I just completed an 8 week world tour meeting with clients, giving speeches, and talking with HR and business leaders about Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends research. The meetings and feedback have been amazing, and I wanted to share some details as well as one big thing I think we all need to think about.
First, most of the companies I met with are Fortune 500 companies with large global operations. Most are now dealing with business growth and bringing together their HR and talent teams in a shift away from cost reduction toward a role as business and talent advisor. (read my article "Its Time to Redesign HR" for more).
They are struggling with a very common set of issues:
The workforce has dramatically changed (driven by Millennials and the economic recovery) and most companies are struggling to re-engage their people and redesign their work environment.
The symptoms of this include:
Most of the companies I met with are also restructuring or absorbing acquisitions - so of course one of their biggest issues is driving aligned culture and integrating leadership and talent practices. One of the biggest, a France-based manufacturer I met with this week, had almost no centralized HR and is now implementing a whole new central HR structure which will just being to bring alignment around management practices, leadership, and talent management. (They told me their R&D team did no performance appraisals at all, which seemed to be working fine!).
In all these meetings we talked about the need to understand and build a talent analytics capability, the need to revamp and modernize L&D, and the fact that these companies want to restructure their HR organization to reskill the team and make them more bold and consultative with the business. Just last night I talked with the CHRO of a major US consumer goods company who told me their biggest issue is not HR skills, but rather "courage" of the HR teams to push back on management and advise them strongly what to do.
So in general there is a lot going on, and as our research continues to show, HR and L&D teams are becoming more important and more strategic as the economy grows.
But there's one more theme which came up over and over: Simplicity.
Somehow in the conversation with these many hundred HR leaders around the world, after we talked about redoing performance management, improving leadership, restructuring HR, and using technology - they all started to say, "How do we make things more simple?"
And as I got home and thought more about it, I realized that "simplicity" is the Next Big Thing in HR and Leadership (and business in general). I know, everyone hates reading about "the next big thing" - but this time I think this is real. Hear me out.
We have inadvertently become far too enamored with our technology, mobile phones, social networks, photos, video sharing tools, and all the various competency models, frameworks, process diagrams, and workflows we design in HR. We (and the vendors in our market) are "process designers" by nature, and we always take a management or leadership problem and try to design an elegant and complete solution.
Know what? In most cases the answer is to do much much less.
Here's one example. One major manufacturer I met with is in the middle of a huge product transition from a legacy technology base to a new, electric technology (I dont want to mention the company name). So they are building a whole new curriculum for their engineering and manufacturing teams focused on hundreds of detailed competencies.
They interviewed the senior engineers and manufacturers, identified all the competencies, and are now trying to figure out how to assess and develop people toward these competencies. The result is a dauntingly complicated project - one which may or may not work, but will definitely take a while and is likely to become out of date by the time its' finished.
I advised them to think more holistically, and we are going back to look at their problem in a more systemic way and apply our new "Four E's" model of development (education, experience, exposure, and environment. It will greatly "simplify" the problem and help the team move away from "process design" toward "solution to problem."
It turns out the mantra of "simplicity" applies everywhere. Do you need a nine step performance appraisal process? Of course not. Today's modern solution involves only two or three steps: periodic checkins and end-of-year review and development planning. Take other steps and move them into another process at another time (ie. comp, HIPO assessment, leadership assessment, etc).
Do we need a massive annual engagement survey which takes 3 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete? Probably not - what we need is a short, agile, periodic process to collect feedback at all levels online (and a whole barrage of vendors are building these new tools).
Do we need a course catalogue with 7,000 courses? Probably not - most companies tell us there are only 5% of the courses that matter and the rest are there "just in case." That wastes people's time and makes them feel even more "overwhelmed."
Do we need HR software with hundreds of features and cascading menus? Probably not - we need simple "apps" that do one thing only (that's the new trend) which are easy to use on mobile devices. Even modern tools like Workday and Salesforce have become very complex and feature laden.
Do we need 12 leadership competencies or can we strip it down to four or five? Do we need 10 company wide initiatives or can we boil it down to three? The need for simplicity is everywhere.
Even SAP has started down this track, with the theme "Run Simple." SAP, which sells some of the most complex software in the world, now wants to help companies simplify their business.
Simplicity Does Not Mean Easy: It's Hard
Now I"m not saying that our HR, talent, and leadership programs should be simplistic - in fact they have to be very profound and well designed. But we have to spend much more time figuring out what we "dont need" and focus on the few things we "do need."
The best way to design an HR solution is to ask three simple questions:
A very advanced healthcare company who is one of the world's leaders in talent analytics told me earlier this year that they use analytics to focus on only one problem at a time. Their consultants go into the healthcare facilities and look for one single problem to work on. It may be nurse turnover, too much overtime, or maybe its poor patient ratings. They then spend 3-4 months studying that one problem - and they come back with no more than 2-3 recommendations for improvement. They do not develop a massive program with dozens of steps, pert charts, and long drawn out meetings. Why? Because they know that in their environment line managers will only have time to do one or two things new.... so they spend months and months figuring what those key, "simple" but very profound changes should be.
So my advice to you, and to all of us in HR and leadership, is to use this economic recovery to start to think "simple" again. We don't need complex solutions - they are hard to build and they probably won't stick. Take lots of time studying the problem, and then come up with a simple but profound solution. Hire a graphic artist to make your solution easy to understand, and just repeat it over and over until you see it stick.
Life has gotten very complicated over the last few years - now is the time to work harder than ever to make "simplicity" the mantra for HR, leadership, and management strategies in the year ahead.
About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading research and advisory firm.