archives

Jas Chong

Organisation change and transformation.
Jas Chong has written 35 posts for The Dignity Of Work

Beginning and ending with Total Talent Management, a widening systemic approach.


The title is a mouthful and a way I round up 2014 into 2015, with a few hours to spare. The world of work has changed progressively and even more so with the latest financial crisis. According to a Deloitte report, non-employee workers can reach up to 40% of a company. And it will likely to continue in trend with skills gaps and structural differences in the economy. So I’d like to kick off the new year summing up what I’ve been posting about in 2014, a systemic view of the workplace, a consideration on Total Talent Management.

Back in 2013 in a world wide HR conference in Orlando, I’ve heard someone mentioned the term, Total Talent Management. Traditionally, talent management is about actively looking at resourcing and planning the human capital in the company. Some companies have strategies for development and training with a selected group with leadership qualities, others may have a broad stroke approach and others non at all. But in all the practices, this is mainly tied to employees in the companies.

Employment laws have often dictated how HR can behave with non-employees. To protect workers from being excluded from employment benefits through engagement under interim or contract, there are typically tight laws around engagement of temporary workforce. This limits the number of years a person can be a temporary worker in a company and to ensure the line is clear, HR has also created walls to prevent ambiguity and potential lawsuits. The limitations vary from country to country, some relaxed and some stricter, typically in Europe and US. Some are enforced and some have common practices.

The result is a general deterrence from considering non-employees and hence any form of management.

If non-employee workers remain a minority of 5-10%, we can argue it is better to avoid all risks and it doesn’t impact the company largely in overall performance and strategy.

The challenge is whilst terms of work and its contribution has evolved, the laws have not. In a company today, there can be a percentage of temporary workers to complement for productivity surge and employees on leave. In addition, there is also an influx of contractors due to skills gap in the company. This is particularly prevalent with newer technologies and advancement in digital transformation. To compete, companies either seek expertise outside or outsourced a particular work order. Hence, outsourcing partners also becomes an extension of the workforce. There is also an increasing trend of independents who would not want to be employed and are happy to continue as consultants and/or contractors to companies to provide their expertise. Non-employeed extension of the workforce is growing and can sometimes represent up to 40%. What is this 40% really?

From a systemic view, a system includes contributors and includes any influences. If we think about throwing a stone into a pool of water, the rippling effect is the layers of systems. There is an immediate system and external systems connected to it. So where do we draw the line? It’s hard but one thing is sure, it does not stay with only employees, not when the rest of the system could make up to 40% when we consider a wider system.

And here we come to the HR challenge in 2015, if it has not already peeked in 2014. The question is, will HR step up and step out beyond the comfortable legal system of human capital in their company or will they take cover under the law and abdicate the responsibility to management? So what are the considerations of Total Talent Management?

Ensuring common ways of work in selection

A company, like a system, has an established way of working (sometimes called culture). In selecting independent contractors and even outsourced partners, this has to be considered. An external injection to the existing system with a completely different way of working and functioning will create misunderstandings and slow down progress. The efforts to correct it will be greater after engagement then selecting the right people and partners. HR has started to play a greater role in engagement of individuals who are hired on temporary or contractual basis. However, the greater impact is when injecting a whole group of people such as outsourcers or consulting partners. To ensure there are enough common grounds in ways of working, this has to be considered at selection stage. If HR is not managing this, then it will be up to hiring managers and management.

Ensuring team work in integration

Most HR will recoil at providing any form of training or leadership development to non-employees as this can give rise to potential law suites or ambiguity. However, team work can benefit from good facilitation during the integration process. Hence, HR will have to explore potential ways to help teams function together within the limits of the law. This can mean facilitation workshops, identifying problem areas and reflecting to partner companies or individuals as a form of improved service provision. A simple induction session given to all non-employees on the company culture and objectives will also be helpful without crossing the line extensively. This is the most challenging area and will require innovative HR approach.

Ensuring sustainable benefits in knowledge transfer

Finally, the benefit of external workforce is the expertise they bring and help during productivity hikes. The benefits can extend over longer period of time when their knowledge is transferred to existing workforce. Knowledge transfer can happen when people work together. With a concerted effort, knowledge transfer is not by chance and can directly impact in-house expertise. This can mean creating pair working, mentoring and strategic placement of external workforce with in-house. External workforce can also provide objective feedback on teams and leadership. Hence, with their exit, interviews and handovers are just as important as it is with employees.

Stepping into 2015, why not extend the vision and assess your current management of talents and how far it reaches. And from a classic systemic view, think about your resources and not your lack of. You’ll be surprised at how much you and your team can achieve.

Happy New Year!

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So you hate job descriptions, how about personas?


I was torn. One of the biggest debate I had encountered when presenting in agile tours was the concept of job descriptions and competences. In an auto-organised world of agile, why do we need job descriptions? Isn’t that too limiting and will be outdated? While I agree that HR tools are traditional and lack innovation, I stand by the need for a point of reference. But I had left the conferences with a heavy heart.

How can we not do something for the sake of doing it? And how can we look past it’s ugly form today to see it and use it for what it is?

Let’s take a step back. A job description has 2 main functions, 1) for recruiting 2) for a summary of the job. If we take away job description, then we had to assume that a job title says what it does. So when we recruit a scrum master, we would assume that all scrum masters are the same and does the same thing. Hardly. Otherwise, all scrum masters would be cookie cut and replaceable by another seamlessly.

How do I hate you, let me count the ways.

So what do we hate about job descriptions? There are so many things to hate about it. The endless list of requirements that only a superman can fulfil and maybe not. Some of the qualifications are so ridiculous, I would have to cross breed spiderman’s ability to climb walls, superman’s ability to fly and then that wouldn’t be enough, because we would want that person to be resistant to kryptonite too. Then, the description of the job itself would either be too general that it seems anyone can do it or so specific that no one could have done all that and then be immune to kryptonite. And after all this, the person may still not be suitable because there are cultural and environmental factors not considered.

Different as night and day

Let’s look at the scrum master role (non-cookie cut version). In broad sense, the scrum master is the person that helps to identify and removes obstacles for the team to achieve a release in the time and budget allocated repeatedly. The success of this person will depend on his / her ability to resolve issues and motivate team forward. The difference is, every company has different issues and different team dynamics. Some simple, some complex. Some stable in agility, some still adopting agile.

Personas

In agile, personas are used to address a segment of users / customers. It is a fictional character / profile who has needs and wants and display characteristics and behavioural. We often give this person a name, age and income and we describe the problems we want to solve for this persona. We can create several personas who would be potential customers for a product.

Personas as Job Descriptions

In recruitment, the best recruiters and head hunters will usually as the hiring manager, “what kind of person are you looking for?”. And here’s where a persona began to make more sense. Some job descriptions already look like this but let’s take this a step ahead and call it a persona.

3 types of information

Scott the Scrum Master

We are looking to hire “Scott the Scrum Master”. He doesn’t have to be called Scott or be a man, but let’s call him Scott first. He should be in x age group with about x years of work experience. (Let’s tackle legal issues later, e.g. age gender etc). In this area, we use only basic information.

Scott’s personal traits and behaviour

Here, let’s describe this person in terms of behaviour and characteristics according to the demands of the environment. It would also include what the person must know. Here, we would include competencies that will help to describe Scott as the kind of person to succeed in the environment presented.

Scott’s goals

This area describes Scott’s critical success factor, what he is expected to do in the role. We can include a vision of success, what Scott would have done to be considered successful in the role.

A rose by any other name? 

So am I just changing the name of job description to persona to please the agile community or sound innovative? In my mind, a job description has always been a point of reference to hire and induct the person into their job, even if it is for internal hire. The purpose and use is the same.

But in working and debating with agile teams, I think a Persona takes on a very different form than a job description. In a persona, the cultural aspects and critical behavioural traits are emphasised whilst skills and specific knowledge are added as required. The significance is that even if we have 2 rocket scientists considered for the same job, we will be able to know what kind of person we want and choose the person who most mirrors the behavioural traits. And more importantly, we can also consider a non-rocket scientist for that job as they as they can achieve the goals described.

What then?

Persona in itself will not be enough. If we do so, we fall into the same trap of a job description, using it as a form of checklist to hire. When it comes to hiring, there is a  simple law of 3.

– creating the persona to describe the person desired and what success means in the job. Be clear but keep it simple. Remember, the person shouldn’t have to climb walls, fly and still be immune to weaknesses.

– creating a list of competences that make sense to include in the persona. Eg. if spiderman is to climb walls, then he wouldn’t need to fly like superman. Or maybe we don’t care about flying or climbing, what we want is to get to the highest or lowest place in the fastest way possible.

– creating a list of questions to qualify the person. If we want a person who can work in a complex political environment, we must know what it takes and ask the person to describe how they had worked in previous similar environments or how they would act in this situation.

There is much to be done in the way we look at HR tools. But let’s start here. Let’s recognise that a job is more than a job title and a person is more than his collection of job titles and certifications.

HR case study – Human Resources vs Human Capital


I wrote about this topic some time back as a proposition and how a word is a world of difference in human resources and human capital.

I’m still being challenged for using the word capital and I don’t have the right answers. But how about we take a step forward. How about we start treating people in the organisation as people and people with ideas and thoughts and potential to make the company better? How about we also look at HR transformation in an agile fashion, iterations by iterations, seeking continual improvement?

Some time this year, I was invited to participate in a HR case study competition in China. I thought I’ll use my experience to show the difference. And I started writing and a simple 500 word essay turned into 8000 words and I become more passionate about the subject that I went on to speak about HR in Agile Tours in Brussels, Toulouse and Montpelier. Talking about HR in agile is simply asking for trouble. But I like trouble. We need it. If we bother to fight and debate, we care enough to make a difference. So maybe, a drop in the ocean can contribute and a tiny sand can cause a ripple.

In this case study, I detail the story behind the presentations in the agile tours. And the story is told from the HR angle. And I invite HR to review the story and ask themselves, which type of HR are they in this tale of 2 HR?

A HR that is close to the business and can see potential in the situation and the people can advise, accelerate and advance efforts in an organisation. The law is kept firmly in its place of preventing deterrence and not the first draw of solutions. The people are the first considerations and their knowledge the currency of change.

A HR that is misguided (even with the best intensions) can obstruct, obscure and obliterate efforts. And OOOps is a heavy price to pay in talent drain and loss of momentum.

The choice is clear. The decision is courage. The path is arduous. The journey however, is a savour of bitter-sweet, there will be battles won and battles lost. But the war can be won. A thought is all it takes.

Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?” David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Edited case study from the original awarded version. http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/hr-case-study-transformation-rh

Taking cover in Brussels Agile Tour 2014


Last week, I spoke at the Brussels Agile Tour 2014. It was an impressive event with great organisation and a few great things that should be kept as traditions. Firstly, the speaker teaser to introduce their topics is a really fun way for every one to decide which session to go to. Some of the teasers are so funny that I thought, I’d just cancel my session and go attend theirs. Secondly, I like the fact that we use our name tags to provide feedback. It’s a great to recycle and return the badges. I never know what to do with mine from all the different events. Finally, I enjoyed the pace. 30mins break in between has provided opportunities to exchange and catch up if previous sessions overrun. Bravo Team Brussels. #atbru

My session was the grave yard slot of 2pm. I was wondering if I’ll be speaking to a sleepy crowd or none at all. (The other sessions at 2pm sounded really interesting!) And I was greatly humbled with the presence of senior agilists and long time practitioners like Pierre, Yves, Jurgen, Patrick and others. (See Pierre’s blog on the event.)

It was a lively debate and I was challenged and also inspired. It was not easy and there were moments when I wanted to run for cover. But through all these, I deepened in my convictions and matured in my thinking on the topic of HR and Agile.

Agile is a culture but the building blocks of culture are principles. 

I used an example of a board game to explain agile to people new to agile. There is an objective to the board game and in designing the board game, we have rules to help us achieve that. Badly designed games have rules that conflict and not fun to play with. Great games have rules to promote the objective. Rules in agile world are the various tools we use. We have daily stand ups because that helps in collaboration. It’s well and good to say “Individual & interactions over tools and process”. If we don’t have events to promote interactions, then we leave this to chance. We talk about short release cycles and sprints because these increase the frequency of collaboration with our clients. It might not have been designed as such but without sprint planning and release cycles, clients collaboration will be up to vigilance of teams to seek communication. Stephen R. Covey says that habits need to be cultivated. I think of agile like wanting to be lean and fit. It requires exercise but if I don’t develop a healthy habit of exercising and eating right, then wanting to be lean and fit is a wish with no commitment.

“… values govern people’s behavior, but principles ultimately determine the consequences.” Stephen R. Covey

Organisation & HR is the set up of players

One of the biggest debate in the session is about competences and job descriptions. It’s a hard one to advocate because so many of us have been burnt by this. There is a legacy hatred towards people limiting our capabilities and using HR tools for that. Opponents of these will say, they are limiting and inaccurate. It creates boxes and people are not things to slotted into boxes. Especially in agile where auto-organisation and team work is a mantra. I’m in change management so my take on this is about point of reference and fair process. There are roles to play and agile falls apart if the roles are not taken care of. There is a concept of Forming, Storming, Norming et Performing (noted in Pierre’s blog). That is often used in team building and set up. For me a job description list out the possible things the person should be doing and the team will work it out and probably trade some of the responsibilities but the key function does not change. And in using it as part of change management discussions, it promotes involvement and facilitate discussion. In a high level of consciousness (Peter Moreno – who presented enneagramme –  puts it nicely), we probably don’t need these anymore. That is at performing stage. Personally, in the case study I presented, the job descriptions was mostly used in discussion and setting up the teams and recruiting. After that, I don’t think we ever refer to it anymore.

Competences however is another matter. I’ve advocated hiring by competencies AND potential rather than qualifications. And I’ve advocated hiring a super team and not a superman. If agile’s final mantra is responding to change and it’s principle in continuous improvement and seeking excellence, then personal development has to be an individual mindset and mantra too. I wasn’t very elegant in my explanation on competences vs skills. Competences is about behaviour, skills is about knowledge. We tend to hire by knowledge. Have you worked in this industry and this function? Competence will be about “Have you worked in this type of environment and how do you manage this situation?”

This is where I am convinced. We cannot let go of human resources practice because letting that go is letting down the human aspect of work. AND we cannot continue as we do today in human resources practice. Continuing to do so is the very definition of insanity and failure. HR needs to revolutionise in the way we operate and keep up with times. We have to unleash human potential and not limit human development. If anything, we need a spotlight on HR and forced through change.

Individual coaching is the 3rd pillar of a 3 prong approach

This is where I have developed in my thinking. I learnt so much in Peter Moreno’s presentation on enneagramme. He talked about the law of the 3. And I thought, yes, that’s it. In agile adoption, we have agile coaches to cultivate the agile practices. I also believed that we need organisation and HR for the structure and hiring and finally individual coaching to help in the personal transition. The most common is the obstacle of “giving control”.  A 3 prong approach will ensure the ways of working are in place, the people are in place and the heart is in place. In my case study, I had worked with an agile coach as the organisation and HR expert to coach in set up and work with HR. But I’ve always felt that we needed a coach to help the people overcome their own fears and queries. I am convinced of this but my articulation is at its infancy.

As Pierre says in his blog, we have work to do.

So for now, I ask my colleagues in agile to keep an open mind and an open heart. Don’t treat HR like enemies but think of us as willing comrades. I’ll admit there are not many of us yet across the river. But with help, we can bring more to us. I’ll put on my change management hat and say, it’s like reversi. The pieces are there, just waiting to be converted to white. The first step is conversation.

The link to my presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agile-tour-v-english

Speaking Events – Agile Tour 2014


Last week I spoke at Agile Tour in Toulouse and Montpelier. It was my first speaking event in agile tour and it was in French. I was glad I had a rehearsal in a meetup event in summer. So this was easier.

Speaking about HR in an agile tour is a risk for so many reasons. Firstly, agilists (coach and IT teams) do not usually have good experiences with HR. At best, it’s a polite existence, at worst, HR is seen often as an obsolete practice or obstacle for change and advancement. Secondly, with an agile structure, there is a common perception that agile organisation is flat and thus has no need for management, after all, auto-organisation is a modus operati. Finally, in combination, if there were any HR issues, these were inherently dealt with in the team or ignored. After all, it’s an agile tour and people will be keen to learn more about agile and not HR.

The turnout was what I expected and a nice cozy group of just over 10 people in each session. It was a great group for conversations and the group was curious as well as reflective.

My key message: Agile Coach and HR can be great partners. 

The Batman & Robin, Bonnie & Clyde, Sherlock & Watson, a formidable duo. That was my experience when I worked as HR with an agile coach in setting up the team. The agile coach wanting to break all conventions, bring new practices, innovate and improve. The HR, the voice of reason, doing what is necessary to set up the scene, clear administrative and people hurdles.

The sub-title: Agile teams are made up of people and will have HR concerns. 

It may seem counter-intuitive but each organisation is different in size, culture and practices. But every individual is a human being with human concerns such as career development, pay check, sense of belonging. While an agile organisation based on auto-organisation is rather flat in structure, it will still have a form of structure and roles to play.

The characters: Product, Delivery, Project Management (and more than 1 each)

A typical scrum team is made of 3 types of roles, product, delivery (architects, developers, testers etc), scrums master (agile project managers). While a scrum can be formed and disbanded to reform based on delivery, each role distinct. But in any team, everyone has a role to play and we can’t be all and do all. Clear understanding of roles and accountabilities are important for auto-organisation to work. These are horizontal functions, it also exists with vertical teams. For example, product owners as a vertical can develop expertise and share best practices.

The weapons: Agile have tools and so do HR

HR can bring in expertise in agile teams with competences and development, job description as a point of reference, group and individual evaluation. HR needs to innovate to match with agile development such as iterative recruitment and organisation set up, piloting and testing competency programs to developing organisation and adapting job profiles to agile requirements.

The storyline: Australia

There are no villains or crime to fight. It’s about building a country, working together for city development. If agile coaches can call on the expertise of HR to work on people issues and HR can call on innovative methods of agile coaches to provide structure, transition and change can be effective and deep setting.

The challenge: Acknowledging and appreciating one another

The challenge I left the group to ponder. How can both collaborate and communicate to begin working together? It requires the crossing of worlds, stepping out of comfort zones and reaching out. As I said, if there is no knocking on the door, there is no opening of the door.

All slides are in french.

http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agile-tour-2014

I presented this with Pablo Pernot, an expert in change and agile. We’ve also recently launched our offer in HR transformation. http://transformationrh.fr . Yes, because HR really do need to transform their practice.

HR Transformation – Improvements Just Won’t Do It


Dali Atomicus

Photography by Mike Stimpson. Dali Atomicus.

“When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping, and the mask falls, so that the real person appears.” Philippe Halsman

I don’t know of any young people who wants to be in Human Resources. Then again, I don’t know all the young people in the world. I don’t know of many companies who have Chief HR or People officer. The again I don’t know all the companies in the world. So, is this indicative of HR today? That our young people are lacking aspirations in this profession and companies do not reply include HR in management boards? 

Management committees and boards today are typically made up of CEO, CFO, CIO/CTO, sometimes COO and CMO. They advocate for different interests of the company. The CEO is concern with profits and growth of the company. A CFO on cash and financial stability and investments. CIO/CTO looks at technology, infrastructure and innovation in these areas. COO considers operational efficiency and CMO on branding and marketing. While this is a simplified view, their key interests are in their area of expertise and they advocate for it. However, a lack of HR representation means that there is a lack of advocacy for the people.  Interests of people becomes sidelined and at the mercy of the people management skills in C-Suits. In good times, people are important to serve the purpose. In bad times, people become an overhead costs. People need a better advocate in management and it is not union or employment laws. HR needs a voice to represent the people and shouting won’t do it if they are not in the same room. 

When HR is invited into the room, it is often to support strategies. As a support function, HR provides value if they can support their colleagues’ strategy. It could be when CIO/CTO embarks on digital transformation where new headcount or skills are needed; CFO leading a merger and acquisition plan where restructuring and streamlining is required to reduce or reassign workforce or COO needing to improve efficiency through skills upgrading, training and development. In good times, HR is involved early. In bad times, HR is called in after plans have deteriorated and union concerns require management. When the value of HR is how well they execute the plan and assist their colleagues, they can only meet expectations and the alternative is failure. HR has a voice but singing in the background or back up won’t do it if it it is only to harmonise. 

When HR has a place in the room, they are on the starting line as their colleagues. They can advocate for people development, talent management strategies and seek support and investment in the people. Their success, as their colleagues, is how well they can execute the plan, bring return to investments. Traditional IT and Finance functions have undergone much change due to the changes in the market place. Digital transformation and changing customer behaviour online and offline has propelled changes in IT and marketing to work together for integrated sales. The recent crisis has forced finance to rethink financial modelling, regulations, cash-flow management and short cycle budget planning. Operational efficiency has since adopted lean and worked with other functions on outsourcing, offshoring, integrated supplier chains. In people management, there is no lack of tools to support, 360, People Management Programs, competency, profiling, tests, assessment centres and balanced scorecard. But these are continual application of traditional practices and often in silos. HR can sing beautifully but when it’s not in synch with the rest, then the best classical singer has no place in a jazz band. 

Whether HR has a place in the room or not, improvements is not a game changer. The practice of HR has to modernise to keep up with the times or be obsolete as a profession. It will require value creation and not just added value. And considering the changing parameters will be an important consideration. 

Total Talent Management 

Legally, employment laws has an imposing influence on HR practices and thus orientate them towards compliance. It also meant that HR considers only salaried employees of the company. In this HR, interim and part-time agencies have clear mandate to manage their staff. And employment laws forbade HR from over involvement for fear of being sued for employment benefits and employment. It’s all understandable when the laws are meant to protect workers’ rights and prevent foul play. However, most companies today have a large mixture of interim, independents, part-time staff in addition to full time employees. On top of this mix includes external vendors are who are working onsite. Globalisation also meant that employees in another geographical jurisdiction has management jurisdiction in another geography. While these seemed a form of complexity for HR practitioners, these practices are actually enriching the workplace and are required strategies for the company to excel. HR has to act within the bounds of employment laws but has active contributions outside of these boundaries. They have to consider that a company is no longer a stand alone nucleus but an ecosystem of talents that will contribute to the success of the company. 

Culture and Ways of Working

While HR cannot legally advocate for employees outside of the company, they have to ensure that the ecosystem works for performance. The selection of vendors and actors in the ecosystem becomes important. Traditionally, independent contractors and vendors are selected by functional requirements and competences. The way they work has lower bearings in the procurement exercise and choice of onsite staff from vendors are left to vendors. Yet, these often have direct impact on outcome of the partnership. If a vendor has a very different culture from the company, employees on both sides will have a steeper learning curve to work together where productivity will dip or not realised. HR can help to:

  • set guidelines on ways of work
  • introduce vendors and external teams on company value and mission
  • conduct team building exercises to enhance understanding and working relationships 
  • assist in vendor selection and exit to find continual improvements in ways of work. 

Adapt & Innovate

There are innovation in many different areas that can borrowed and adapted. Chinese has a phrase: “融会贯通”(rong hui guan tong). This means understanding the principle essence of something and apply it. In agile, there is a Japanese phrase “守破離” (she ha li) and it means learning in 3 levels, learning and applying, breaking the rules and departing into new practices. HR can keep themselves updated on management innovation and innovation in other areas to find new practices and logics. The application of theories in consideration of contexts is where execution will be enhanced and change is powerful. Consider:

  • technology can improve communication and ways of working
  • agile deployment methods can be applied to deploying HR policies
  • capital investment can apply to people investment and measuring return of investments
  • digital marketing can also be applied to recruitment practices and promotion of company. 

Social Responsibility & Global Advocacy

Employment laws and workers unions were established to protect the rights of workers. Yet, are these laws updated to protect today’s workforce? HR can play an active role updating and modernising legal practices with local governments. They can also be global advocates to eliminate slavery, child labour and exploitation of workers. Working hand in hand with supply chain units, they can also ensure that their supply chain, partners and vendors are held up to highest integrity in employment. HR can work and walk out of the office:

  • talk to colleagues and business units regularly to keep up to date on hiring trends.
  • work across the aisle with HR of vendors, partners and suppliers to ensure integrity of supply chain
  • participate in government boards and work with ministries to update employment laws. 

I don’t think there are easy answers nor convenient steps. As I reflect on Philippe Halsman’s quote, I think it requires a leap into the air, see the real person behind HR and create a ripple in the calm. It’s not about running faster in the box, it’s about thinking and operating out of the box. And who’s to say if enough people jump at the same time, the ground wouldn’t shake?

Rendre Heureuse (RH) – Render Happy – The New HR?


LeapWhile speaking about HR, human resources recently, someone said to me, “RH est pour rendre heureuse (RH) aux salaries”. Some linguistic explanation required. Human resources is “ressources humains” in French, thus the acronym RH, the same for “rendre heureuse” which is render or make happy. So is HR the new Happiness maker in the company?

It’s been circulating recently, the idea that HR should rather be Chief Happiness Officer and happiness in employees will make them better at work and thus make the company better and more profitable. But can HR really be the holder of happiness of people at work? And is happiness really the key to a high performing company?

The amount of research in this area is rather extensive on both sides. Happiness at work creates a joyful culture and people are more helpful and less cases of burnt out. It made sense. So can a bunch of very happy employees also turn a 10-man company to 20 to 1000? I doubt it. Unhappiness at work can create very toxic environment, create residue stress that seeps into personal life and create more unhappiness where people burn out and leave. Will a 1000 plus employee company become inefficient and reduce to 20 people? I doubt it too.

The pursuit of happiness is natural in human kind. That’s just a natural law. But happiness is so many things to so many people. More importantly, work is only part of our lives and can only contribute to part of our happiness.

When is it the responsibility of the company, mangers or human resources department to make us happy? Isn’t that our responsibility to create a life we want with the brand of happiness we define? Why would I cede this power to make me happy to someone or an institution and why would I hold someone accountable if I’m not happy?

No, I think the pursuit of happiness is my business. Work is a path and HR can clear the path!

What do I mean?

There are several well-written articles from the perspective of the organisation. I’ll take this up from the perspective of what I think HR can do.

Clear the recruitment path

Today’s recruitment in many protective labour markets is very risk averse. This means recruitment is based on all the criteria of the past (good education, experience in the same job, doing exactly the same thing elsewhere). It’s not future or potential looking. When HR succumbs to the pressure of “no hiring mistake”, the perversion is to hire like for like for current need and render the future needs of the company to luck. The person hire for the existing job may or may not be able to grow for the next job in the company. Without potential leaders, succession planning is hampered and the flow of talent will be choked.

If I’m recruited on my potential and capabilities, I’ll feel appreciated and motivated to prove my worth.

Clear the development path

Training and development prevalent today reminds of tuition, supplementary to help employees do their work today better. The educational path of an employee should be forward looking and requires a development and a career path. When HR do not help to facilitate identification of leaders and development for management teams, it’s allowing upward movement of unqualified managers who might be star players in their current job and a generation of unqualified managers and leaders. It also loses the opportunity to unlock potential in people and help employees strive to excellence.

If I knew that someone is working with me on my career development path, putting things out for me to reach, I’ll feel interested and motivated to learn to get there.

Clear the mobility path

The mistake most people in mid-career make is to think that only promoting to a higher position is a sign of success. There are multiple paths to reach capacity and some includes horizontal moves and working in different environments. But it disrupts teams and managers often try to keep their good people than letting them go. Mobility is also difficult in cultural adjustments and provides a new set up challenges in living skills. HR can help to promote mobility within the global working environment or across teams rather than looking at legal implications, releasing liabilities and tenures and thwart movement in the process.

If I had HR support in protecting my tenure while I move across countries and teams, I would feel helped and focus on the move and new job.

Clear the political path

Every workplace has politics, as each employee is different in character, communication style and ways of working. When there is an absence of a strong culture that focuses people on working together and achieving common goal, these politics come into play for personal protection, bargaining for gains and often an expression of frustrations. With HR taking a backseat in culture, they become the undertaker when things have really gone wrong often resulting in lawsuits, firings, employee relations and unions discussions. HR can take a more active stand to assess how people are working together and steering in team building activities, working through differences and strengthening team communication and common understanding.

If I feel that I can ask HR for help in conflicts and that we are all playing for the same team, I’d feel understood and more tolerant of differences.

Conclusion – Happy or not happy?

I struggled with this. Perhaps at then end of all these is indeed happiness. If I feel motivated, loyal, listened to, appreciated, respected and developed, this would mean I’m happy. But this can’t be all of what happiness means and that’s just too easy to say HR, be Happiness Officers.

Happy is a feeling. I can be happy or sad because of so many things. But I want to wake up and want to go to work because there is a challenge out there I can solve, I can do something, be useful. I want to earn my keep that I deserve.

I think I’ve said. It’s the dignity of work. It has nothing to do with happiness. And HR can help me keep my dignity, not my happiness.

(Will update links to articles on this topic.)

Talking about HR in Agile Meetup


It was 29°C outside, 7pm in the evening and one of the 2 days in between the world cup matches. I thought everyone would be off somewhere in a bar, movie theatre or somewhere cool. But it was a full turn out. And it was in front of some very lovely and patient french people that I presented a case study on Agile in HR and HR in Agile.

To begin with, it was based on an project I was involved in. And to be honest, before this project, agile was really just an adjective. It still is but there is so much more depth to the agility used in software development. And this group of people I was standing in front of were all practitioners of agile methods for many years.

Agile, whether referring to being flexible and adopting to circumstances or tied to a whole library of terminologies like scrum!, kanban!, XP programming!, burndown! or for that matter burnup! (all terms that made me stopped in my track at one point or another to say huh?!), is irrevocably, undeniably, incontestably about people.

So it was to great wonder why there haven’t been much talk about HR in agile. And even more curious is how the basic principles of agility can be applied to HR? Because, how can an arm in the company (usually IT department) be agile whilst the rest of the company be fat and heavy?

And so it was, after reflections on that project, the hits, misses and the “je ne sais pas quoi” that I attempted to be honest in this sharing about my involvement, my learning and most of all, why if we want to talk agile, we should talk people and if we talk people, we can be agile too.

With or without the library of terminology tied to agile, most business leaders today have to battle with rapidly changing consumer behaviours, disruptors from non-traditional competition, globalisation and accelerating innovation. Thus, being adaptability as Darwin first proposed is really the only contant and means of survival. And so agile or capital A-gile is a logical response.

This is the case for the example I provided. The company had to be quick in time to market, they had to deploy digitally sound solutions across various parts of the customer journey. And they had to use a combination of acquired expertise and in-house capabilities simultaneously across various markets covering different technology platforms.

The example I presented was on a part of the project where adapting agile methods cannot be independent of helping people adopt the change. And where adopting to this change cannot be done through traditional HR means.

The challenge was to condensed it to 1hr 30mins and respond to any questions from the floor. I think we did well as a group, 29°C and hungry to share on a hot July evening.

The english version of the slides are now available on: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agility-in-hr-hr-in-agility-july-2014

Oh did I mention that it was in French, a first for me in terms of public french presentation.

Agile in Organisation Transformation


MetaRecently I was involved in a project that uses agile methodologies and gave me the opportunity to deepen my understanding and see agile in action. Agile methods originated in software development.

“It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.”

In agile, I found a practical companion to change management.

In the organisation transformation and change management, I had often advocated for the importance of step-change to increase adoption and to ingrain change. In many instances however, I had seen organisations embarked on change programs with lofty ambitions only to let it frizzle out or stopped midway due to lack of funding, buy-in and/or change in focus, typically after spending a lot of money with no real evidence of benefits. And this is largely due to a lack of detail application of step change.

Take for example, implementing a personal development program. An organisation had decided to overhaul the people management program through its HR department. Once the team set out to shop for toolsets, it encountered a large variety of choices and methodologies. In an effort to create a holistic approach, the team worked on a blueprint of requirements that may include competency framework, balance scorecard, 360 feedback, review process and etc. Typically, it is followed by numerous RFP process to select the right vendors and consultants. Before long, it had become a huge project with large financial investments implications that would require further board and management approval who would raise concerns on benefits versus cost, investment timing, impact to share holder value. While the efforts were plagued with indecision and continual budget revisions, the next economic cycle would have hit and a new recession in sight., thus further pushing out the decision to more “suitable” times. Sounds familiar?

Perhaps the story is too simplified and a stretch from reality. Reality may not be far behind. In the best of instances, an organisation came out of a transformation process full of fatigue and unable to leverage on the changes for positive impact. In others, an organisation is so scarred by the process that any future change efforts is viewed with cynicism and resistance where necessary change do not happen until too late while more adaptable competitors change and overtake in market position.

It is easy to understand that step change is important, it is quite another to build out the details behind it. This is where I borrow some key terminologies in agile to lend some insights into the practicalities of step change.

Commander’s Intent – The objective of the organisation is expressed as its vision. This vision does not include details in “how”, it is only a view of the future state. In the example of a people development program, the intent should be what the company is trying to achieve and not the specific toolset. And perhaps, the program is only a building block and not the intent itself.

Minimum viable product – MVP is about creating the smallest product that is operable to test a hypothesis and learn from it. In the same example, it is important to define a problem statement that is top priority in achieving the vision. Then create the smallest potential solution that can either prove it is the right solution or if the problem statement is the accurate. There are 3 key steps in the process: build-measure-learn. It is important to decide early the KPIs and the intended learning.

Pilot or Prove of Concept – Both are ways to implement the MVP. In a pilot situation, the solution is deployed in a real scenario with a small set of users and prove of concept is where no real users are involved. Let’s say a competency framework is identified as key solution to assess accurately and create focus in personal development. An MVP is a small set of core competences and it can be piloted with a selected team or a specific group to test out usability. Alternatively, a proof of concept can be used to compare the competences with vendor options prior to purchase committments.

Short release and frequent release cycles – Shorter release cycles meant that the scope is reduced to MVP from idea creation to initial release. Small frequent releases follow for continuous build on the MVP or create other MVPs so that multiple products are released to complement each other. In the same example, the next release could be an extension of the framework to the pilot team and the MVP to other teams and continue simultaneously until the framework is being rolled out.

Feedback loops & Retrospective – Learning from the process is important for adaptive planning and evolving solutions to fulfil the vision. In some instances, the feedback is also used to converge initial ideas. Feedback loops complete a release cycle prior to the next release where KPIs are measured and applied. Retrospective refers to a critique on the process of roll out and people involved. It is key to ensure all environmental factors like buy in, communication, business readiness are reviewed and to provide learning required for continual process improvement.

Fair process – All change efforts have a people impact for success. Fair process ensures that all parties involved have a chance to learn about the intent, provide input and ask questions. Whilst the solution is not a patchwork of individual intents, the process allows for communication, creates understanding and encourages innovation in solution creation. It gives appropriate time for people to debate, question, consider and ultimately accept the changes to come.

Most recently, I had used the above in creating a new team including job profiles and competences necessary to build in-house capabilities to delivery a solution. It helped me frame the process to create a small enough team and feedback loop to add resources as required. The organisation chart was reviewed and built out through feedback and provided me with opportunity and time to coach and integrate new additions to the team.

A suitable consideration in using agile in organisation design is that whilst building a software where codes can be erased and redone, hiring and firing is not as easy. Thus, it is even more important to ensure the right team is created and built on without unnecessary expansion. Using options such as contracting, 3rd party becomes important, a topic I will discuss in the next post on Total Talent Management.

Human Capital vs. Human Resources – A word and a world of difference


Often when I introduce my company, I’ve been asked, “Do you mean human resources?”

Actually. Not. Fundamentally, there is a philosophical difference in the 2 concepts, thus a huge difference in the type of services and solutions. Without getting too technical, conceptually, the difference lies in the word “capital” and “resources”. While we may think it is just semantics, after all, a rose by any other name smell as sweet, we forget the psychological impact of what a good name conjures. And in this case, the association and attitude can be very different by just 1 word.

Here are some fundamental differences.

Capital can be grown, resources deplete
An organization is made up of a workforce and the resulting output with or without the help of machines. When this workforce is treated like a form a resource, the organization finds the best way to exploit it and use it for its purposes. These resources are used and depleted so more are acquired and use. And since it is a form of resource, when they are no longer useful, the remuneration stops and they are replaced.

When a workforce is looked upon as a form of capital the company is acquired, the incentive is the get the best return from investment. An organization will regard a capital as down payment to work towards future returns. A capital also grows over time with productive use. In human capital, competences, knowledge and creativity grow over time and multiply in value.

Capital is invested, resources are maintained
When an organization looked upon the workforce as a form of resource or worse a “seat warmer” and other derogatory terms such as “bodies”, then the attitude is just the function they provide. Like any machines we buy for a purpose, it is maintained at best for the purpose they serve.

When a workforce is treated as a form of capital, then people are looked upon as an acquisition for the value it can bring if properly invested. Each person’s value is based on the potential of the investment that requires sound judgment on placement and development potential. If we extract the most from the workforce, the return is no longer linear such as machines. In this case, output when well invested can bring forth multiple times the initial capital purchase.

Different psychology, Different policies
With the fundamental departure on psychology, it will also be reflected in the policies. While there are many ways to breakdown human resource management, broadly, it consists of 5 key areas: Recruitment & Retention, Compensation & Benefits, Training & Development, Sustainability & Mobility and Employee Relationship & Compliance.

From a resource point of view, the key focus is making sure employees are paid and employment laws are complied including health and safety and relationships with unions. Often it is also the 2 key areas retained by a company in the HR department while all other areas suffer due to cost cutting measures or lack of vision. After all, if there are lack of jobs and plenty of candidates, when a “resource” is unhappy or unsuitable, they can be replaced by another. HR departments tend to degenerate to payroll administration and point of contact for labour unions and compliance.

Whilst the above is an extreme view of situation, it is not uncommon where HR is dysfunctional. If we insist that workforce is a form of capital, then the key focus of management may well be very different.

The relevance of high potential?
When the workforce is considered a form of capital, then the view is everyone has potential for a return. But the level of investment will depend on the level of return and impact to organization. Often this can be governed by the role and function in the organization.

The main pitfall of a high potential program is the tendency for an organization to focus large amounts of energy and efforts in a small group of identified talents while ignoring the rest. It’s like betting on a racehorse, you win big if the horse is the first to cross the line, if it comes even a second behind, the investment is lost. That happens when high potential leaves before realizing their potential or fails in their development.

It is much more logical and motivational to consider that everyone has access to development opportunities relevant to their role and earned based on performance (the return).

The idea of “right fit” in recruitment
If we think about work as a production line, with an empty seat, the best thing is to find someone who already knows the work to fill the seat. With lower propensity to risk, most companies have behaved as such in hiring. The person they seek is someone who fits perfectly and thus presents no obvious risk in bad hiring. It also means paying the same or higher salary to attract someone to leave the existing position to fill the new role.

From a long term planning perspective when a resource is looked upon as a form of capital, then recruitment criteria will change. The focus will be the potential of the candidate and the return he or she will bring. The “right fit” is someone who will grow in the role.

The outcome is greater incentive for someone to move. The compensation will be lower than trying to attract someone who already fulfills the same role somewhere. And in effect, a cheaper option than a seemingly low risk hire. The truth is performance on the job and the future is just as unpredictable in either cases since no 2 companies are exactly the same.

The true purpose of human resource management?
Whilst we cannot do away with compensation & benefits or employee relationship & compliance, it cannot be the only focus. In effect, these areas are probably better suited in finance and legal departments.

Then people management can focus on 1 or 2 key areas while engaging suitable partners and supplies to complement the others. As businesses change, the human capital in the company needs correspond to these changes.

Human resource management will then act as the protector of the human capital and investments of the company. Their role will include finding and maintaining the right vendors to acquire, manage and develop the human capital in the company.

Should we start changing all HR titles to HC?
Human resources is still the global function that looks after the well being of the workforce in the organization. The dysfunction today is due to a narrow vision of the workforce as a form of resource. For a forward moving company, treating their employees as a form of capital changes the resulting HR policies and attitudes both at management and HR level. That is an important shift in mindset.

To do this, many companies have started using terminologies such as “People Officer”, “Talent Management” etc. Regardless, a complete view of HR is important and neither can we ignore compensation, legal and compliance. But HR can do better to focus on the other aspects either by in-house capabilities or external service providers. And companies can benefit from a workforce that is motivated and energized.

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