Rising to the Occasion in a Rapidly Evolving World: HR 2.0

“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”

 ~John Naisbitt


Gradually, the use of predictive behavioural analytics is infiltrating the workplace. These testing instruments hold great promise in so far as they bring a measure of rigour and objectivity to the process of identifying and placing talent. They provide hiring parties and managers the opportunity to better understand the natural strengths and interests of individuals and where they are most likely to flourish and succeed within an organizational setting. They also provide individuals an opportunity to understand more about who they are, and depending on the sophistication of the analytic, where they are likely to find satisfaction and success in the world of work. This is a huge step forward from the nepotism and cronyism of old, and even the reference-checking and behaviour-based interviewing of more recent times.

But here is the kicker…

As with any precision instrument, the intention and skill of the user has significant impact on the quality of the outcome. Predictive behavioural analytics that are used to screen-out instead of screen-in, can easily increase elitism. When used to systematically elevate more forceful behavioural preference profiles into positions of formalized power, they can easily increase unhealthy power dynamics that damage trust, engagement, and psychological safety in the workplace. When used to identify development needs based on narrowly defined positional requirements, they can easily interfere with the natural growth and unfoldment of people.

Whether predictive behavioural analytics contribute to the creation of a better work-world (which they have the power to do) comes down to the mindset of the user: to the vision they hold and the courage they have to focus on the good of the individual and the good of the whole simultaneously.

Organizations are collectives endeavouring to do what single individuals cannot. They are human systems where individuals:

·         spend the majority of their waking hours,

·         derive their livelihoods and secure their futures,

·         find meaning, purpose and fulfillment,

·         learn, develop, grow and unfold as human beings, and

·         make their contributions to society.

The purpose of Human Resources functions in this context is to help members and the collective ‘perform at their best’. This role demands more than efficient administration of human resource programs, diligent control of compensation and headcounts as contribution to the financial viability of the enterprise, and handling of the many forms and levels of interpersonal difficulties that arise in the workplace. It requires Human Resources functions to support the evolution of healthy, happy, and high performing human systems in organizations that serve their members, customers, shareholders, communities, societies, and as we all now know, the ecology upon which we all depend.

With the emergence of high-fidelity predictive behavioural analytics, Human Resources functions can take steps towards repairing the performance-robbing impacts of a broken talent pipeline. They can help individuals find their way into best-fit roles that substantially meet their intrinsic motivation needs while also fulfilling the performance requirements of jobs, teams, and other structures. This is a profound advance…and one that requires a new vision from within Human Resources to be actualized.

Human Resources functions need to help their organzations:

  • optimize talent allocation and alignment,

  • diagnose persistent human system challenges,

  • define strategies that work with (not against) workforce capacities, and

  • diversify behavioural preferences so the workforce is capable of demonstrating the range of functionalities it needs to be effective.

Enabling human system performance in this way requires vision, determination, and meaningful data that everyone can understand and trust. It also requires partnerships between Human Resources functions, Business Analytics and Performance Improvement functions, and Team leaders/facilitators who are the pivot-point for day-to-day work execution. By combining understanding of emerging operational needs, with close-to-the-ground performance metrics, and workforce propensity data, decision-makers can learn to optimize team and organizational functionalities to achieve results. Lest this sound very complex or removed, it is simply the logical evolution of organization design, team resourcing, and performance improvement put in the hands of the people doing the work.

How can this work?

First and foremost, individuals need to understand their own career satisfaction needs, suitabilities, and growth priorities. High quality predictive behavioural analytics can support this learning. In addition, individuals need insight into how their preferences interact with and contribute to their work group’s larger performance capacities and requirements.

Aggregation of predictive behavioural data can shed light on the functionalities supported by a team’s propensities and how well they will be able to fulfill their purpose and mandate. When all the members of a group understand and learn to consciously participate in optimizing their collective performance based on their natural strengths, a new unit of self-aware productivity is born. Put simply, passing the ball based on technical and behavioural suitability for a task, rather than simply on role ownership, substantially increases the agility of a group and their likelihood of success. This is imbedded agility.

For Human Resources functions to encourage the health of this self-optimizing endeavour, they need to build understanding that workers are every organization’s first customer. In this mental model of an organization, individuals are not so much resources to be utilized, as human beings striving to become their best selves within the context of a chosen workplace. Seen from this vantage point, the all too common up-right pyramid or the upside-down pyramid shifts to one of community, where the accountability of ‘managers’ to ‘staff’ is as great as that of ‘staff’ to ‘managers’. All parties are individuals performing different roles and making different contributions toward the good of the whole.

At first, this view may be confusing: ‘managers’ may worry about a loss of power, status, control, and self-esteem, while ‘staff’ may worry about unwanted levels of risk, pressure, exposure, and accountability. And yet, a vision that looks for ways to have everyone perform at their best does not over-burden or deprive, but rather liberates and permits organizational performance to arise from the inside out…from the intrinsic motivation of every individual to the best of their ability.

What needs to change in how we think about performance?

Instead of perpetuating the assumption that superior organizational performance is best obtained through individual competitiveness, the job vacancy lottery, and setting of performance expectations and controls (call it the extrinsic motivation model), this approach assumes that superior organizational performance is a product of improved aggregate efficiency – wherein the goodness-of-fit at multiple levels: person-job; person-team, team-structure, and workforce-strategy is what realizes responsiveness and desired results over time (call it the intrinsic motivation model). The difference is subtle but profound for its potential to unleash bottled-up passion and potential.

How does the role of HR need to change to support this new way of working?

Assuming a new posture in relation to an organization is no small feat. For a very long time, Human Resources functions have been deemed not part of core business. This perspective has persisted because workers are not viewed as the first customers of organizations. When this perception changes, Human Resources is on the frontline of shaping the relationship with and between the organization’s first customers.

It takes courage to re-imagine the future of the workplace from the ground up - to see the intrinsic value of every individual, and to focus on enabling them to find their best points of contribution and self-fulfillment. Thinking about how to connect talent-to-task-and-team in a continually changing organization is not easy, but Human Resources functions can take the first step on this trail-blazing journey by revisiting the motivation assumptions underlying their policies, programs, and practices, and asking themselves two pivotal questions:

  • Are we operating from an outside-in and power-over model of performance, or an inside-out and power-with model of performance?

  • Do our practices invite, include and ennoble individuals as the organization’s first customer, or do they aim to manage and minimize the organization’s investment in its ‘most valuable asset’?

Mental models matter.

 “The ultimate goal in life is not to be successful or loved, but to become the truest expression of ourselves, to live into authentic self-hood, to honor our birthright gifts and callings, and be of service to humanity and our world.” 

~Frederick Laloux

Germaine Watts is a thought leader, author, speaker and co-founder of Ensentious – a consultancy and workshop/retreat provider dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations thrive. As a mindfulness coach, SuccessFinder expert, and facilitator with the Centre for Courage and Renewal, she seeks to foster connection between soul and role in ways that support personal, organizational, and societal transformation.