The New Role of HR in Flat, Global Organizations

new hr

By, Cari Desiderio

The face of business has changed, and so too must the face of HR. I began to see the pattern about five years ago when I was part of a HR team that rolled shared services out to the field for on boarding, and promotion of our HR call center. The goal was to move from a heavy employee facing HR ratio to about a 1:1000 HR Manager ratio in the field. And then ample outsourcing of transactional based HR tasks, a robust call center for the “tier 1” level employee questions and a very dynamic talent acquisition recruiting team in house. It was in this time that I decided to begin to learn the principles of lean and six sigma. This company went from hardly anything to FORTUNE 500 and has grown over 50% the past years.

The principles of scalability and lean are impacting every piece of business operations. America is no longer a corporate monster able to dominate the world. As the book author Thomas Friedman puts it, the world is flat. As third world countries become educated and competition is on a 7 Billon person scale, we all must change with the tides. We must become as lean and efficient as we can. The leanest and most effective companies win. The rest get acquired or lose profits.

As relates to our field of human resources, this means a few things. The chart above highlights just a few key areas that are being changed in our field to shift in a more strategic direction. The big trend here is rooted in the need to build flat and resilient teams. Hierarchy and tradition are out the window. To survive in today’s business world everyone has to be current in skills and able to step up to lead projects, create and initiate. Workers are expected not to just do, but to understand and comprehend at a more sophisticated level so they can make improvements and add new and better ways of doing to the process.

This means that talent is the name of the game. Ingenuity and sharp minds are direly needed to win in this global competition game. Such minds need a new brand of HR supporting them. Old school HR is drying up. Old school HR is focused on rules and establishing tradition and guidelines, and often supports a very change resistant culture. I have in my Dilbert moments called this the way of school marm HR. There to cite policies and enact punishments when said policies are broken. There to take care of the employees much like one tends to children. This works in a culture that wants sheep to follow, but not in a culture that wants people who grow and contribute strategically. This shift is in part happening due to the new generation. Our workplace today is full of independently minded Gen X and team-centric open minded Gen Y who demand a contextual and diverse mindset. But most essentially this way of doing HR is out due to the above mentioned entrepreneurial demands of a flat corporate structure where change agility and openness to new rules, new ways, and new types of teams are the critical lynchpins of success. In the new world of business, we need flexibility and change openness to promote teams that respect the company and stick around. This means we live in the grey. We change the rules. We listen to the people. We rewrite HR.

New school HR is all about shepherding talent. This means engaging people and building culture brands. This means teaching managers how to lead and inspire creativity (and not just “supervise”). This means focus on sourcing and finding top talent to bring in, and realizing that the company with the brightest minds, wins. This means engagement of people by creating cultures that listen to people and their ideas, and fund these ideas. Time in new school HR will be spent in areas such as:

  • Teaching leadership skills to direct and indirect managers with an “everybody leads” philosophy
  • Investing in cutting edge Talent Acquisition processes
  • Investing in cutting edge Talent Development programs and moving to a true Learning Organization
  • Significant focus on team engagement, and the measurement and improvement of employee feedback

This probably means a face lift for a lot of HR practitioners. But that’s OK. It is an exciting time to be in HR. The most strategic time I have even experienced!

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