2020-08-24 HR Examiner article Mary Faulkner The Secret to HR Evolution stock photo img cc0 by markus spiske iOE0qBkioc unsplash sq 544px.jpg

“The realization has most likely set in that regardless of what you wish would happen, you’re going to have to change something about the way you’re conducting business today.” – Mary Faulkner


If there’s one thing everyone can agree on right now, it’s the fact that the world has changed.


There are varying degrees of acceptance about how permanent that change is going to be. The cries for “back to normal” are being shouted down by “new normal, for now” or “the old ‘normal’ wasn’t that great, let’s change it all.” Wherever you land on that continuum, the realization has most likely set in that regardless of what you wish would happen, you’re going to have to change something about the way you’re conducting business today.


For a lot of organizations, that means rethinking their core business (how they make and spend money), and rethinking core business means rethinking support functions. Across the world, organizations are taking a hard look at their infrastructure – IT, Finance, Operations, Supply Chain, and yes, Human Resources.


Human Resources has been on the frontlines of change throughout this pandemic. They’ve had to adapt to changing health guidelines, leave legislation, workplace safety issues, furloughs, severance packages, and potentially employee deaths. That’s a lot, and by and large, HR has done a darn good job. Mistakes have been made from time to time, but overall it has gone better than many in HR expected.


photo of Mary Faulkner, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Mary Faulkner, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

This success has shone the spotlight on HR’s capabilities to think around corners and solve unexpected problems, giving HR the opportunity to make some real, lasting changes around how the organization hires, develops, rewards, and engages employees. Everything is on the table – technology, policies, approval workflows, job descriptions, operating models, everything. Now that the initial scrambling has somewhat stabilized (haha, says the HR practitioner, but bear with me), HR has started that process, and I’m thrilled to see it.


My fear is that HR – and the C-Suite – will have ridiculously high standards for anything new, and that the spirit of experimentation will be stopped by an intolerance for stumbles. Historically, HR has been very risk averse, which makes sense, given the focus on compliance. As such, HR tends to dip its foot tentatively into the innovation pool, and will yank that toe out again if there are issues. Executive leadership will often have the same reaction, demanding to know what the hell happened rather than asking what did we learn.


The way to successful innovation is to be curious, not judgmental. Keep asking “what if?” and “why not?” If something fails, figure out why and approach with the idea of what you would change for the next time. That one shift in mindset is the difference between fear and exploration, between punishment and encouragement. When transformation is approached with a sense of curiosity, it invites all stakeholders to be active participants in the process through questioning and experimentation.


Curiosity still requires the use of common sense and good judgment. It isn’t a free license to ignore the law or endanger safety. It also requires discipline and patience to allow time to realize potential benefits of a change or to know when to pull the plug on a new process. Identifying appropriate KPIs, either formal or informal, will help guide decision making through the transformation process and assuage the concerns of the more compliance-minded folks out there.


So that’s the secret, HR – curiosity. Keep asking the questions. Keep exploring. Keep inventing. HR was never meant to be finite because people are not finite. We owe it to the people we support to keep wondering what’s new and what’s better, without the threat of judgmental retribution.


I’m so curious as to what HR will do next.


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