By Dr. Lisbeth Claus, Professor Emerita of Management & Global HR at Willamette University
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
There are considerable time gaps between HR research/HR practice and HR innovation/HR implementation particularly when it comes to the cataclysmic changes that have disrupted our ‘normal’ ways of doing things. This opinion piece aims to provide a critical evaluation of the new work patterns and the enhanced role of HR. The core of HR’s ikigai is the worker and focuses on the employee’s experience, engagement, wellbeing, and rewards for their work and talent contribution
Twelve interrelated practices of the HR Ikigai represent a place of balance where employers and employees meet for a transparent dialog and develop sustainable and purposeful relationships with the other stakeholders.
It seems like not a day goes by before I see another post about the next best thing in people operations. Many respectable, mostly consulting, organizations continue to put out their future HR trends reports reflecting on the impact of the pandemic and the world’s geopolitical unrest on the evolving nature of people management. These valuable HR trends reports appear ahead of academic research and reflect the rapidly changing patterns in the practice of HR. There are considerable time gaps between HR research/HR practice and HR innovation/HR implementation particularly when it comes to the cataclysmic changes that have disrupted our ‘normal’ ways of doing things. Having frequently written and spoken during the past decades about the evolving practice of HR through an academic evidence-based lens, I too now feel compelled to use my crystal ball to make sense of the reality of HR practice and its value-added role in organizations today. This opinion piece aims to provide a critical evaluation of the new work patterns and the enhanced role of HR.
The HR Ikigai
In this quest for sense making, I aim to organize the different HR trends into a coherent picture of interrelated elements guiding HR’s raison d’être today. In searching for pattern recognition in these HR trends, I am guided by the Japanese concept of Ikigai—a person’s pursuit of value (gai) to live (iki) depicted by four interconnected circles—apply it to HR from an organizational perspective serving as an apt north star in navigating the course toward recognizing patterns in this sea of trends. The core of HR’s ikigai is the worker and focuses on the employee’s experience, engagement, wellbeing, and rewards for their work and talent contribution. The second level focuses on the must-have HR a company needs in order to respond to uncertainty in the broader external context and current employee expectations. The focus of the third level today is talent acquisition and retention, flexible work arrangements, equity & diversity, inclusion and belonging, and learning and development. The outer level focuses on what it takes professionally from HR to add value to both the employee and the company which includes stakeholder management, artificial intelligence and technology, HR stack competencies, and HR’s evolving role. Twelve interrelated practices of the HR Ikigai are at the heart of HR’s reason for being and represent a place of balance where employers and employees meet for a transparent dialog and develop sustainable and purposeful relationships with the other HR stakeholders.
The employee core focus
The pandemic has swung the pendulum away from the employer. The inner circles focus on the worker and the talent. The ‘great resignation’ (a term coined by Anthony Klotz) has empowered workers to quit their job to focus on their own wellbeing, making many reluctant to rejoin the traditional workforce. Now more than ever, employers must focus on employees and workers in terms of their engagement, experience, wellbeing and rewards.
In addition to the usual functions of HR, the current context of work demands HR’s focused attention on: talent acquisition and retention (responses to ‘the great resignation’), flexible work arrangements (work anywhere, anytime), equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (to unleash the full capacity of diverse talent) and learning and development (to stay ahead of the curve and support the future jobs and careers of the workforce).
According to Dave Ulrich, the basic HR functions based on the HR body of knowledge are considered table stakes rather than value added. In order to add value, HR must engage in stakeholder management, rely on artificial intelligence and technology tools, develop HR stack competencies, and assume a new and expanded role.
The new HR Ikigai agenda
The employee core focus
#1: Avoid the ‘Peter principle’ in promoting talent into management, understand the critical role managers play in engaging and retaining employees, and provide managers with the necessary knowledge and skills for impact leadership.
#2: Let go of control and foster coaching work relationships with managers and employees based on autonomy and trust so the full potential of workers can be unleashed.
#3: Create and sustain resonance over time by focusing on renewal of others (through mindfulness, hope and compassion) and self (habits of mind, body, and behavior).
#4: Revise you compensation and benefits systems to include salary equity, transparency, and fair negotiation devoid of unconscious biases.
#5: Develop awesome managers and leaders so that the lived experience of your employees matches your stated employee value proposition.
#6: Make strategic plans for the location and time flexibility of your work arrangements based on your company’s specific situation and develop appropriate policies and procedures to clarify expectations and mitigate risks.
#7: Focus on the design of a debiased organizational architecture needed to support the authenticity of the worker so everyone can bring their ‘whole’ and ‘authentic’ self to work and feel psychologically safe.
#8: Focus foremost on agility and the development of metacognitive skills, critical thinking and a growth mindset among managers and individual contributors in your L& D efforts.
#9: Balance the divergent requirements of HR’s multiple stakeholders and find a sweet spot between what’s good for both employees and employer.
#10: Look for ways to automate tier-1 HR practices, offer digital convenience and customization of employee services.
#11: Supplement your HR team with specialized expertise in the HR stack competencies.
#12: Transition in your HR role from being a first responder to an HR architect.
The gap between traditional (transactional) and progressive (transformational) HR practices is widening and providing vanguard companies focusing on the HR Ikigai with a competitive talent advantage. As HR is evolving, based on the internal and external context of an organization, there will always be a need to scan the environment and adopt new and improved practices. It does not mean that one blindly adopts every new HR practice du jour. In a continued complex and uncertain environment, there is no ‘best practice’ playbook to copy and adopt anymore. As Chief Creator—etymologically the Greek origin of the term architect—HR must redraft its playbook under uncertainty, complexity, and constantly changing parameters. Applying the three-box innovation approach developed by Vijay Govindarayan and Chris Trimble, HR must be agile enough to simultaneously and strategically hold on to (keep), let go (stop), and innovate (start) its practices. HR must keep and improve the performance of the HR activities that bring added value and are required for compliance. Stop and selectively let go of the HR activities that no longer add value. Start, create, and adopt truly innovative HR practices for the future. This will require new ways of thinking and acting of HR to remain relevant. In Dave Ulrich’s own word (How Business Leaders Can Rise to the Opportunity, December 14, 2021), “For business leaders, HR professionals and advisors to rise to the opportunity, they need to reinvent both content (new ideas about people and organizations) and process (ways to turn ideas into impact.”
According to societal norms, I should be long retired from my professional work. Instead, I found my Ikigai. HR is my passion. I do what I love, I’m good at it, and I work with an amazing team of people. Organizations need progressive HR, and I get intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for what I do. It really is a great time to be in HR!
Lisbeth Claus is Professor Emerita of Management & Global HR at Willamette University (MBA) in Salem, Oregon (USA) and Visiting Professor at Pforzheim University (Germany). She is the author of two recent books: #ZigZagHR – Why the Best HR is No Longer HR (with Lesley Arens) and Be(Come) an Awesome Manager: The Essential Toolkit for Impact Leadership (with Scott Baker and Peter Vermeulen). Both books are available from Amazon. Contact info: lclaus.@willamette.edu or via LinkedIn.
Written by: Lisbeth Claus