We live in an age of disruption. There is no doubt about that. New business models pop up and challenge or even obliterate the old ones. Standing still has never been an option, but now everything seems to accelerate. The speed of change is accelerating. They tell us the world is VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And they are right.
So as companies are facing disruption, they face another reality. The world around them changes, almost overnight. And it happens outside. It is difficult if not impossible to disrupt oneself. Sure, there are examples of companies that tried to disrupt the very markets they are in. For that they do need to disrupt themselves, or at least try to. Most companies fail at that. And why? Because it is extremely difficult to forget about what you know and what you care for.
It is extremely difficult to forget about what you know and what you care for.
Kodak could not see the value of digital photography, which it has invented. Xerox invented many things, but Apple ran away with many of their inventions. The travel industry was disrupted by Booking.com and Airbnb. Which industry is next? And how do you cope with disruption?
The compost heap
The answer lies with the people. And if we talk about people we talk about the department or process once called HR. It’s not HR that should disrupt. It’s HR that should help people to cope with disruption (if they see it) and help organisations evolve faster. Should HR teach people how to be disruptive. Not really. I don’t think it can be taught. Every heap of compost needs some worms turn the natural waste into fertile soil. So if HR cannot be the worm, it can make sure the worms are at least tolerated within the organization. And do pardon me the comparison between people who innovate and bring oxygen and the worm.
Also for HR the world is changing rapidly. If HR sticks to a role of compliance, janitor, … it will not disrupt but be disrupted. If HR evolves towards the keeper of the compost heap, creating a fertile environment together with all people involved, it will succeed. For that it needs to disrupt some of its own practices.
And if it wants to disrupt some of its practices, it cannot do it alone, but together with its partners. In this sense, HR is business. Business is HR.
It’s a mistake to think that it’s only HR that is conservative. Many leaders demand structure, control, containment. And they look at HR to do it. So if HR wants to be disruptive, it needs to be in a disruptive environment. HR becomes the worm in the heap. Being disruptive to itself is as difficult for HR, as it is for an organisation. So kill your darlings if necessary. But do not do it alone.
Togetherness and Awareness
And to all those (HR) leaders who want to survive in a disruptive world: rest assure that the disruption does not come from you. It comes from them. Leading in a disruptive world has more to do with togetherness and awareness, then with being directive, or being a hero. Create disruption together with others, cope with it together with others.