The HR Directors' Circle - Switzerland - September 2014

Frazer Jones was delighted to host the HR Directors' Circle on Thursday 25th September 2014 in Switzerland.

The team hosted the HRD Circle around the topic of Corporate Agility - developing resilience, agility and employee engagement.

Frazer Jones host the annual HRD Circle in Switzerland around Corporate Agility at the Les Trois Rois Hotel, Switzerland on the 25th September 2014

On September 25th 2014, we had the great privilege of hosting The HR Directors’ Circle at the Les Trois Rois Hotel in Basel. Not only did the venue and guest list set this up to be one of our best Circles yet, we also had the esteemed Dr. Linda Holbeche as our guest speaker. If you are not familiar with Linda, then not only is she consistently thought of as one of the most important HR thinkers in the UK and Europe but she is also the author of ‘Engaged’ and ‘Organisational Development’. These phenomenal books are based on HR practice so you can see just how thrilled we were to have her sharing her expertise and experience.

I first met Linda in May this year with the hope of persuading her to discuss her thoughts on Employee Engagement practices and how they are best applied to the European Pharmaceutical industry. After enjoying a coffee with Tower Bridge as our backdrop it became obvious that the real topic for companies was Corporate Agility and how that should be used as a catalyst for Engagement. Luckily for us Linda was already deep into research for the topic as she is planning on writing a book later this year to define her theories on what it all means.

What is ‘Agility’ and how does it affect a business?
Well to begin with it is “The organisation’s capacity to gain competitive advantage by intelligently, rapidly and pro-actively seizing opportunities and reacting to threats”. Whilst also having the “ability to adapt rapidly to changes in the business environment in efficient, productive and cost effective ways”. Many companies are still holding onto such time honoured traditions of bureaucracy, short termism, risk-aversion and rigidity which will only lead to an unbalanced and disengaged workforce.

How does a company implement agility?
To begin with, agility does not happen overnight; it is more of a philosophy or a culture than the implementation of a new system. Agility needs human flexibility, teamwork and responsiveness. It needs the employees to be externally aware and commercially savvy to see the world for what it is and how it is operating around them. They must be given the confidence to share their opinion and ideas and for the company to listen, react and hopefully innovate. There cannot be any right or wrong but a willingness to learn, to speak up and to try something different. Graduates, Managers and Executives must be given a stable platform that allows them to think outside of the box and stretch the commercial muscles that have not yet been used. Research over the last few years has shown that agile businesses have a 29% higher earnings per share, with net margins 20% higher, return on assets 30% higher and revenue growth 8% higher than comparable businesses. 88% of executives in a substantial study by the Economist Intelligence Unit cited agility as key to global success; 50% said that organisational agility is not only important but a key differentiator.

Linda’s expert view is that firstly the employee population needs to be sufficiently engaged to allow this to happen. If the employee doesn’t care then why would they be interested in the company’s growth and why would they put forward new ideas and concepts. The most engaged teams and hence the most innovative and agile are found within SME’s or start-ups where people are happy to take risks and think differently which in turn harmonises the employees work with their own individual aspirations or needs. As a result of this the business must relate on a personal and emotional level with employees and be flexible enough to support their needs. Take “Generation Y” for example, there is concern within major industries that the new generation of employees are no longer driven by the concepts of job security, pensions or career growth but rather the ability to work from home, a fixed base salary at a higher percentage of total compensation and the expectation that they will only be somewhere for two to three years. “Generation Y” does not want a nine to five, they want a set project (preferably with 2 days working from home) where they can give their all, deliver it and then decide what they want to do. They don’t care for benefits or pensions or long-term incentive plans, they want project and outcome based rewards oriented to the shorter-term and the freedom to decide what they take on afterwards.

More often than not top new talent is leaning towards the SME’s and small businesses as they cater for a better work/life balance. One of the organisations that attended the discussion is planning on doing away with performance management completely - they’re it scrapping it, chucking it to the side, old news they say. Instead they plan to tell the employee what is expected of them and leave it there. As long as the job gets done then everyone wins. ‘Risky’ I hear you say, but these are the steps that need to be taken. In a way you need to give employees the freedom to stay. If we don’t step away from the status quo how can we expect to grow? Companies are beginning to offer flexible working hours which has seen a huge increase in productivity. I know here at Frazer Jones four out of the top ten performers in our business last year are part-time.

What is HR’s role in developing corporate agility?
Firstly HR needs to be brave and needs to take the first step. It needs to help leaders develop and engage people in shared purpose. HR needs to equip leaders for complexity; no longer does one size fit all. HR needs to shift the minds and skills of the leaders towards new thinking, exposing them to their business from the grassroots up as well as help the business develop a stable platform for consistent change. Not a static one but one that is agile enough to go beyond just coping with change and actually encourages it. HR needs to develop values from the bottom up and coach executives on ‘walking the talk’. You need to push your executives outside of their comfort zones and inspire them to be role models. And finally, recruit future leaders who ‘get it’. As I mentioned before this is not a new system that can be implemented tomorrow nor is it a fad that will disappear. This is a megatrend that is here to stay and will increasingly affect organisations positions in the competitive landscape.

Businesses often fall into the trap of following routines because they exist, not because of what they actually want to achieve. Objectives can change and organisations need to reflect these. In Linda’s forthcoming book she provides a model for developing an agile business and mentions four ‘agile routines’ on how to get there.

So I ask you this; why not try and simplify HR policies, look to apply agile project management, go mobile, go social, embrace the wealth of knowledge that is right at your fingertips. Try to identify implementation gaps – address underpinning issues and remove barriers. Facilitate open forums where everyone from the business can interact with each other and share ideas. Develop reward and recognition schemes that reinforce innovation, team work, knowledge sharing. Recruit, develop and nurture agile managers and team leaders.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”

You can review Linda's books by clicking here