Don't Blow Up HR, Appreciate and Evolve It (David Ulrich) The Forum applies the 70:20:10 Lens


Today’s word is disruption. Not transformation or change, but the very radical notion of disruption. We are seeing many areas going through immense change brought on by new technology from the digitisation of music and video (Spotify), eCommerce (Amazon), education (MOOCs), even transportation (Uber) and many of these areas truly have been upended; whatever happened to cameras with film, CD players, or video rental stores?

These were disrupted industries. Seeing this has made many believe that disruption is inevitable. The disruption hasn’t stopped at the gates of industries; they've entered them as well. As technology permeates the inner workings of organisations, no department is safe, especially the weakest in the herd.

L&D being one that is continually being attacked as people call for a revolution. Human Resources (HR) too has been much maligned, criticised for focusing too much on compliance and policy than creating a welcoming, productive environment. Like L&D, HR is weathering a storm of criticism. Many are saying it is a department that no longer needs to exist as automation and ease of access have placed control and responsibility into the hands of the individual at considerable cost savings.

David Ulrich in his article Don't Blow Up HR, Appreciate and Evolve It takes a different, less radical stance towards HR and the same message could be shared with groups like IT and L&D. Ulrich highlights the positives that HR brings and asks the readers to make slow change to whittle away at the less meaningful or wasteful aspects of HR. By doing so HR can focus more on what the business needs. If revolution is a rapid change, than evolution is a slow change.

If we adopt slow change approaches there is risk of not moving fast enough to remain relevant. However, moving too quickly is a risk as well as fast change can bring fear and fear can lead to distrust. The truth, or in this case, the right path lies in the middle. Adopting a 70:20:10 framework is just the balance HR needs to employ to remain viable in a state of constant change.

"In leading companies HR shapes business value because it starts with the business. The scorecard of good HR is the business scorecard." – David Ulrich

This is what a 70:20:10 framework encourages, an emphasis on the work of an organisation. A 70:20:10 organisational framework enables departments like HR to be laser focused on the needs of the business and the needs of the business are people and relationships. In a few key points, Ulrich highlights the value of employing a 70:20:10 framework which is happening in more progressive organisations.

"HR has a crucial role in influencing this new company culture". Culture is king today. Organisations seek to be an innovative, creative, productive, learning culture. As a historic agent of compliance, executive confidant, and a worker resource, HR has a finger on the pulse of the organisation’s current culture and its approach must be one that puts the business of business first while continuing to meet the learning and performance needs of the workforce.

According to Ulrich, in leading companies this is happening.  He shares, for example, that in the HR functions of these organisations, "Complex performance appraisals are [being] replaced with informed conversations that ensure accountability". Performance appraisals have historically been about justification and allocation of titles and raises, and when they are about performance improvement they are summative by design, far too focused on convenience and therefore far too late to effect performance when needed most.

HR has the opportunity to lead the conversation on the importance of conversations; social starts here. Shifting away from laborious tracking, assessing and standardising that comes with annual appraisal processes, HR is then free to be a resource for managers in a meaningful way, improving their ability to develop the people they support by helping them identify key opportunities to coach and mentor. This point leads to the second key takeaway from Ulrich where he states "HR departments are increasingly becoming professional services units within their organisations where they turn their expertise (on people, performance, information, and work) into line manager client value".

In leading organisations, HR is coming out from its self-imposed departmental prison and blending in with the business units. Technology and automation of more routine tasks is hastening this shift as HR becomes a professional service unit. HR professionals look to enter the workflow with their unique expertise and empower their most significant client, the line manager. The manager is a critical artery in the workflow, and a manager's ability to move from being a task master to employee supporter is key to moving towards an autonomous and continuously learning organisation. The line manager alone has the greatest influence on the day to day activities of the workforce and it's these day to day activities that define an organisation's culture.

Adoption of a 70:20:10 framework is the ideal approach to move HR from a current state of irrelevance and atrophy to one of influence and action in the organisation without blowing it all up. Like Ulrich suggests, change starts with what works now, not what doesn't. Informal and social learning work and are already happening, fueling positive customer relationships, innovation and knowledge sharing. HR, employing a 70:20:10 Framework, can tap into this energy and position itself for long term success. 

READ: Don't Blow Up HR, Appreciate and Evolve It