I’m using this week as an opportunity to explore the future of HR: part of a wider journey towards building the Socially Dynamic Organisation. The premise is that to be fit for the Social Age many of the organisations that surround us must adapt, away from a Victorian legacy of ownership and control towards an entity that is facilitating, deeply fair, enabling, and agile, able not only to adapt, but to thrive in times of constant change. In this initial sketch, I’m building out thoughts around diversified strength, outlining a model for HR with three core aspects: ‘Enabling’, ‘Guiding’, and ‘Adapting’.
In the Socially Dynamic Organisation, HR will do each of these things. It will ‘enable’: part of this is about the technology, moving from the model of ownership and control, to a model of facilitation and interconnection, so whilst the organisation may still provide technology, it will not seek to use it to control, but rather to engage. Whilst it may be an IT team that hosts and maintains the actual technology (and IT team that itself needs to adapt), it will be the HR team with a more direct input on how technology enables rather than simply controls, connecting people with facilitating technology.
Social Collaborative Technology can enable us to be more effective, but only if we address questions around the spaces we operate in, the permissions we are either awarded or claim, and the roles that exist within the organisation to lead, facilitate, and safeguard within the spaces. We will need broad and holistic methods of engagement, and alignment of different efforts in different parts of the organisation, to ensure that trust is earned in breadth. It will not be enough to assume trust, or to assume that trust ports from one context to another, both factors that the research into the Landscape of Trust is showing to be false.
There will be a range of roles within the Socially Dynamic organisation, some of which exist, some of which will adapt, some of which will emerge. At the highest level, in parallel to the formal hierarchy and formal leadership of the organisation, we will see the emergence of the social hierarchy and socially moderated authority. This is the most significant change, but there are details within this: community management roles will become more sophisticated, often devolved into the community itself, operating to co-created rules, and fully in control of their own conversations.
Storytelling is a golden thread of the Social Age, and I expect that we will see a greater need to help people develop their core storytelling skills, to understand how stories work, to understand the role and nature of amplification, and for the organisation itself to understand how to respond to stories, not simply to try and control or own them.
As we build the Socially Dynamic organisation, the role of HR will itself evolve to be enabling. It will also evolve to be ‘guiding’.
The notion of ‘scaffolding’ is important in the Social Age: it implies that we create spaces in which meaning is made, as opposed to owning the meaning and trying to share it. In a Scaffolded Social Learning approach, the scaffolding creates a series of spaces in which we learn through cocreative approaches. In the Dynamic approach to change, the scaffolding is the framework through which we build communities and co-create the future state. In service of all of this, we need to build a capability in guiding, in the way that we frame opportunities, the way we develop the scaffolding itself, all of the facilitating and enabling roles as we saw earlier, and in the choreography of the whole piece.
Choreography is central to this: inspired by design thinking and total quality assurance approaches, choreography is the end-to-end experience that we have within the organisation, both within individual projects, but also in our wider engagement throughout this portion of our career. With the Social Contract fractured between individual and organisation, with careers now portfolio and gig based, we will only sail one portion of our voyage within one organisation, and the organisation, no longer responsible for our career development over time, should build an expertise in the choreography of engagement whilst we are there.
The choreography should be about adding value, both to the individual and to the organisation itself: the only way that we will gain engagement, the only ways that we will extend length of service, the only ways we will unlock agility, unleash creativity, unlock innovation, is to earn the right. It’s the web-based, often community-based, often retail type experiences which are pioneering this type of engagement, and we can learn much from it.
In the old world, HR was about humans treated as resources. In the Social Age, HR will be about humility and humanity, it will be about respect and recognition. If our current organisations are substantially based upon system, process, hierarchy, and mechanisms of control, then our fully adapted and Socially Dynamic organisations will be based upon superb choreography, they will be both facilitating and enabling, they will be deeply adapted, not simply repainted, based upon a foundation of fairness, not ramparts of control.
As well as being enabling, and guiding, HR within a Socially Dynamic organisation will also be adaptive. Not adapted, not simply changed once, to be fit in a new space, but with a deeply embedded capability for adaptation: it will have a core competency around change, but not the type of formal change we’ve seen before, rather the cocreated and co-owned change as I outlined in the Dynamic Change Framework. It will have a core ability to prototype and iterate, and to develop this capability and others: to be seen as a true partner within the organisation will involve holding open these spaces, and developing this capability. In the Social Age, we tend not to be right first time, but rather have a deep ability to learn how to be right over time.
As we learn how to adapt, and become the key partner within the organisation to support adaptation, we turn to our other responsibility: to narrate the change. In a Socially Dynamic organisation, stories are shared wisely. This is the process of the organisation learning how to be agile, not simply stating that it is agile, which is often an aspiration that falls short of reality.
This is an initial sketch of the model: most organisations are based on 20 year old organisational theory, and 200 year old architecture. Both were fit for their time, and neither is fit for this time.
There are fundamental differences between those two worlds: people are no longer resources to be owned and deployed at will, rather we have a challenge of engagement, attracting and retaining the best talent within an overall portfolio space, where individuals will take primary responsibility for their own development, supported and nurtured by the community around them. If the organisation provides a fantastic developmental and learning framework, then this may be an incentive for engagement, but we should not expect thanks for this, it’s a bare minimum. As individuals, we are already adapting fast, prototyping new technologies, new ways of being in the world.
The architecture of organisations is fundamentally outdated, and it’s down to us to plan and deliver what will replace them. This sketch outlines some of the foundations: an organisation which is enabling, to the creation of spaces, through understanding permissions, to keeping relevant roles, but adapting old ones, and creating new ones. An organisation which partners widely internally to unlock this enabling power. In this new type of organisation, a Socially Dynamic one, HR is seen as an enabling entity, a reputation that it will have earned, rather than simply stated.
In this adapted organisation, there will be a core competency around guiding: creating frames and supporting the development of scaffolding, with a superb understanding of choreography. Adapted organisations will be excellent by design, not simply by chance.
The difference between a constrained organisation, which can be successful through great effort, and a fully Socially Dynamic one, is that the dynamic organisation as a deeply embedded capability to change. It is effortless to change, because it’s within our DNA.