Research Library Article


Controlling Change

David Earle

At the national level, U.S. politics are in disarray. Both national parties have split into antagonistic factions, congress is bitterly divided, and both houses are squabbling with the executive branch. For the foreseeable future, efficient, effective national governance appears to be on hold.

Rapid changes in the world we all share ensure that stresses and cracks
are common in all organizations: among them shareholder discontents, executive
disagreements, managers’ rivalries, inconsistent policies and practices, cultural misunderstandings,
poor management, and erratic plan execution. The number of stresses increases with
an organization’s size.

Change today is inescapable and can occur quickly and unexpectedly. No organization
manages it without occasionally stumbling. Compounding the problem is the large size
of even mid-size modern organizations, which have become so complex that stresses
interact with, and compound, each other, resulting in a difficult to resolve stress-webs.

When they finally become crises, these stresses are seldom complete surprises or
mysteries. Often the files show that red flags were raised but they were ignored,
dismissed or back–burnered. The problems in our national politics, for example, have
been decades in the making and have received considerable scrutiny and publicity. But
it took the 2016 national election to expose how large they had become and how badly
they would block efforts to address our most important national issues. Small cracks
and crevices were allowed to become deep, destructive chasms.

Who in your organization is charged with spotting the stresses that, like leaks in a roof,
will lead to bigger problems if not addressed? Increasingly it’s Human Resources. In the
20th century version of itself, HR commonly dealt with employee morale, personnel
disputes, disciplinary issues, and workforce negotiations. Often those tasks provided an
‘ear to the ground,’ picking up symptoms of larger problems that were relayed to line
managers and executives for follow-up. But that reporting was too often informal, and
follow-up was not guaranteed, especially if the stresses could be blamed on the
managers receiving the reports.

One of HR’s most significant evolutions over the past several decades was its
rebranding as Human Capital Management, which involved adding more strategic and
executive functions to its portfolio. In progressive organizations today, responsibility for
forward looking, ‘ear to the ground’ intelligence is shared, with HCM professionals
contributing data gathered by powerful HCM software, which can, when analyzed,
detect many organizational stresses before they rupture. Excessive employee turnover
and future skill shortages are just two examples.

Not everyone is comfortable with these new portfolio responsibilities, but we strongly
endorse them and consider them long overdue. Being able to manage people
exceptionally well is a huge business advantage. But when responsibility for doing so
was strictly divided among top executives managing strategy, line managers managing
productivity, and HR administering the short range nitty-gritty of employee recruiting, training,
development, communication, and record keeping, inadequate coordination meant that
significant business inefficiencies were the rule, not the exception.

Two reports in our library, TRENDS and LEADERSHIP, discuss the expanded 21st
century HCM portfolio more comprehensively, with data from dozens of sources.
They are included in our Corporate Membership package.