Ambition, Bravery and Creativity, and the Art of HR
By : Jon Ingham
It might seem a bit strange to read about the art of HR given so much of the prevailing thinking in the HR profession at the moment is around HR as a science – ie using data and analytics to develop more standardized, consistent approaches to managing and developing people in an organization.
The UK’s CIPD have even introduced ‘HR science’ as one of four perspectives in the new framework for describing the new world of HR which they introduced in late 2013 (the other perspectives are understanding the changing nature of work, adapting HR processes and using data and analytics.)
Given this context it might be worth explaining that I am not in any way against these developments – science, data, analytics are all important, but for me at least, they are not the full story. So I would just want to adapt the CIPD framework and include HR artistry as well.
So what is the art of HR? Well I think it can include many different things – science is about standards but art encourages free thinking and imaginative, unique approaches. I think this greater difficulty in describing HR’s artful role provides part of the reason we tend not to focus on it.
But I have recently ben conducting a series of forums in different countries to introduce HR practitioners to a new global HR conference, which has the title, Art of HR. (This conference is being held in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on 13-16 November 2014 and will appeal in particular to those leading global HR functions, or who are working in, or aspiring to work in global HR roles.) It might be worth noting that we have picked the title and theme of this conference to be the art of HR because we believe that HR artistry is even more important when working in a global HR role.
In these forums I have been explaining the same thing which I have explained here – that it is difficult to define the art of HR as it can involve so many different things. However, I have been talking about HR’s A, B, C – ambition, bravery and creativity – as the ‘canvas’ which provides the basis for HR to be more artful in our roles.
Art suits an ambitious agenda because if all we need is incremental improvements then we can do that job with science – using data, analytics, a little bit of extrapolation past current state trends. But if we are after transformation, we need to help people see new opportunities, or at least see existing opportunities in a new way. And for this, we need art.
I would also argue that given the world we operate in today, there is a clear need for transformation rather than incremental improvement. And it is not just me saying this – most of our Chief Executives are inferring something quite similar as well. Because I do think this is what the statement ‘people are our most important asset’ implies. If people are our most important asset, then we should be competing on this asset. And that means we need to move away from today’s best practices to create differentiated, best fit approaches that provide us with a competitive advantage. These approaches will then be some of the most critical processes operating in our businesses, and the function which runs them, HR, will be, and should be seen as, the most critical function operating within a business too.
This is quite a leap for most businesses and their HR functions today. And this is why we need a transformation, a greater ambition, and is also one of the reasons why we need the art of HR.
Bravery is the next part of the canvas, since because as soon as HR increases its ambition it needs to be braver in realizing this ambition too.
At one level this is simply about being prepared to challenge and say no. But at another level it needs to be about putting forward a completely new way of working – one based on putting people first.
This shift can be as simple, and as difficult, as changing the language used within the business. In the forums, I have been talking a lot about love (or a deep sense of emotional regard for other employees.) This is partly because I personally think love is important, and a real competitive differentiatior, and also because when I ask people about the art of HR, one of the most common attributes they raise with me is that HR artistry needs to be based on a real passion, or love, for people.
But some organisations do not even feel able to talk about things as ‘soft and fluffy’ as engagement. So talking about love is going to be a very difficult challenge indeed. Hence we need bravery as the second enabler for the art of HR.
Ambition and bravery demand HR should be performed in a very different way. This is partly about moving from best practice to best fit, and a very business focused way of working to one which is more people shaped. But it is also more generally about creating new, imaginative and compelling practices which inspire, provoke and help employees see new opportunities in the capability, potential and engagement of themselves and other people, and in the relationships they themselves have with these other people.
In my experience these new practices do not come from data and analytics but from intuition and imagination. For illustration I like to use approaches like visualisation and metaphor to help people identify the sorts of people and organizational culture which would make the difference for them, and then use similar tools to help describe the sorts of processes which would create the required outcomes.
Ambition, bravery and creativity. I do not think this is the art of HR, but I do believe they are important enablers to this art. And we will be exploring the art itself in November’s conference.
Jon is a strategic, innovative and possibly artful HR consultant, based in the UK but working globally. He has chaired the last three years of Europe’s second larget HR conference, HR Tech Europe, and will also be the chair of Art of HR. He has been recognized by HR Magazine as the UK’s 7th most influential HR thinker. www.strategic-hcm.blogspot.com.
Art of HR conference
Art of HR will explore the concept of HR artistry as well as other aspects of global HR and of HR innovation. Featuring Dave Ulrich as well as a broad platform of visionary experts and highly experienced practitioners, it will take place in the historic commercial and tourist centre of Dubrovnik in Croatia from 13-16 November 2014. www.artof.hr.2014-06-17
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