Despite its best intentions, HR is often experienced as paternalistic or maternalistic in nature: it is a mechanism of control, it restricts individual agency, it seeks to own and command. In the Socially Dynamic organisation this model will be replaced by an entity that is enabling, guiding, and adaptive, as I outlined earlier this week with a new model for HR. I’ve enjoyed sharing this work as a conference this week, but I’m struck by how often the challenges polarised, to indicate that we can either be compliant, or we can be enabling and free. In other words, existing HR makes this challenge safe by indicating the current practice is what makes us secure, and any talk of an adapted practice would introduce risk or anarchy.
This is fundamentally wrong: organisations around the world work in secure environments, and yet many are not secure. Around the world, organisations work in compliance environments, and yet compliance breaches are common. Many organisations are good, but only a few excellent. Many face challenges of retention, challenges around attraction, many experience low levels of trust, and many find that creativity and innovation sit beyond their grasp.
The markets around us are changing, the fundamental principles of business are changing, the social contract between organisation and individual has broken, and the Social Age is a highly democratised space where mass and infrastructure, the things that used to make us great, may now hold us back and constrain us.
The model for HR that I propose would see us reengineer the function from the ground up: certainly there are hygienic issues which need to be addressed, but often these are not adding value, and often they are framed on the premise that individuals cannot be trusted, or that without strong governance the organisation cannot thrive. The onus of responsibility is held by the organisation with a sense that the human resources must be shepherded and controlled, corralled and limited.
There are many challenges to becoming Socially Dynamic: we need the right technologies, and yet technology is not the answer in itself, we need to address questions of permission and consequence, and yet permission and consequence will not be governed by system and process, we need to provide models of learning based around scaffolding and support, we need social frames of leadership to complement formal, we need to deeply understand change and both co-create and co-own it.
For all of this, we need a new function: perhaps this function will be HR, or perhaps it will be something new, with HR relegated to signing forms and processing job applications. That decision is in our hands.
One thing is clear: the old models will not give us what we need. Great people are innovating within them, as great people have always done to help organisations thrive, but we need to support them and gain momentum by fundamentally reorganising and rethinking HR to be enabling, guiding, and adaptive. And crucially, to enable others to be the same. The diversified strength of the Socially Dynamic organisation means that we do not have to have all the answers or retain all control. We simply have to let others find their individual agency and create the environment in which they, and we, can thrive.