarkably similar in many ways.

Autonomous learning

The workforce is taking charge as they become CEO’s of their own lives with the old push model of corporate training being replaced by a pull model where employees take control of their own learning needs. If they want to know something, people just search for information online and this consumer led, content driven approach is now very real in the workplace, with micro-courses, video, and help being built into processes and workflows. These new, contemporary learning experiences are essential for both productivity gains and retention, as people seek career development and advancement with or without their current employer.

Assessment and diagnostics

Change is usually hard, and the need to provide a framework to help organizations move forwards in creating more people oriented businesses was seen to be helpful. Any framework must be well founded so that there is a firm basis for determining where a business is currently, where it would like to progress, and the priority and urgency of the change understood. This will help leaders across the organization communicate and evaluate change and progress.

In essence, the HR to People shift is real, validated and promises to create new opportunities, enabling organizations to get the best out of their people by delivering great workforce experiences. Thanks to all who gave up their valuable time to participate in what we hope was a very interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking evening. For further insight, it’s worth viewing the All About People webinar on becoming a people company here.

There were two Chief People Officers in the meeting, and nine HR leaders; it will be interesting to see how this balance changes as the HR to People shift gathers momentum and becomes the new normal.

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