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7 ways to make the HR function more agile

Data from a new survey of 850 HR decision makers globally shows that:

  • Less than half of HR directors (44%) report their data is integrated for realtime reporting and analysis.
  • Only 10% believe they have complete integration of data, and 44% feel strongly that they lack this.
  • 45% believe data in their systems in contradictory, and only 6% disagree with this.
  • Only a third of HR directors (35%) are at all confident that their employees have a basic understanding of data analysis methods – but not everyone needs to be a data scientist, rather they need the ability to interpret the findings data scientists discover.

So how can we overcome this productivity paradox which comes with working through technology?

There are seven key factors that have been identified in this new research from Oracle and the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management - wherein business efficiency has been shown to increase by two-thirds when the right technology is implemented alongside these factors.

1 Flexibility and embracing change

More than half of HR directors report their organisation emphasises agility, in both their people and the organisation as a whole – only 3% say this isn’t the case.

And managers are trialling new ways of working, with new team structures tested on a regular basis according to 38% of HR directors and 30% of employees. Meanwhile, half of HR directors (49%) strongly agree that new technologies have been openly embraced, as do 42% of employees.

ACTION ITEM: Organisations should embrace flexibility as a concept and, where possible, keep an open mind on how and where their employees work – otherwise a large number of organisations could miss out on the benefits of freeing their people to work from anywhere at any time.

2 Learning culture

Half of HR directors strongly agree that their organisation’s basic values include ‘learning as the key to improvement’, but just as many report their organisation’s culture does not make learning a top priority.

Only 36% of employees definitely agree that development and promotion opportunities are available to all staff, while less than half of HR directors (48%) feel the same way. Almost a third of employees (31%) are very concerned they won’t have opportunities to learn and prosper in the future.

ACTION ITEM: And as every employee is different, personalised learning programmes should be a focus. Thankfully, this looks like to become the norm, with 53% of organisations planning to be able to target their employees with development and training opportunities within the next three years.

3 Data-driven decision making

While most of us embrace data as our guide for decision making, hierarchy still seems to play a significant role in many organisations. In fact, 41% of HR leaders and 36% of employees strongly agree that seniority and experience are the typical basis for decisions in their organisation.

This is concerning, especially as only 48% of HR directors and 38% of employees report that it’s standard practice to incorporate available data within any decision-making process.

ACTION ITEM: With less than half of respondents saying that data use in decision making is standard, it seems there’s plenty of room for improvement. Leaders need to demonstrate both the right skills and behaviours in this area – demonstrating both the skills and the mindset to be led by evidence.

4 Open communication and collaboration

It may seem obvious that more communication leads to greater sharing of ideas, a better work environment, etc. Yet, 51% say that they ‘better keep their cards to themselves’.

This could be down to a certain amount of bureaucracy and process left within most organisations. Only 31% of HR directors and 25% of employees are sure they have very little formal bureaucracy within their company – and one in five employees says this definitely isn’t true.

ACTION ITEM: Many newer, and more agile, organisations have a flatter structure, with less hierarchy. This begins with a leadership team that leads by example, being open, visible, and encouraging. And it’s how they can build engagement with, and participation in, a shared vision.

5 Shared digital vision and participative leadership

It seems there’s an established digital vision in place for most companies, as only 20% of employees feel their organisation doesn’t have a well-defined digital strategy, and only 24% of HR directors agree with this. But this is still a considerable proportion for a modern business.

And while some don’t have a strategy in place, the bigger issue may be that strategies aren’t complete, aren’t agreed, or aren’t being effectively communicated.

ACTION ITEM: If leaders can communicate openly, and collaborate, then it’s easier for employees to see a shared digital vision, appreciate the role they play, thus helping to encourage participation from top to bottom. And participation at all levels is critical if an organisation truly aspires to become adaptable.

6 Entrepreneurial culture

While almost half of HR directors (44%) feel they have a culture that tolerates failure and acknowledges people learn from their mistakes, only a third of employees (34%) report this is the case, meaning two thirds are wary of acting aligned or driving their own ideas.

In fact, many report their organisation simply does not boast an entrepreneurial culture. Over two-thirds of staff (69%) say they don’t work in a ‘dynamic and entrepreneurial place’ where people take risks.

ACTION ITEM: This means removing barriers to contribution and helping staff to feel safe to question norms, trial new ideas, and sometimes fail, in order to learn. It may also necessitate teaching them the basics of ROI, of justifying their ideas under 'inputs and outcomes' and not primarily under 'budgets'.

7 Critical thinking and open questioning

Only 48% of HR directors say the use of evidence and analytics in decision making is part of the culture and even less – 37% – of employees agree.

This means many HR teams are not understanding their talent landscape or are unable to predict future needs, shortages and requirements, at a point in time when organisations need to be taking an objective, evidence-based approach to decision making; there’s room for improvement in critical reflection.

ACTION ITEM: The ‘old’ corporate world often favoured ‘sticking to the processes’ – behaviours. Less questioning but therefore less efficient execution. The ‘new’ corporate world needs to break with this. This requirement to continually challenge the business looks like a significant challenge for all firms.

The study gathered insights from almost 6,500 professionals around the globe, composed of 850 HR decision makers and 5,600 employees of all levels, of which approximately 300 employees as well as 50 HR directors in Singapore participated.

Photo / The Adaptable Business report

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