One of the key takeaways from Talent Camp was the role that HR can play in enabling and leading collaborative work environments. Not only is the time appropriate for HR to take this on but it’s critical that they step up to lead the way. By enabling collaborative work environments, HR assumes a role in advancing the organization’s innovation capabilities, which can increase competitive agility and deliver enhanced value to the bottom line. Ultimately, culture determines the organization’s effectiveness, capability and future. Before narrowing in on the role of HR it’s valuable to take a look at what comprises and influences organizational culture.
Every organization has a story to tell. How things get done. How people think. How decisions are made. What conversations sound like. Who is interacting with whom. A composite of the attitudes, behaviors, experiences, values and beliefs that influence how the company operates and accomplishes its business objectives. Layer upon layer, just like an archaeological dig, each of these threads works together to tell the company’s story. Culture is shaped and influenced over time by company founders and leaders. In some instances its shaped by a deliberate, intentional vision. In others, culture is shaped organically. Either way it becomes the DNA of the organization. As a company matures, new leaders shape culture through tangible and intangible actions. Social, technical, economic, political and global events also affect culture through related events. Awareness of organizational culture has grown over time. Culture has become a common and important characteristic to companies promoting their employment brand and to job seekers considering employment options. The latter may sound surprising during the current economic situation but I think people weigh choices differently, especially when it comes to how and where they invest time to build their careers.
Culture plays such a significant role within an organization, people will work hard to protect the company’s culture – consciously or unconsciously, sometimes not even realizing what it is they’re trying to protect. During times of transformation this can be quite limiting and costly to an organization. When culture isn’t nurtured and allowed to evolve organically it can impede growth, interfere with competitive capabilities, make it more challenging to attract desired talent – and even cloud information around the type of talent that is needed, and lead to turnover of good people. Now, it may be true that an organization deliberately chooses not to allow its culture to evolve. That’s fine as long as it’s a deliberate decision and the consequences are recognized as well. Its also important to note that culture can evolve without compromising the organization. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing change. By identifying core components of the culture that continue to add organizational value along with where there is an opportunity for the culture to evolve and add greater value, the company and employees can be served more fully.
Time for Cultural Change – Collaboration
Are the organization’s needs and potential being met by the existing culture? As we head into a new year and a new decade, its valuable to reflect on how your company kept pace with the amount of change that has taken place over the past ten years. What are the social, technological, economic and global trends that have had a major impact on the way business gets done? What about the way people interact – personally and at work? Will the culture continue to support the company’s needs over the next 5 – 10 years? What about the people that make the business happen each day? Or, is the culture impeding progress and the ability to attract and retain the talent that will be needed to compete effectively. If the organization’s culture has not changed while everything around it has is that good? Will the culture help to prepare the company for a successful future? Maybe yes and maybe no. If the tough questions aren’t asked and answered objectively and honestly then where does that leave the company?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that culture should be so malleable that it’s constantly changing. On the contrary, I’m suggesting that a strong culture allows for evolution and change. One of the most important questions to ask of culture in today’s organization is how effectively it supports collaboration and if the company’s leaders embrace the idea of a collaborative environment. People have more opportunities to connect, share ideas and create content than during any other time in history. They have easy access to information and can, in most instances, quickly find the answer or gain knowledge on a variety of subjects simply by typing a question into Google or tapping their networks. This is the current and evolving state of the workforce. Social networking and online collaboration is influencing the way people interact, access information and work together to make things happen. So, what happens when they go to work? Does the culture of the organization align with what people value? Does it support access to information and connections?
The Role of HR and Collaborative Environments
Where does responsibility for culture sit within an organization? Who will recognize if and when the culture has an opportunity or need to evolve? I believe the responsibility should sit with HR and will even go as far as saying its one of the more important contributions that HR can make to their organization’s health, success and longevity. What is the HR functions role in shaping organizational culture? Does HR lead the evolution of culture? Do they have the capability to shape culture and enable organizational effectiveness? Or, does HR focus on trying to protect “something” in an effort to reduce risk and maintain the status quo? My guess is that there’s room for debate!
From my perspective, this is where the value contribution from HR can soar. Leading a culture evolution can reflect HRs capacity to bring together significant trends influencing the workforce, current and future, and the organization’s need for increased competitiveness, agility and innovation – all elements of a successful future. Establishing a collaborative environment is dependent on how people interact, how work evolves, how diverse perspectives are engaged, and how leaders are developed to bring out the best in people to guide the organization to success. Each of these is at the heart of where HR adds leadership and value to an organization’s success. As a collaborative environment is shaped and embraced, the organization will benefit from increased interaction, idea generation, broader perspectives around problem solving, and a more expansive approach to planning for market and product growth, or contraction. As HR helps to shape the organization’s culture it contributes directly to its own evolution in the company and is well positioned as a key contributor to long-term success.
If culture is allowed to evolve through nurturing or unfold organically to reflect changes in broader societal and technical trends then its time to take a deep look at how things are getting done. What story does your company want to tell?
Last week a group of unique people from the talent space came together for the first Talent Camp to delve into transformational work – building the talent function of the future. I’ll get deeper into the ”work” in the next post but I wanted to share something else remarkable that came out of Talent Camp …… community. The mission behind Talent Camp was to bring together a group of smart, passionate people and explore what the talent function would look like if the catalyst behind its “new” existence were a business need. A call to action, if you will, that positions the talent function at the heart of transforming the organization to meet the growing demands presented by the shifts taking place across the business and societal landscapes – driving organizational effectiveness.
The setting on the Oregon Coast was spectacular and a metaphor for our transformational work. A wave is not independent from the ocean just as the organization cannot be separated from the talent that brings it to life each day to drive its success. And, the Coast with all of its remarkable elements is in a state of perpetual change and interdependence. Our meeting place, a 4500 sq. ft. beach house, would serve as a place to open minds and facilitate discussion over the course of 2 ½ days. It would also mean that each of us participating in Talent Camp, who in most cases didn’t know one another, would need to quickly establish a foundation for honest, challenging and meaningful dialogue. We devoted our first evening session to establishing group agreements. What time would we begin each day? How much personal time was needed / desired? What was important to each of us in providing an environment that nurtured productive dialogue? What values do we hold around collaboration and communication? And, what would be our comfort level with connecting to the outside world via social media while we were together? This was not an easy conversation. Not because the group was reluctant to discuss it but because their hunger to dive head first into our primary discussion was evident and bursting through, so we took a meandering path. This was time well spent and provided an important foundation that would serve us well over the course of our time together.
What was remarkable was the ease with which the group came together. Every aspect of what would be necessary to be together for this period of time was met with ease. Everyone naturally assumed roles as needed to ensure our shared environment was conducive to being together and immersing ourselves in the work we had come together to explore. Our days were long and our formal conversations began at 9 or 10 am and went until 10 pm. The group’s collective energy created a respectful environment for honest, tough dialogue yet work and play seemed to fuse together as one. We organically found a balance between structure and openness that allowed us to challenge assumptions, wrestle with paradigms, tear things down, and begin again – after all this was transformational work and the path is not linear but an iterative process that unfolds through a process of discovery. People stepped up to lead discussions and everyone stayed engaged and committed to crafting a vision for the future of the talent function, that ultimately led to more questions than answers. There was an ease and a comfort that each person helped to foster through their engagement and persistent commitment to the group dynamics.
Social media played a significant role in how this group came together. With the exception of two people, who I knew, each connection to people attending Talent Camp began with a relationship that grew out of social networking. I do believe that the insight we gain through social networking interactions are quite revealing and in this case helped to bring together a unique group who worked collaboratively to advance a critical conversation around the future of the talent function.
Part 2 of Talent Camp will get into our discoveries and outcomes.
How effectively is today’s HR function meeting organizational business needs? How about the individual and collective needs and capability of the organization’s workforce? How can a global CEO study indicate that Talent is the most critical imperative, ranking high above access to capital, (see pg 24 of the exec summary) and at the same time reports are emerging that upwards of 60% of employees would leave their jobs when the economy improves? Increasingly, Talent is disconnected, underutilized, over managed, dispensable and bored. And, companies are not realizing the value in their workforce by merely creating a place for work to be done. Where is the excitement around business? Around new ideas? Innovation? Collaboration? Competition? How frequently have talented employees left a company to give birth to a successful venture on their own – could the idea not be born internally? Can we create a true entrepreneurial culture that supports internal incubators and reward innovation? What’s driving the disconnect and when will business get serious about the value to be realized in attracting, engaging and leveraging individual and collective capability? When will organizations recognize there is greater reward than risk in hiring for potential rather than always hiring to fit the round peg in the round hole and that the same approach applied to successful, innovative business practices can and should be applied to talent practices?
As the ecosystem within which companies operate continues to test and challenge the ability of organizations of all sizes to attract, engage and leverage talent how has the HR function stepped up to lead the way? Today’s business environment persistently demands more from people and their companies. What is the new leadership model at the intersection of HR, Talent and business? And, yet, how many companies have truly evolved their internal environments to navigate the waters of the business environment they operate in today and will be faced with tomorrow? This article from BusinessWeek raises some very relevant questions about R&D. Where is the relationship between R&D leaders, the HR function, the CFO and CEO to set a vision that prepares for the future? Any business issue today is also a Talent issue. How will we create adaptive practices that support continuous evolution that better keep pace with an increasingly shifting world with so much to offer, so many opportunities and filled with so many unique challenges?
The Big What If
I like to ask “what if” questions, a lot! It helps me imagine different realities, explore new possibilities and develop differentiated solutions. The BIG “what if” question I’ve been tossing around? Here’s part one – What if the HR function didn’t exist? Lets just imagine this for a minute. Some how business has been able to survive all these years without an HR function. New employees were still hired. Internally, people were paid on time and appropriately. Employees had access to development opportunities and internal movement happened as needed/desired. Things just happened, maybe not in an exciting way but we plodded along and managed. Now, part two – What if the HR function didn’t exist today BUT a business need was identified that recognized there was a synergistic relationship to be leveraged with talent in a way that would drive adaptive business practices. That would drive personal engagement, job satisfaction, creativity, collaboration, innovation and competitive advantages stemming from a talent-centric organization aligned through shared values and a clear vision.
Needless to say, this is a BIG what if! It’s also a critical question to explore during uncertain times that, to a large degree, has widened the gap between the organization and its current and prospective employees. The result of which does not look good from any perspective – and certainly not if you gaze into the future and wonder what will be different.
About a year ago I began kicking around the idea of Talent Camp – bringing together an intimate group of keen minds with a unique orientation and passion for Talent, business and the HR discipline. All things happen for a reason and in this case I’m particularly pleased that circumstances resulted in Talent Camp being a 2009 venture because there are a few people
involved that I didn’t know last year. On October 18th, 12 incredible people will come together for 3 1/2 days to explore the BIG “what if”. Collectively we have more years, depth and breadth of business and HR experience than I can begin to measure. We also share a strong passion for what could exist at the intersection of talent and business to serve both interests and advance organizational capability and effectiveness. We’ll be gathering in a 4500 square foot beach house on the Oregon Coast to immerse in a dialogue around our big “what if” question, that will no doubt experience the ebb and flow of progress, frustration, curiosity, pain, breakthroughs and clarity as we craft our talent function vision.
What can you expect out of Talent Camp? Well, that’s something that we’ll be defining while we’re together. My goal, hope and desire is that we’ll be publishing a collective work outlining the talent function required for business in the 21st century.
I am so pleased and excited about the incredible collection of people who have committed to join me at Talent Camp. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from them and can follow each on Twitter (their names are linked) and look for #TalentCamp to follow the conversation.
Jeff Hunter – see what Jeff has to say about Talent Camp
Steve Fogarty – see what Steve has to say about Talent Camp
and me, Susan Burns
More risk exists in standing still than in moving forward. We are the future and its time to craft the vision at the intersection of Talent, HR and Business. Talent Camp!