HR Transformation - faking it or making it?

Thursday 8th October, 2015

It’s everywhere. Over the last few years the term HR Transformation has been thrown around flippantly to cover any sort of change from a minor technology enhancement to any form of restructure. I wonder whether HR is doing itself any favours by overusing this term. Change is now a constant but not every change is transformative.

HR Transformation is by no means new. The thinking behind it is now over 20 years in the making. In the beginning, the term encapsulated the HR ambition to move from an administrative function to strategic, it then morphed into being synonymous with major HR technology implementations. In time, it has also included a significant push to outsource HR functions as well as a move to the Ulrich inspired delivery model. These were all transformative changes to how HR operates – that is, the outcome fundamentally looks, feels and functions differently to what was there previously and adds tangible value to the business.

Real HR Transformation is now far more ambiguous and this might be why the term is used so fluidly. HR is becoming more complex. The function is now measured by a plethora of metrics all within the context of constant changes, including globally mobile workforces, methods of work and non-traditional career structures. It also has to perform with an absolute mandate of providing significant value to the business. HR in many organisations is still tackling how to best demonstrate this value with a backdrop of ever reducing costs whilst somehow miraculously increasing effectiveness.

I appreciate some organisations need to over-emphasise a change in order to create the momentum they need. Couching a change as HR Transformation might seem like a good way to garner buy-in from the business, but the ubiquitous overuse of the term is not only making it humdrum and sapping it of its power, inappropriately using the term sets up unrealistic expectations – HR’s stakeholders rightly expect transformative change when the term is used, not just a change.

Recently I spoke to a CEO contemplating a review of their HR function. He was particularly concerned that the organisation had already undergone three HR Transformations in the last five years. The wider business was already flagging concerns about the value provided by HR, and the multiple iterations of HR Transformation were fuelling the significant undercurrent of, “they do not know what they are doing, so they are transforming again.”

On the flip side, what I have noticed within our client group is some progressive organisations embarking on true HR Transformation without the fanfare. The key difference is they are pursuing the transformation as business-as-usual without masking the change as HR Transformation. This to some degree takes the pressure off HR from pushing through yet another ‘transformative’ initiative. Some might see this as implementation by stealth but I believe it’s about HR becoming increasingly agile and more dynamically aligned with the constant flow of business changes.

HR Transformation in its true sense can deliver on the promise: if it is well led, supported by the executive, and above all holds the end customer at the centre of decision making. So the next time you hear of yet another HR Transformation, or you are actually contemplating undertaking one, start by asking yourself; is this faking it, or making it? 


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Peter Hood is an Executive Director of Evolve Intelligence, a leading talent and intelligence firm focussed on succession risk management, competitor intelligence (including talent benchmarking), talent solutions and board services.