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The Future of Working in Retail

With news titles of “Retail Apocalypse” lingering around in masses, a drop of traffic in many area of retail, that is driving a constant pressure on productivity in store, one of the key question for the professionals working in HR Retail is how can we make Retail attractive for today’s talents?
The issue is even more complicated. Many agree now that the future of retail is in delivering experiences. But these don’t come easy, in an industry that for a lot of time has been used to often hire low skilled labor, focusing on basic customer service and “hoping for the best“. In a not so distant past, it was sufficient to have a decent product, and then a script for smile, greet, check the size and process the customer at the till. Sales would come.

Omnichannel trends are putting more pressure on staff in stores.

In the omnichannel reality we live today, things have changed. A sales associate in store is asked to compete with customers that normally have already done all the product comparison at home before coming to store. She’s asked to do her best to deliver an experience, even while the customer is already browsing if there’s a better price online . And all this on minimum wage and reduced hour contract.

We see also other roles of Retail changing. All the management chain is asked to evolve in understanding customer journey beyond the physical boundaries of stores. Pick-up in store, order online, returns handling, often all these add a burden to the store operations itself, without necessarily being captured by the store P&Ls, way to often limited to what happens only within the bricks of the four walls.
if I were a young student today, looking to get my first job, why would I choose retail?
There’s definitely not one and only answer for this that is absolutely valid. Also because we need to skim through all those people for which retail is the only available option (still a reality in many large and small cities).
Asking people that are today starting their journey in this industry, with a motivation that is not just linked to the need for a basic income (a motivation we shall still respect and that will still drive a consistent part of the workforce for the year’s to come), there are some key discerning elements that people feel are relevant.

Have a Purpose

The ideal sales person capable to deliver an extraordinary experience is one that identifies with the sense of purpose of the brand she represents. Multiple facts enter into play around this, and whoever has read Sinek’s last book “Start with Why”, can immediately acknowledge the need for a company to have a strong sense of purpose, not just for their customers, but also to attract and retain key talents.
Also because, in an age of social media and communication, your Internal Culture is Your Brand.

Deliver Experiences

There’s an old saying that your level of customer service cannot exceed your level of internal service to your employees. I always think that luckily this sentence is purely aspirational. Because let’s face, the level of Employee Experience delivered in retail is normally pretty basic, if not poor at most. Dashed with cost concerns along the entire line, retailers have resorted into shrinking their staff to the minimum levels in a century.
In an age of rising and ubiquitous retail automation, one way to stand out? Go the other way and cultivate a high-touch, experiential offering that’s all about human contact, creativity and expertize.
(The Future of Retail: by TrendWatching)
This also means getting your teams to think in terms of Customer Experience around all possible touchpoints, not just what is happening at arm’s length. Digital, Physical, Social, all need to be understood as the web of MOT with your brands will increase.

Get the right Pay

Historically Retail is about underpaid, overworked and high turnover employement. Difficult to manage the delivery of a great experience under these conditions.

Retail Jobs Lag

Retail Jobs Lag (source: Bloomberg)

Retail talents need to be compensated for what it delivers. Minimum pay is rarely enough to guarantee a living, and more than often current incentive schemes in retail are more prone to cause behaviours not in line with the customer experience you want. What is needed is a Total Reward Strategy for retail that includes fair and transparent pay conditions, relevant benefits and incentives linked to real productivity.

Measure what matters

All of the above will not make much sense if we don’t adapt the was we measure success. Too often metrics are still held to the time where everything happened within the 4 walls of a store. We need new KPIs and metrics, and we need to ensure that people understand analytics and new ways of measurement that are relevant for their job.

Don’t think Millennial.

Last but not least, avoid falling into generation generalisations. Let’s face it: most of the traits of what has been defined “millennials” have failed to impress when these people entered the workforce. Moreover, more generations are appearing, and one of the element that people have in common today is their willingness to develop their own identities. A one size fits all approach is a guarantee for failure.

And above all, put this item on top of your list of topics for the years to com. No solution will be forever.

Sergio - Blog Signature



Disrupting HR: start thinking of HR Customer Service

After many years of discussion and implementation of the HR Transformation framework developed by Dave Ulrich, very few organizations have been really “able” to undertake one of the key challenges posed by that concept: evolving into a true service organization.

Many organizations declare to have successfully implemented the model. The key is of course how is success measured. Very often the issue is that HR transformation has been solely pursued with a cost-saving goal, and thus success has been eventually measured by the dollars the HR organization has saved. But at what cost? Way too often the result is a service organization that is distant (not only physically) from the needs of the employees. Managers have effectively to undertake too many HR tasks designed by HR for HR, not really having in mind the different approach a line manager would have. HR Business Partners that maintain the HR generalist mindset, not having evolved in terms of competencies through the transformation, and that continue to pursue HR tasks instead of being actor of the business support.

Failing to recognize customer needs


But why does this happen? I believe the real issue is that HR has failed to bring the idea of “HR Customers” to the logical conclusion, and really structure itself as a Customer Centric organization. It is very easy to spot this inconsistency, with few examples (unfortunately way to common around the world).

Laura is an employee at Acme Corporation. Her life is going to change a lot in 9 months, as she just discovered to be pregnant for the first time. She has never really bothered to get informed about what this means in terms of work, so she starts looking for some information.

  • First thing she does is looking at her Employee Handbook. There is a section around Leave, with a chapter dedicated to Maternity and Parental leave. But the section is 6 years old, and refers to some roles that are not existing anymore.
  • She decides then to have a look at the HR Intranet. She clicks on the Leave system she normally uses to record her absences, but there is no option to ask for a Maternity Leave.
  • She then looks in the Knowledge Base section. it’s not easy to spot on something specific in that multitude of documents, so she runs a search. The word “Maternity Leave” returns 60 documents, basically there is one policy per country…
  • Luckily she finds a page titled “What to do when you’re pregnant“. But her hopes to get a fast answer disappears in the first lines of the page: Depending on the contract terms you have been hired on or your company of origin, select the most appropriate Policy. Which Contract Terms? True… she was hired originally in a company that was later acquired by Acme… but the titles of the various documents do not help out…
  • She then resorts to call in the HR Help Desk. But the call menu at the beginning is not at all clear. Is this a Payroll question, or a Other Hr Services one? She tries the Payroll one, but although the HR agent on the other side of the phone was very helpful, he did not have full access to her profile to establish which policy would apply, so a case was opened, and she would get an answer in 48 hours.
  • During the day, at the coffee machine, she tells the great news to two of her best friends and colleagues. One of them, already with children, tells her to go immediately and talk with her boss, as apparently the policy states that that is the first step to do.
  • Laura then goes to meet her manager, and tells him the great news. After a couple of minutes of felicitation… he however says that he cannot process that information, as HR would need to be informed first. There’s for sure a form online to fill-in in this case. As Laure explains she had not found it, the manager quickly drops a note to the HR Business Partner requesting help.
  • In the afternoon Laura receives an email from the HR department. Quickly looking through it she notices that the original email from her manager had circulated to at least 5 different person in the course of the day. And an attachment: The official Maternity Policy! She quickly opens the document and… she discovers it’s 43 pages long. Probably too long also for her afternoon commute…

Many will recognize if not all, some of the elements that are common to many companies in the way that HR Services are delivered. Often similar stories appear when we engage with employees or managers trying to describe their experience, together with a sense of frustration and solitude ind ealing with these elements. HR is very often aware of the issue, but not always to this extent. And when facing the truth, their reaction is to fix the process, trying to figure out how to maybe have a better intranet, or update the Employee Handbook more often.

This failure impacts on the business bottom line

However there are two key learnings that often HR misses from similar stories:

  1. Employees and Managers think in terms of real problems they are facing when they need to contact HR. Whereas HR has the tendency to think in terms of functions and processes when delivering services. This unfortunately means that HR is normally not capable to match the needs and wants of their customers, which is to deliver one consistent solution to the problem.
  2. The above issue means that Employees and Managers dedicate time in trying to find answers, read useless documents, try to find shortcuts in the HR organization, resulting in losses of productivity and eventually real money. And creating external inefficiencies while pursuing your own internal business case, is probably not the best way to contribute to the Business.

Some organizations have tried to elaborate on this problem, and have tried to answer by articulating their services around the so-called Employee life-cycle. Despite being an innovation, it is however not enough. Also the Employee Life Cycle is de facto an HR concept, often not linked to HR.

Embedding the Customer Experience concept in HR.

To help out, we need to embed into HR a concept that is rather common in the rest of the business world, that of Customer Experience. I recently came around a very comprehensive definition of Customer Experience as being everything your brand does for your customers, everything your business processes do to them and how it makes them feel. 

And this applies thoroughly also to HR. Therefore we can come to a conclusion that:

Your HR Customer Experience is:

Everything your HR Organization does for your HR Customers
– Everything your HR processes do to them
= How this makes them feel.

This definition has therefore 3 parts:

  1. What you deliver to your customers.
  2. What you oblige your customers to do (in terms of filling in forms, completing transactions, calling in contact center etc.)
  3. What your customer feels of the total of these interactions.

The relationship between point 1 and 2 is effectively linked to the way they relate to each other in producing an experience. And this is all linked to the perceived value of what you are doing. Taking an example from the airline industry, today many people are embracing online check-in because they appreciate the fact that it is faster. However, not all airlines have been equally successful in implementing this, and recent developments at Ryanair show that there is only so much you can do in pushing your customers down a bad experience route. Which is why it is always a bad idea to design and develop self-service applications without having clearly in mind what the customer want or need.

Thinking in terms of Customer Experience is not easy. First of all because this is created by a sum of different interactions. A positive experience can be immediately balanced off by a moderately negative one. Which is why consistency  is key in the development of customer centric approach. What is really key in this is clearly identifying all the moments when employees or managers enter in contact with HR. These Customer Touch-points may be of different kind, covering system as well as personal interactions.

Is the experience you deliver across all these touch points is consistently positive for your customers?

This is the question you should be posing yourself. Carefully designing your interactions around the key customer needs is vital. So for example, if Laura had access to a portal where content was organized at what was relevant for her (in this case her Maternity), perception of quality would have been higher. Same as if the “Maternity Policy” would have been shorter. Or you seriously think that 43 pages is something that everybody would be happily willing to read?

What is the Cost of Good Customer Service?

But here’s come the catch. Many people feel that Good Customer Service is in opposition to cost control. I.e. investing in the quality of service immediately increases costs, something that HR under pressure for cost optimization cannot sustain.

Well, I see it differently. In many cases the cost of not delivering good quality much higher than the cost linked to improving your HR services.

When you don’t deliver positive services for the sake of efficiency, you are in reality moving inefficiencies somewhere else in the business. Which was the case in the example above, where Laura spent how many hours figuring out where to look for the information? And what about her boss? Or the 5-6 people involved in the email chain that eventually led to a policy delivered to her? As you see, poorly designed services have immediate effect in the organization. This may not be in the P&L of HR, but it ultimately is in the Business one!

Customer Service Components

High quality service is a must for all HR organizations that want to stay relevant for their business. There is no choice for this.

Clearly linking Quality, Efficiency, Service and Reliability are the only way to make a Customer happy. Something that is really key for the new HR organization.

A New Paradigm for People Management

Human Resources, really a Vital function?

Human Resources, really a Vital function?

HR is fighting a battle for its relevance in tomorrow’s organisation. If it wants to become something more than just an entity dealing with compliance and payroll administration, a serious paradigm shift is needed. Large HR Transformation efforts, based on the so-called Ulrich Model, have tried to bring efficiency into HR organisation, trying also to integrate technology and process automation. But their results have to a large extent failed to reach their goals. Even with the introduction of the so-called HR Business Partner role, in many organisation the satisfaction of business management towards the HR organisation has swiftly declined. The effort of regaining a business relevance by trying to impose a Business agenda through Talent Management, is also failing because it is proving to be the “wrong” answer to the problem. Facing a structural problem one would argue that a structural change would be necessary, not just a simple make-up effort.

Is there a solution then?

In my opinion yes, and the success that many professionals in this domain endeavor every day shows that a lot can be achieved. What is key is accepting the inevitable rethinking of HR as a whole, starting from its role, its key competencies and the related responsibilities within the organisation.

From HR to People Management

Moving away from the word HR

Moving away from the word HR

The first thing I suggest is abandoning the word “HR”. The concept of Human Resources was meant to stress the changing role of this function when “Corporations began viewing employees as assets rather than as cogs in a machine“. Good principle… but it just failed to miss the point, and the word HR (similarly to word “Talent”) has simply become a symbol of “political correctness”, expressing nothing more than a blunt aspiration in most cases.

The concept of Human Resources was born an idea that employees should not be treated as mere “costs” anymore, but as key resources within the organisation. That’s why over the years also the world Human Capital has been actively used. I do not argue on the relevance of both concepts, but I believe that in the midst of one of the biggest crisis of Capitalism ever, where the “financial capital” system is showing day after day how it has been failing to support real growth, we have the change to underline the real element we should be taking care of: People.

It already came to the attention of many that a relevant player like Google has named its functionPeople Operations“. I prefer the wording People Management for a very simple reason, in many non english contexts the word “operations” simply feels too “operative”, not carrying the real meaning it has in the English dictionary. Plus there is also another key issue. Following Ulrich’s teachings, most organisations have been pushing a lot of people management activities towards line managers. Results have been not always the expected ones. Although I truly believe that “people management” has such is a key duty of every Manager, most of today’s managers are simply “un-equipped” to perform this task successfully. Why? Well often because HR has never supported them enough to take this role, closed in between shortages in management capabilities and over complicated processes. Which leads to the first underlying assumption of my thought of a “new paradigm for HR”: simplicity.

Setting the new foundations: engage with Simplicity.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci

Let’s face it: in many organisations HR is perceived as a source of complication. In Italian we use an expression Ufficio Complicazione Affari Semplici, probably translatable with office for complication of otherwise simple affairs. Basically, HR is simply seen as a necessary evil. How often did you read a personnel policy, and started thinking why it needed to be 14 pages long? Or how often have you heard managers complaining about the complexity of their performance appraisal form? Or about the lengthy recruiting process? Or about the training budget? Well… too many extant HR has become in many organisation the real “bureaucracy” described by Max Weber. His definition is the following:

Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge
Max Weber

Isn’t that what any average HR director has tried to do? And this has especially become true after the HR Transformation process. With the implementation of HR Business Partner role and the push of a lot of People Management activities towards the manager, there has been a strong misconception that the only way to keep HR to make it relevant was to make it more “complex”. After all if you can demonstrate it is complex, you can satisfy the justification for its need. So, the so called “Center of Expertise” of the HR organisation (another element of Urlich’s Model) have soon become sources of complication.

I believe that the real added value that the new People Management can offer is instead support to management through simple and understandable tools. And if you believe that simplicity cannot be achieved you are already giving up on the possibility to engage in this necessary Paradigm Shift.

The key driver to ensure our relevance is not to demonstrate how complex managing people is, but to show off how simple it can become with the appropriate tools and support.

Building a new Framework for HR

Preparing for the Paradigm Shift

Preparing for the Paradigm Shift

The new paradigm I am suggesting is not going to alter the basic processes for which we should be accountable. People Management is still going to be about Attracting, Developing and Retaining people within the organisation. What I would like to suggest is an underlying framework, which, of course, needs to be simple and understandable by everybody.

First of all we need a Vision for People Management. Which needs to be easy to understand. This is my initial suggestion:

Delivering a winning culture.

Short. Straight to the point. Underlying the key element of the new People Management paradigm: development of a Culture that is “winning” for the company, i.e. aligned with its business strategy.

Second element that we need is a Mission for People Management. Again, it needs to be easy.

Develop innovation and creativity, by mean of simple tools and processes supporting people actions within the organisation.

See? Easy. We have already talked about the impact we should be having on Innovation and Creativity. What we need to add is the focus on simplicity of tools and processes. I somehow would be tempted also to drop the word “processes”, but that would probably be too much still. And the key element to be achieved is the continuous support of actions performed by all the people within the organisation. One would argue, why not characterizing the word “actions” with some adjective. Nope, I prefer to keep it short. Because the relevance of those actions is a business duty in my opinion, because what People Management needs to offer is a framework for people to express their potential. And this framework is constituted by the culture mentioned in the Vision.

A New Model for People Management

The new People Management paradigm: a new model.

The new model I am suggesting is pretty easy also to represent. The concepts of Simplicity, Creativity and Innovation are the real “weapon” for the new People Management organisation to be able to reach the Winning Culture the business needs. And all this, supported by tools and processes in the four traditional areas of Attraction, Development, Retention and Review.

This is the only area we haven not fully explored yet, and that I wish to briefly touch before concluding this article.

Reviewing People Management: the role of Analytics into the new Paradigm

Helping to measure the IcebergWe have briefly touched the key role that HR analytics should be playing in the new organisation. One of the key trends for the future is how HR will be able to cope with “Big Data“. Which means that People Managers will have to cope with something they are not really keen to: crunching numbers. The issue is that most people forget about the fact that HR is (or should be) a source of data and intelligence. And no, I’m not talking about payroll or labor costs. I’m talking of Real Time Performance Management for example. For sure analytics is going to change the way HR works, and it needs to be a key support element of the new People Management Paradigm I am suggesting.

The issue is that we should not move too fast. Most of today’s HR departments are still struggling with their Excel spreadsheets. For sure Big Data can be the answer, but what is the question?

That is why analytics need to be placed as part of the People Management process map. They need to be important and relevant as attraction or development. And they need to be linked to an essential function of each business process, review. HR has never been good at reviewing itself. Hiding behind the “soft touch” of its contribution to the organisation, it refused to “measure” itself in many ways. And were measures have been done, they have been limited to some activities and only in terms of ROI.

For sure we can start thinking of predictive algorithms. But I don’t think this is the real priority. We need to help business understand not just the tip of the iceberg, but its real size.

I believe the critical area of attention is Performance Management in an organisation, and everything that relates to it. This is what People Management can and has to support the most. But way too often we wrongly see this as a simplistic  equation:

Performance Management = Performance Appraisal.

How wrong! The Performance Appraisal form is for sure a tool that can help to Performance Management. But… how effective is a yearly evaluation (as this is the average time today) in a business were the speed of change is measured in days?

Performance Management should move from a periodic process into a real-time activity. Managers should have a tool set at hand helping them with constant feedbacks to their employees. And the People Manager should be able to support any given choice by a strong analytics set capable of supporting considerations over business results in terms of performance, competencies and motivation.

If this gets in place (and does not need to be complicate, an easy and simple live dashboard can make the trick), the Business will really love you. Because that is what they have been regularly asking for ages now!

The inner logic of People Management: reconciling the organisation

I have mentioned how important it is for People Management to become the active developer of the company’s culture. This task hides a really complex effort in the back, and should not be underestimated. I’m especially keen in recognizing that many HR professionals today are not equipped to cope with culture development. Something that can be easily checked by monitoring the “importance” of (culture) change programs into many organisation.

An interesting model on this has been proposed by Fons Trompenaars, and I’d like to pick up on it to just include some final remarks. Based on his strong studies of culture in organisations, he argues that

All organisations need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. The consequence is that the systems and processes of HR are changing to the world of dilemmas created by the customised workplace and even more by globalisation. Increasingly, in this new paradigm contrasting values have to be integrated.

A challenging role this of integration of dilemmas. However, this is what Kuhn referred when talking about “scientific paradigms”, as a new Paradigm gets created when it is capable of encompassing the dilemmas related to the previous one. However, leaving the theory of scientific revolutions aside for a second, three key elements are necessary for People Management to make this integration paradigm true: Recognition, Respect, Reconciliation.

  1. Recognition:  whilst it is easy to recognise overt and explicit cultural differences, way too often we do not consider the hidden implicit differences. Years of application of US born HR approaches with mixed results in the rest of the world have shown the importance of being able to run a real “cultural due-diligence” within your organisation. The first step is in fact to be able to recognise that there are differences in values and thus the meaning given to the same thing by different people.
  2. Respect: different orientation on meanings given to different things cannot be “right” or “wrong”. They are just different. It is all too easy to be judgmental about people and societies that give different meaning to their world from ours. Thus the next step is to respect these differences and accept the right of employees (as well as customers) to interpret the world (and our products and services, but also the management tools and processes we put in place) in the way they choose.
  3. Reconciliation: because of these different views of the world, we have tensions deriving from these different value systems and/or current practice versus idealised behaviours. The task of the HR professional is to facilitate the reconciliation between these opposing differences in the area of their own function and to help build the wider reconciling organisation.

I truly believe this concept is so powerful, that its effects can only be imagined. Well, some organisations really active on Diversity Management, for example, have shown how important this understanding and this reconciliation effort is for an organisation. But what we are saying here is one step more advanced. 

The People Manager needs to become and advocate of the organizational reconciliation, between competing objectives, different value systems, opposing interests and moving targets. How? Composing a culture that can become truly “winning” by enlarging the area of overlap between the personal values of the people within the organisation and the values of the business as a whole.

This is the real challenge for the new People Management paradigm. A good challenge for the years to come.

This is the last post in a series of six articles:

  1. Getting Rid of the Word Talent
  2. Need number 1: Hire Good Candidates (and get them onboard fast)
  3. Need number 2: Develop people internally
  4. Need number 3: Retain your people
  5. Need number 4: Enhance creativity and innovation
  6. A new paradigm for People Management

Getting rid of the word “Talent” – A Six Post Series on People Management

(This post was modified on March 11th to accomodate links to other post in the series).

In the world of Human Resources there are few words to which I have become really allergic. One of them is for sure talent. Why? For a very simple reason: it is usually used as a shortcut, to justify or cover facts that are not always fully understood. This way Talent has been constantly used instead of more “proper” words.

What is the real meaning of Talent Management?

What is the real meaning of Talent Management?

Sometime it identifies a set of skills that certain specific have… so why not simply call them competencies?

In other cases it is used to identify group of employees that are “gifted” with the prospective of achieving great results in their work. It is therefore a way to refer to People, and btw wasn’t this why they were once defined High Potentials?

Sometime the word is used to identify a group of people that share, instead, a common set of competencies, and that are organized into pools to enable succession within the organisation. Yet again I don’t see the point to use another name to point towards a common HR process of succession management.

These are just some examples of what I really consider an abuse of this word. But why are people using this word so much? Of course, a big part of this has to be done to the fact that the word has become “fashionable”. So many books have been written about the Talent Battle, the Talent Shortage, the Talent Dilemma and so on, that it is just human for an average HR practitioner to repeat this word at least 3, 4 times a day.

However, this is not the point.

What’s the difference between Talent Management and HR Management?

What scares me the most is when people start shaping this word into the form of Talent Management, and stating that “we need to develop a Talent Management strategy“. What this implies can be derived from a very easy fact. If the word “Talent” has just been used as an alternative label for people, competencies or HR processes, can’t we just state that we are, effectively, talking about People Management? Sure we can… but here lies the issue. An HR Director cannot stand in front of the board and state “We don’t have a People Management Strategy“, the same way a CFO cannot state “we can’t do accounting“. Yet the meaning is exactly the same. In many ways, many HR executives are realizing that the HR function for too much time has renounced to deliver its promise to sustain the results of the organisation. And are now seeing all this as a Talent Management issue.

Basic Employee Lifecycle

Basic Employee Lifecycle

From this point of view, we could well say that this wording has had the positive effect of driving the attention to a key fact: the HR organisation had given up its main role of managing people, accompanying them through their lifecycle within the organisation from hiring to retire (or leave), nurturing them, making them grow and develop. Do I sound too romantic? Well sorry, but it’s easy as doing a small analysis of all the “graphs” about Talent Management and the way an Employee Lifecycle was depicted (as of the 20’s of the last century). It just becomes a “spot the difference” exercise, with not a lot of differences in reality!

So what is the real issue? Why has it become of so much importance again?

With all the efforts of creating a “lean” organisation, improving processes, automating activities, outsourcing etc., the HR organisation has undergone a significant stress over the last decades. Some radical HR Transformation processes have pushed the level ro far in the hands of managers, that certain organisations have posed themselves the question, if an HR organisation was at all needed. The economic and financial crisis that have hit the business world already starting with the mid of the 90s, have however triggered a different scenario. Instead of less HR organisations have faced the necessity of having more HR. But what they had left was often a bunch of specialized silos in their organisation, not visible enough to attract the right people, not staffed enough to have a continuous dialogue with managers and employees, not skilled enough to really follow an employee in all its steps of working life. In many organisations newly elected HR Business Partners have been focusing on gaining more and more business insights, just to discover that today they are missing important (basic) HR skills. Trying to establish its new role in between a “compliance” actor or a true “business partner” HR has simply forgotten their main area of concern: People.

Moving towards People Management: 4 key business needs.

So it should not come unexpected that some of the most successful organisations in today’s business have, not only have not abdicated to their pivotal role, but they underline this with a much les “fashionable”, much more sound wording. Think about Google, and the fact that calls its HR “People Operations“.

Now, think simply about what are the key business requests today:

  1. Hire a good candidate for each open vacancy in the shortest possible time, and get him ready to be productive as fast as possible.
  2. Develop people internally, giving them the right skills to occupy positions of responsibility as faster as possible.
  3. Make sure people don’t leave the organisation at the first whistle of competition
  4. Make sure that people can work in a way that optimizes not only “hard” productivity, but also creativity and innovation.

Did I miss something? Feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

However they are expressed, most of the feedback you hear about HR by other managers, is about not being able to meet expectations in one of the 4 areas above.

So what to do? There is not one easy answer, and what I would like to do is analyse each piece separately, in a series of article that will follow this one. But before adding this level of analysis, I want to make sure one concept is shared with all of you.

In my view the role of “people operations” in an organisation is similar to that of the basic plumbing in a building. What you want to do is that water flows in in the right quantity, and flows out once it has been used. All areas of the building should be reached with the same level of pressure. And you should avoid any leaks. I know, many of my colleagues working in HR will feel almost offended by a parallelism with something that has so much to do with engineering. But that’s not the point. The key issue is that the HR organisation needs to act essentially as the network of pipes that allow the flow of water. That’s why an answer to any of the points that I have mentioned above, cannot be taken without considering holistically also the other three points.

We are talking about people, and how they can better contribute to the result of your organisation. If a person leaves the company, it is never just because of a low salary. If your time to fill a vacancy is higher than the average, it is never just because your IT systems sucks. If you have to constantly get managers from the outside because you are not succeeding in growing them internally, it is never just because of lacking competencies. If your productivity rate is falling it is never just because your managers are not able in motivating…

Leading a modern People Management function is essentially, in my opinion, discovering and eliminating 30 years of alibi and quick justifications. And taking ownership of one of the key functions for tomorrow’s corporate survival.

This is the second post in a series of six articles:

  1. Getting Rid of the Word Talent
  2. Need number 1: Hire Good Candidates (and get them onboard fast)
  3. Need number 2: Develop people internally
  4. Need number 3: Retain your people
  5. Need number 4: Enhance creativity and innovation
  6. A new paradigm for People Management

The Dos and Don’ts to build a successful HR Portal

Employee using a LaptopMany organisations have been for years investing in HR technologies, trying to lower their operational costs and raise efficiencies by letting employee and managers access HR processes through specific Self-Service functionalities.

Yet, not all organisations have been successful in obtaining the expected results. Whether as a specific implementation project, or as part of a larger HR Transformation effort, HR technologies play a key role as the enabler of a lot of today’s HR processes. but their implementation poses challenges that are not always comparable to the ones other ERPs face.

The main one is that HR systems are addressed to all employees, and not only specific ones. Not only, in many cases they also need to involve people that are not yet employee (interns, contingent workers, free-lance) or people that are not anymore employees (retired, but also people who changed job). So, how to implement a system that can really be usable by all these type of people?

In many cases, the idea of a HR Portal came through, in an effort to really create a simple to use point of access for employees and managers to all HR transactions. If until a couple of years ago this was often just to create an easier to use front-end for the all-in-one ERPs mostly used (such as PeopleSoft, Oracle Business Suite, SAP), today portals also play a key role in connecting different best of breed HR solutions (such as Taleo for recruiting, Saba for learning, SuccessFactor for Performance Management, just to cite some of them).

But why is it so difficult to achieve the desired results?

From the different examples I’ve seen so far, I believe we can identify at least five common mistakes:

  1. A Portal is not a Project: this is one of the most evident mistakes. Many organisations treat the realisation and implementation of a Portal as a project, with its budget, its governance model, its design and build phase and its final go-live. But here lies the problem: a Portal needs resources, governance and continuous update to work after the go live. If an organisation fails to understand this in the early stages of its inception, the whole Portal idea will fail at a certain point. 
  2. A Portal is not (only) about Technology: yet in many organisations this is seen as a (mainly) IT project. In reality most organisations already have the technological capability of building a portal. Issue is that a portal is a lot more about understanding user interactions then about setting a technology environment alone. Similarly to web design, the key elements are: usability, content management, taxonomies… elements that sometime a hardcore technologist does not always understand.
  3. A Portal is not an Intranet: putting a couple of documents on a Sharepoint site, and linking in 2-3 transactions, doesn’t make that a portal. A Portal is all about a unique experience for the user. Which should evolve and grow and accomodate different types of usages by different kind of suer profiles.
  4. A Portal is not a “one size fits all” tool: on the contrary, one of the key feature of a well-designed portal is to make sure it delivers content that is unique for each user profile. And it should also accomodate different user behaviors in searching for content, as well as in accessing portal content (from work, from home, via mobile…).
  5. A Portal is not a “link collection”: I think that the era of creating a one pager with links to all HR applications is over. Although this could be used to give access to all applications from one page, and maybe solve single sign-on problems, just creating a landing page with links is definitely not a solution.

So, what are the best advices to get a real Portal off the ground that can help achieve the organisation objectives? There are many articles online on Best Practices, yet I believe that talking about Best Practices is somehow dangerous. There’s no way that a successfully built HR portal for one organisation, can work, and achieve the same level of results, in another.

However, here are some basic suggestions that I believe you should take into account:

  1. Design your portal around your own people: start from the pain points and the real needs of your employees and managers, not from the way HR or Technology see them. If you are able to create a dialogue with the final users of the Portal itself, and possibly embed this dialogue also in the Portal design (through whatever “social” feature you think to be most appropriate: comments, tagging, forum etc.), you will not only obtain a good initial design, but you will create a community that will help bringing that design forward.
  2. Deliver a “beta” version… : like many “Web 2.0” sites have taught us, it is impossible to foresee all different types of tools, interaction points, features etc. that a Portal may require. Instead of trying to have an extremely long design phase, to take all this into account, try to get your Portal live as a “beta” release as soon as you have built the core functionalities. Then release something new every 2-3 months, maybe using the Viral approach that Facebook and Google have so successfully implemented (releasing a functionality to a small group of people first, looking at their reaction, and seeing how new people start asking for those features).
  3. Think of HR holistically: in many organisations the responsibility of a Portal sits under one of the specific HR functions or Centers of Expertise. Although this may sound sensible, your Portal needs to become the core of your HR Service Delivery Model. This means you need to be able to connect all the different functions and areas of HR. Not only, you should be able to embed into the HR portal also elements that are considered “HR” from your end-users perspective. A typical example is the Employee DIrectory. Administered often by IT as part of the provisioning system, often sits on another system as is not integrated with the HR portal. Now, try to explain this to an average employee… Same destiny for areas like Health and Safety, Travel Policies, Expenses etc.
  4. Develop a Clear Governance Model: this is one of the areas in which most organisations fail. Managing an HR Portal means defining clearly who does what, and who is responsible for what, at all content levels. Your Governance Model should take into consideration that you will be having different types of content (a Policy might have different approvals rules than a news item), as well as different customers (employees of one country may be affected by one policy more than others, specific HR actions may be for one specific region only etc.). If your organisation is big and spans multiple country, you will amplify the need of a clear governance model due to language and local regulations needs.
  5. Be “open” in terms of technology: this is the only technological advice I’d give: be open in terms of platform. Meaning, make sure that what you have chosen can accomodate interaction with different systems: SaaS, other ERPs, web-services, API etc. Portal are often becoming integration points with many systems. As such you need to be able to accomodate both the AS-IS technical scenario, as well as the future TO-BE… whatever that may be.

Although these may sound “generic”, these suggestions are really key in defining a Portal that is going to be effectively used by your workforce, thus driving the results you want to achieve.

The Value of a “wow” Shopping Experience


A couple of days ago I’ve spoken at the annual Marketing Symposium that Deloitte organizes in Luxembourg. My short intervention was focusing on the concept of Shopping Experience, and on the way it relates to what I define “people centric retail development“, i.e. the concept that store personnel is the driver in the delivery of a real “wow” experience for the shopper.

I really believe there needs to be a focus on this aspect. The retail industry is facing a real challenge at the moment: the luxury segment is forced to become more and more exclusive, to keep its affluent clientele. The more “cheap” segment is constantly evolving, and is now seeing tenacious battles between the various market leaders as well as new entrants. The “in between” segments are the more challenged ones, squeezed in between the chic and the cheap. So far they have been able to compete thanks to a certain degree of specialization. But more and more they will need to relate their own survival to their capacity to deliver enough positive shopping experience to a) keep their customers coming back and b) to get some buzz on the social media.

The issue is that way too many retailers are focusing on just the “usual” strategies: more advertising, more expensive stores, nicer windows, extravagant events, promotions… It just feels so overwhelmingly normal to act in these areas, that you often fail to see the difference. But… Just think about your own experiences. I guess each of you has been shopping… And I believe that you can recall a really great shopping experience. Typically you will recall that you exited a store with something you were not really intending to buy… But I am sure that if stimulated your memory will recall a lot more the person who served you, the environment, the smiles and the feelings than anything else. Sometime this is so powerful that I recall in a workshop a woman started telling her story about such an extraordinary shopping experience she had in the southern part of France, that she was able to describe that experience for almost 15 minutes. At that point both me and the participants were really curious and asked: what did you buy?I don’t remember, was her candid answer. But she will continue to remember the smile and the words of the shop-owner!

The issue is that a retailer that is suddenly finding a dip into its sales, will never think at its sales force as the first aspect to be addressed. Advertising, marketing, product development, all these areas are normally addressed first. Sometime with very important investments. Of course, you need to have good products in store, you need to have a sound marketing strategy, you need to have an engaging advertising campaign… But I assume that if you’ve done your homework right, all these things should be in in place.

So where to focus? On the people in store! And on their skill levels. On their retention (as much as possible) and on their career. On really making sure that the possess all the tools they need to deliver a successful and “wow” shopping experience to their customers. Yes because in reality, at the end of the day, they are the ones interacting with the customers.

I think that retail is built upon a paradox. The people that are nearest to the customers, are usually paid at minimum wages. They’re not considered as a real talent pool. They are so mobile that very few retention strategies are put in place. Sometime all there is is a tactical element of “let’s avoid they leave and work for the competitor”, which so often is the shop next door.

I believe there are 5 steps each retailer of the “in between” segments should carry:

  • Develop a competency model linked to the shopping experience you want to deliver. You should identify about 6-10 behaviors, that can be easily recognized by your sales people. This will guarantee you a first aspect : consistency.
  • Deliver development tools to the stores. Let’s face it, it is almost impossible to use traditional classroom training in stores today. And elearning alone is not necessarily the best answer. What you should focus is in creating a blend of traditional learning methods and on the job supporting tools. Checklists, shadowing exercise, speed coaching routines… Anything that can be used in the 10 minutes that a sales rep can dedicate daily to his development. Of course, all this needs to be strictly linked to the competences identified above.
  • Reward behaviors more than results. If you have designed your competences correctly, and they are consistent with your business strategy, don’t be afraid: set a reward policy based on it. I’ve seen so many companies striving for teamwork and support as their key behaviors, but never reaching results because they were incentivizing sales reps only through individual commissions. A behavioral model that is not supported by a rewarding mechanism is a certain failure.
  • Create development paths in-store. Especially smaller stores have difficulties in retaining talent also because they often don’t offer career opportunities. So, think out of the box: development is not necessarily synonym with vertical career, especially with the younger generation more and more interested in lateral moves, new leanings and more challenges.
  • Focus on one touch point with the shopper. Retail is detail, it’s an old saying, full of truth. But at the same time, tying to do everything is also destined to failure. When Gordon Ramsey tries to save a restaurant in his successful tv series, the first thing he often does is reducing the menu from hundreds of servings to something that fits one page. You should do the same: concentrate your effort (and your people efforts)on the one moment of the Shopping Experience you are best at. It can be your fantastic windows, or your excellent browsing experience in store… Make sure you get good on average, and great at one of the key points of contact. This will make the difference.

Las but not least, if you work in a retail company, and never worked in a store, make sure you take two weeks time to spend in a store. Without this experience, no marketing genius, development guru, production specialist or finance mogul will ever really have a lasting understanding of how your shoppers behave and what they think of your brand.

And you? What do you think about the importance of your shopping experience?


Tipping ideas


Time for good ideas

One of the key features I would like to deliver through this blog, is some key effective tips that can help improve how everyday’s life. I’ve decided to user not much text for this, as I would really like to keep these short and simple, the way an actual “Tip” should be. I know this is not a completely new idea, but it is worth trying, also because often all what is needed is just a simple place where to find good and effective ideas. Plus, I’ve decided to only place the few Tips that I know are working, simply because I have tried them myself.

So, let’s start! And please, make sure you get any idea or feedback through this blog’s comments!

Reset and Restart

Time for a Restart for this blog

It’s more than a year that I’ve not given attention to this Blog. What happened? Well… I changed job, I moved to another country… substantial changes in life and basically the need to devote time to other priorities. But… writing has always appealed to me, and I wanted top take back some time for myself, and start back in sharing thoughts and experiences. But what is going to change?

Well, the first thing you have probably noticed: this post is in English. As my current work is mainly done in this language, I sort of feel I should share my thoughts also with the people I work with. Both clients and colleagues, should have the opportunity (I hope) to exchange ideas on this blog and comment on my ideas. Plus… somehow I feel that the topics I am usually interested in cannot be framed and limited by one language only.

I’ve also decided to refresh the design of the blog. It will take sometime before it gets fully usable, but I believe it to be a lot more fresh and contemporary (and looks good also on my iPad!).

So, welcome back… and let’s get started again!

Beyond Generation Stereotypes

In a recent article by Gillian Tett under the title “It’s time to stop talking about Millennials“, the author highlights an important lesson we often face everyday at work: talking of generations in terms of “absolute identities” is not only wrong, but can result in pure discriminations.

We’ve got all used to think in terms of distinct generational cohorts, especially thanks to the Advertising Industry. However, this has quickly expanded also to a lot of HR domains, with Recruiting, performance, and the “world of management” trying to make sense of the new generation inflow into the workforce.

It all started about half a century ago, when economists first started to talk about “baby boomers” to refer to people born after World War II. Then came Generation X, then the “Millennials” and now the next one: often called Generation Z, although other descriptors exist.

A sample Generations' Classification

Fig.1: A sample Generations’ Classification (source)

However, the Millennial label is the one that tends to generate most tensions (although I believe the Gen Z one will, eventually, be even worse).

Baby boomers and Gen Xs grumble that Millennials are “entitled” and  “unfocused”. Millennials retort that the old generations created an economic mess, forcing them to become more creative, resilient and socially minded.

But looking closely, it seems the label simply doesn’t match. Of course, Technology experience has shaped different expectations in the younger generations. However I know from experience that simply “assuming” that every Millennial or Gen Zs is a “technologist” is not just absurd but totally surreal. In my experience with Retail I’ve dealt with the younger generations way before other industries (simply because the average age of our retail workforce is lower…). And I definitely noticed that there are as many technophobes among the youngsters as there are among the most senior staff.

Now something is changing. Advertisers have noticed that Millennials in their 20s consume in totally different ways than those in their 30s. Up to the point that JWT has coined now the word “Xennials” to identify those millennials that identify more with Gen X. But the reality is: who cares?

Going beyond demographics

If in the past anthropologists classified generations by fertility rates, today what is happening is that the focus of “Age” has moved to experiences rather than biology alone. And if Experiences are the clear marker, than we need to accept that everyone’s experience will shape every person in a  different way, making the idea of cohorts simply irrelevant.

People – of all ages and in all markets – are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more.

Which is why also Deloitte, in a  recent report, fights against this stereotypical view and suggests we look at entirely different ways to segment our marketing approaches. An element also recognised by those who claim we live in a post-demographic consumerism era. A real change towards the past way of thinking, which demands new tools and products. We need to cater for the all the different identities people develop, not because of their belonging to a “label” or identity.

Which is why we need to be careful whenever we develop bullseye customers, or persona profiles in our work. Although these can be very useful, they tend to have the negative impact of narrowing our way of thinking, as they simplify the world.

And all what we want is to avoid creating another, unnecessary, cluster of discrimination, putting people in “generational boxes” that don’t really exist.

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Strive for Authenticity

Few days ago some colleagues asked me which one of the Guiding Principles that VF has chosen is more important for me. I think it’s difficult to pick between a set of core values that all relate to what I believe “good business” should be about.

Live with integrity resonates a lot to me, also because a big part of my personal and professional journey has been marked by strong internal (and sometime openly external) conversation about the meaning itself of what Integrity means.

Let’s cut it short. For me Integrity is not about simply respecting the rules. Since the beginning of my career, all the managers I’ve had understood that I’ve always been a “challenger” of status quo rules. The question is, of course, which rules you can or cannot challenge. And to make sure these challenges are not just an attempt to build anarchy, but more a way to improve working conditions, productivity or other inefficiencies.
This is why I believe that Integrity needs to be linked to another essential trait: Authenticity.

Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.
Adam Grant

Being authentic guarantees building a system of consistencies around your values and beliefs, and a way of portraying them to your team, your peers, your supervisors. Which is why it is so strongly linked with Leadership. People that are not able to express authenticity in what they do, will fail to develop strong leadership skills in the long term, because there is always the risk to be caught off guard.

Developing authenticity

Issue is that developing authenticity is not easy. In many ways many cultural elements as well as consumerism, tend to guide us more on building alternative facades or masks versus expressing our authentic selves.

To be fair, I believe that a small portion of “buildups” in terms of our personalities it’s not only normal, but somehow desirable. Provided it doesn’t alter your personal values up to the point of creating falsehoods. I spent most of my time as adolescent in trying to demonstrate to be “older” and “wiser” than my age. But that has pushed me to develop myself, even if somehow for a period of my life I was not necessarily exposing my most authentic self.

A question that I often had to confront is if authenticity is about displaying your weaknesses. I think also here we need to be clear: I always believe there needs to be a separation between what is needed at work and what instead is your broader personality. Of course the first needs to be aligned to the latter. But you don’t necessary have to take everything with you. Authenticity is not just being emotional, for example.

Authenticity is about presence, living in the moment with conviction and confidence and staying true to yourself. An authentic person puts the people around them at ease, like a comforting, old friend who welcomes us in and makes us feel at home.
Christopher Connors

After all it’s about being “real”. To yourself, as a start. To others, as a consequence. Developing a strong connection with everybody that encircles you. And as a matter of fact one of the key components to develop real Authenticity is to treat others always with Kindness and Respect. This is the key that will allow you to really develop a strong authentic mindset, that will create positive impact on all your relationships.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde

You may live by a code of values and morals that remain constant, but when it comes to opinions, people and events, you always need to be open to listening. Authenticity asks that we judge free of bias.

All of the above will help you expand your circle of influence. Because Authentic people share another key attribute: their open-mindedness (built on Trust on others) that allows to constantly seek new value creation patterns. Every authentic person is someone that is open to new ideas.

The key to true Leadership.

Authentic Leadership in Team

Fig.1: Real Leaders are Authentic.

In my work in Retail and stores, I have been able to observe a lot of cases where a Store Manager did make a difference not just in terms of business results, but in terms of team success. All these people shared a strong level of Authentic Leadership. A trait connection that has been researched a lot.

One of the key trait of being Authentic is to reject the idea that everybody needs to like you. “Most people are walking the tightrope between their need to express their own identity, and their need to fit in”. When you don’t need to be liked or loved by everyone, it frees you up to be your True Self.

If a leader is playing a role that isn’t a true expression of his authentic self, followers will sooner or later feel like they’ve been tricked.

This is the key: being an Authentic Leader is the best antidote against missed expectations by others.

Which means you will be able to become the drop of water that creates the ripple-effect of positive energy in your team and organisation.

Being yourself. Always.

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A Book Review: 02.02.2020: La notte che uscimmo dall’Euro

When I started this blog I took the decision to keep it linked to the professional side of my life, whereas others areas of my interests (politics, broader topics) are something that I normally cover in other domains.

However this book by Italian journalist Sergio Rizzo, deserves some attention. For the non Italian readers, Sergio Rizzo is editor at La Repubblica, and author of numerous books on the issues that Italy has been facing over the past years. He has never been soft or careful with politicians, but with this book he goes full steam against the danger of just letting things “happen”.

Book Cover of 02.02.2020 La Notte che Uscimmo dall’Euro

Fig.1: The book cover

In the book he tells the story of a dystopian future where the two current parties leading the Italian Government, perpetrate the so called “Plan B” and force the exit of Italy from Euro over a weekend. The results are a disaster for the economy, obviously, despite the warnings of many, especially one part of the government persists in the plan.

It’s not a story of the “good” and the “bad”, all actors seem at fault here: EU institutions, opposition parties, economic actors. But then the inevitable happens and the country is forced down a path of no return.

Lessons extend beyond this book,.

However, the scariest element about this book is the fact that this dystopian future resembles too much to today’s reality. A bit like the famous The Simpsons episode “Bart to The Future“, that, aired almost 20 years ago, depicted the presidency of Donald Trump.

A possible future Trump presidency just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane

And the writer of the episode, Dan Greaney, later commented how much this was meant to depict the worst possible alternative. Yet it materialized.

There are multiple causes for this, and definitely the “fake news” part is just the last one of them. But what scares me is the inability to distinguish the roots of the problem and the risk of not taking relevant actions.

Eventually we were all surprised when Trump won the presidency or when Brexit passed the referendum. Many were surprised. But all the “early warnings” of these were looming around us for a lot of time.

We do face so many similar situations also in companies and organizations, when we fail to listen actively to the early warnings that are coming from markets, competition, customer. And we continue to think that our organization can work isolated from the rest of the world.

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A Book Review: The subtle art of not giving a fuck

I resisted the urge to buy this book for quite a long time. I’m always a bit reluctant to buy books with titles that seem to be designed just to appeal to the busy passerby’s at airports, promising to change your view on life.
Then it happened. I bough this book in an Airport (Amsterdam), and although I didn’t really change my view of life, for sure I have discovered a lot of commonalities with some feelings about life that I’ve had for some time.


Fig.1: The cover of the book

Mark Manson does this in a very counterintuitive way. He is somehow able to destroy in a matter of few pages, years of self-proclaimed self-help gurus, and gets us all back to one important point: our life is what we decide to do of it.

First lessons first.

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience.
And paradoxically the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

By referring to Alan Watts‘ “backward law”, Manson helps us find a reason for why a lot of the efforts we do in our self improvements… don’t really work. And helps us understand why the real people that are successful are so because of their constant improvement over their constant “errors”.

He also helps us running the errands of choosing the struggle of our life, because that is what will make our life meaningful. In this sense growth becomes an endlessly iterative process, but not one were we for from “wrong” to “right”. Rather from “wrong” to “less wrong”.

Some broader concepts come in light, above all the fact that we do all things “right” doesn’t make us “right”. I bet each of you knows at least one person in your life who constantly tries to do all the “right” things. But fails hopelessly to be “right” in most situations. Too often however we are just drawn into negative energy circles, as he outlines:


Fig.2: Two problems people usually face to not facing problems

But the part that has made me reflect more is the one that talks about motivation and its relationship with Action. It was one of those “aha” moments when you finally see written ink on paper something you always thought of:

Action ⇒ Inspiration ⇒ Motivation

In order to achieve something… best way is to start doing it.

Overall a pleasant and inspirational reading, written in a fast paced rhythm. The entire book almost finished to early. And it leaves with the sensation of lounging for more: or at least to meet somewhere the “Disappointment Panda”, that immediately landed on my personal Facebook profile as a meme for this personal reading discovery.

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What should HR be?

One of the most interesting concepts that I’ve been able to capture at UNLEASH18 in Amsterdam this week, relates to the constant discussion about the role of HR.

In a presentation held by Bersin by Deloitte, a new concept has been presented that I can relate a lot to. The idea of Ambient HR.

Imagine that HR is the electrical wiring in the walls. It’s essential, and the product of thoughtful design & craft. But when we need light to do work, we don’t waste time wondering about the wiring in the walls.

Definitely an interesting concept. That puts into question the current assumption of HR as “Business Partner”, challenging the idea that it should have “a special seat” at the table, one of the long-time discussions that marked HR practitioners calls for the last few years.

The idea is that HR is vital (like electricity in our modern era), but it should not be treated as a “special” guest or as an addition to normal business processes. Way to often the tendency is to consider HR (and its processes) as “additional” workloads, instead of as part of the invisible wiring that drives energy to the business.

The typical example is Performance Management. If good management is about managing performance every day, why do we need to have a distinct process asked by HR?

Fig.1: Employee Experience is the real source of HR Value

There could be many other examples, however what interests me most is how do we transform HR to become an invisible entity vs the current status of a pervasive bureaucracy?

Part of the answer lies into technology. AI and Machine Learning will enable a lot more “content” to be picked and analyzed from standard business processes, eliminating the need of duplicated HR ones. But thinking that this is just a technical issue is severely wrong.

A big part of the game is changing the perspective of what HR should be doing today. The next big challenge is to be able to really own the Employee Experience across all corporate functions, and based on that add value to the business, thinking in terms of experience first.

A challenge for many, still tangled into choosing their next Performance Management solution…

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Building Digital Transformation: a Role for HR

In a very interesting article just appeared on the McKinsey Quarterly, Tanguy Catlin and his collaborators address four “key fights” that organisations need to address to be able to achieve a real Digital transformation.

If there’s one thing a digital strategy can’t be, it’s incremental. The mismatch between most incumbents’ business models and digital futures is too great—and the environment is changing too quickly—for anything but bold, inventive strategic plans to work.

And yet seems too many organisations are just focused on short-term incremental approaches. Digital is seems invariably as just “one portion” or “one addition” to elements we already do, not a strategic choice that need to permeate the entire organisation. Which result in Digital being seen just as a “channel“, or as a new “form of communication”, or as a “new ways of servicing”, or just as a way to do product innovation.

Turtle + Spoiler

Fig.1: Turtle + Spoiler. A metaphor for incremental change

Often this recalls me a metaphor that my first mentor, Franco D’Egidio, used to recall the attitude of many organisations to just pursue incremental change, often landing on the opposite of what they wanted. Organisations are compared to a Turtle. Which is then subject to research and innovation, and ultimately transformed into what seems a “faster turtle”. But even if you add a Spoiler, your Turtle will not become a faster one in reality.Which is one of the main culprits of why Digital Strategies fail.

The four fights listed by McKinsey are:

  1. Fighting Ignorance: too many executives simply belong to generations that have not grown with Digital as a permeating part of their life, which leads them to think of it as a “Product” or “Service”, rather than a transformative element for business.
  2. Fighting Fear: as with any change, too many people simply perceive the “big investments” needed to digitise their organisations simply too risky. Decision making support models are still a bit blurry, and this creates even more issues.
  3. Fighting Guesswork: many big changes are seen as leap of faith into the unknown. We don’t know how to measure success, which eventually often leads to poor choices often based on gut feeling and guesswork instead of valid strategic reasoning.
  4. Fighting Diffusion: cautious approach ends up building a thin layer of peanut-butter spread across the organisation, which really equates to the spoiler on the turtle, as seen before.

A role for HR in Digital Transformation

The article made me think a lot about the fact that real Digital Transformation has a lot more to do with People than with Technology. The latter is a commodity in today’s world, whereas the key for transformation is changing organisation, and changing the way people act within.


Fig.2: Kubler-Ross Model of Change Management. By Lucidchart.

And it’s all to do with the old Kubler-Ross model of change, which any HR practitioner should be mastering in all its phases. Basically the above fights have all to do with the “shock”, “denial” and “frustration” pieces that constitute the first part of any change curve.

Let’s face it, as a function we have done not really a lot to see digital as an enabling force for change, and we have relegated it behind purely transactional workforce systems that nothing have to do with real digital change.


Issue is that way too often HR is not invited at the table of the decisions that relate to Digital Strategy. The exceptions of a handful of really digital organisations make this fact even more evident: when HR becomes an embedded force of Digital Transformation, it becomes a strategic partner also for what concerns the pinnacles expressions of technology change: AI and Machine Learning in work automation.

But for too many this seems a somewhat scary science fiction movie.

The reality is that we need to address our own internal toolkit to be able to face Digital Transformation. A lot of the basic tools we have always used (think Job Descriptions just as an example), are simply useless into this new world. We need to engage into our own Digital Transformation first, and I believe this will ultimately shape the real answer to the question is HR still needed?

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