Jon Ingham is a strategic HR Consultant, author of The Social Organization and creator of the Melded Network HR Model. In this conversation he shared with us about innovative management and organization of people.
- The way how organizations work has changed over the years. It is not enough to have great talents, the importance of team work lies in counting with the right people, the ability to collaborate, being involved in the search for a common goal and the right workplace. What is important to take into consideration when designing workspaces that foster collaborative work?
Work is a lot more collaborative than it was even a decade ago. Then, or certainly, 20 years ago, much of our work involved individual activity – with a computer, using paper, on a production line, etc. Now most of our work is about connecting with other people. That’s why most of our time these days is spent answering emails, or in meetings, on the phone, in Zoom, etc. I’ve even suggested that we’re moving beyond the major focus of the last few decades which has been about knowledge work and knowledge workers, especially as AI is learning to do knowledge work better than us. What we need today is relationship workers – people who use their relationships as inputs to their activities and for whom their most important outputs are improved relationships too.
This means the individual offices we tended to have 20 or 30 years ago are no longer relevant, but then neither are individual desks or workstations. Indeed, in countries which have experienced a lockdown, people have often learned to work remotely, and we may never need these types of offices again.
Instead of this, the digital workplace has become key. This should allow people to find information, connect with their teams and other people, and get their jobs and administration done. Digital tools need to make it easy for people to do their work, increasingly through apps that employees can download onto their own devices. They should also make the new type of collaborative work easy, helping people connect and maintain relationships, to co-operate and collaborate, and to share their work and ask questions across the organisation.
However, these tools do not yet enable people to develop greater relatedness. This, therefore, is what we need the physical workplace for. People can do their remaining individual work at home or in third spaces. The formal workspace therefore becomes a colllaborative space for people to connect more deeply and meaningfully that they can do through digital tools.
We need to get rid of offices and workstations and move to different sized meeting rooms and spaces, for people to meet up in communities, teams and networks – still socially distanced where this is necessary.
- In different publications you talk about the importance of becoming a strategic HR department that can create value. How can HR managers create value?
My belief is that most of what we suggest is strategic HR isn’t.
What I mean by that is that we often think, or are told, that being strategic is about focusing on the business and aligning what we do in HR with what the business needs. For example, the business needs to set up a new operation, meaning that we need to recruit a certain number of people into a certain number of new roles. This type of alignment ensures that HR effectively supports the business. However, that is just the problem. If all we do is support the business, then we’re still a support function.
Instead of this – instead of just supporting the rest of the business to undertake its strategic activities, we need to create strategic opportunities through what we do in HR. This is creating value – creating people based business strategy through our HR activities. This means that instead of aligning with, and supporting the business, we can offer new strategic opportunities to the business.
Importantly, we also need to recognise that creating value doesn’t happen just by focusing on the business. We do need to do this, of course. However, the opportunities for people based business strategy occur from focusing on our people, our teams, and their collaboration across the organisation. And how these aspects of our people and organisation can be enhanced in a way that will make the business more successful.
Therefore, HR managers need to get close to their people, and understand their qualities that can be enhanced or leveraged. Increasingly, this also means freeing people up from unnecessary bureaucracy in the organisation, so that they can create value for themselves.
- You have delivered upskilling training to thousands of HR practicioners in skills such as Strategic leadership, people-centric cultures and learning habilities. As a Leading HR Strategist, how do you think HR practitioners can innovate more?
The key to innovation is focusing on best fit rather than best practice. There is far too much focus on best practice in lots of different areas of business, but even more so in HR.
We need to break away from a tradition of copying leading organisations, working towards benchmarks, and thinking that there is one best way of doing something.
This isn’t just my idea – research by the University of Southern California suggests that the effectiveness of HR activities depends upon the business strategies being followed. For example, an organization focusing on innovation would seem to benefit strongly from investments in social networking activities and systems (correlation coefficient r=0.33). However, investments in employee relations correlates in reduced performance for these same innovation-focused businesses (r=−0.16). That is not an issue with employee relations — other businesses, for example those using a sustainability-based strategy, would seem to benefit from investments in this practice area (r=0.16). The research clearly indicates that what matters is not best practice, but rather best fit.
Best fit means we align our HR activities with what an organisation needs, and in particular the qualities we create in our people and organisations. Things are changing so quickly in most businesses, that just keeping the alignment means that HR needs to continue to change. One important example is the shift from individuals to relationships, collaboration and teams which I described above. Most organisations recruit, manage, measure, develop and reward for the performance of individuals, but that makes little sense when what really matters is the performance of teams.
n fact, the main reason we still focus on individuals is that we’re still following best practices from 20 years ago. By introducing a focus on best fit, we do need to start aligning our HR activities with the performance of teams. So, for example, we need to reward teams rather than just individuals. That requires us to innovate what we do.
Innovation isn’t something we should articifically try to do, but an emergent outcome of focusing on best fit.
- In your latest book released in 2017 “The Social Organization” you talk about the value of an organization´s connections, relationships and conversations. Can you give us a few hints about transforming our companies into social organizations?
I write about all the above in my book ‘The Social Organization’. I describe the shift in focus from individuals to teams as a transformation in the outcomes we need to create and offer to our businesses from human capital to social capital.
Human capital is about the value provided by our people, based on their skills, engagement, diversity, and so on. Importantly, this is not the same as our people, and the term is not ugly jargon for people, as it is about the value people provide. So you could imagine a group of people who provide human capital in one organisation, whereas if these people move down the road to a competitor, they may not provide any human capital at all if that second organisation doesn’t need the skills these people have.
Similarly, human capital management isn’t managing people as human capital, but managing people for human capital, That is, to create and accumulate human capital as a driver of business success.
Social capital is the value provided by the connections, relationships and conversations taking place between people. Or the value provided by people working in teams, communities and networks.
The social organisation is one that competes by developing the social capital it can use to create value for a business. This requires the sort of best fit innovation that I also described above.
Managing for social capital is hard work. Creating effective teams is more difficult than developing effective individuals. For example, rewarding teams can improve team performance but it can also result in social loafing in individuals, resulting in more poorly performing teams. However, it what matters is the team, it makes little sense to carry on rewarding individuals.
We therefore need to accept the challenges that come with being a social organisation – doing the right thing even if it’s difficult, rather than just anything that might be somewhat easier. That’s an important aspect of being a strategic HR department too.