Moving from Disruption to Breakthrough HR

Mark Fogel Audacious Ideas, Change Management, Mark Fogel

For a couple of years, we have been talking about disruption, when we are actually looking for breakthrough ideas in the HR space. My discussion today is a call to action. To get there we need to move beyond just offering sexy ideas and put actionable programs to the test.

The HR community loves sexy ideas, aren’t we the folks who brought you the “unconference” just a few short years ago. Or should I say the “Talent” community brought it, because we don’t want the stigma of HR on us (that would be uncool). Let’s go back 9 or 10 years to the advent of blogs. HR folks were early entrants to social media and idea generation.  Isn’t this site and a few others, many of which penned by some folks still writing here, the origin of changing HR for the better? Many of those blogs were crude, unedited and downright awesome. It was the wild wild west of social media. Great ideas and traction came out of this first evolution of blogs.

How about Marcus Buckingham two years ago igniting HR and businesses to stop the madness of elaborate annual reviews. An HBR feature article and a few appearances at HR conferences and it stuck. Regardless of your viewpoint, it inspired action and now hundreds of organizations are rethinking and reworking their performance processes.

The most recent is the DisruptHR programs which have caught fire not only domestically, but internationally. They are awesome in that they bring new and diverse ideas  from the fringe to the masses. Jennifer McClure and local venue volunteers have done a great job of moving the needle. I had the opportunity to speak at a Disrupt event in NYC this past year and loved the whole experience. The audience really gets into it and sticks around at halftime and after for a beer and a chat with the presenters.  It’s not that every idea sticks at these events, but much like a clothes designer making samples, you need to show them and let the consumers choose what is right. Eventually a few take hold.

On a personal note, as a Retail executive at Limited Brands, I watched our designers pump out hundreds of samples each year, with only a few making it to market and a fraction of those selling for profit. In parallel, much like a clothes designer, HR now is in the position to not only react to the needs of their respective businesses but to create and pitch ideas with potential breakthrough results to their leadership teams. This is a new concept for many in the field and a steep departure from the old days of administration and compliance.

Our biggest challenge as a business function is creating the laboratories to test new or breakthrough ideas. Marketing functions and product development groups have always had R&D budgets to play with concepts. Unfortunately, HR is last on line with Finance for this kind of support.

So how does HR move to breakthrough ideas?

Well we need to keep doing events like DisruptHR. We need to keep enlightening our constituents with thought provoking and sometimes counter intuitive actions right here on this site too. But we need to up the ante in creativity to reach a broader audience. We need to blend the HR and marketing functions capabilities on strategic projects. We need to blow up the traditional organizational charts in our businesses big and small. HR needs to develop its creative side. Like building muscles in a gym, HR must find opportunities to do creative work wherever possible.

The next generation of bloggers and speakers is a good place to start. Sharing ideas outside your own organization, in writing and on a stage, is a good way to build your creative muscles. It also sparks others with similar ideas to move from concept to execution. I want to see and hear millennials in HR pushing ideas and concepts as much as possible. Breakthrough ideas should not be a top down exercise for VPs and CHROs to tackle. In fact, as I have said numerous times, it is time to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders. Veterans should be mentors and coaches pushing this.

Internally, it could be idea lunches, where folks bring new ideas to the table and kick it around with folks inside and outside the HR function. One DisruptHR presenter coined the phrase “Idea Sex,” and that’s what we need more of in and out of the office. I know you’re all saying it’s just another way of saying a “brainstorming session.” You are right, but ask when is the last time you took 45 minutes to do one? Put them on your calendar for regular scheduled meetings, invite anyone interested in joining. Other functions often have better insight to what you’re doing so they can offer great feedback or even present ideas from a different perspective.

Be bold and test some of these new ideas in your organization. Then share your results with the world.

The results might just be more than the next big idea. It may be the next game changer for all of us.