Planning your HR transformation: 4 key questions many leaders miss

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Steve Lazenby

25th February 2019

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With organisations under ever-increasing pressure to deliver productivity improvements, it’s no wonder so many leaders leap into HR transformation, without dedicating the time to plan out a clear path. But that approach often presents more risk than reward.

Almost all my conversations with senior managers seem to come around to the same topic sooner or later: HR transformation.

And for good reason – organisations are often not delivering the productivity improvements that shareholders demand.  Many leaders, not least those responsible for business improvement and HR, are expected to find new efficiencies, while also wrestling with legacy systems and manual processes.

Team in an office having a brainstorming session

For many HR Directors, transformation represents a much-needed opportunity to achieve the efficiencies they need within their own function, enabling them to act more strategically – and, potentially, securing the management data that could elevate the function and secure better funding in future.

However, those same pressures also mean many businesses pile into HR transformation without stopping to think about exactly what they’re trying to achieve in the long run.

As a leader who is seeking results quickly, it’s tempting to cut corners on the planning stage of your transformation journey. But there are four key questions that you really should ask if your transformation is going to be a success.

4 questions to prepare for your HR transformation

Particularly if you have pressure in a certain area (say, a budget cut), it’s easy to assume the desired outcomes are a given, and go straight into ‘delivery mode’. And while quick wins are useful, they might also mean you lose sight of the real strategic opportunities that change creates.

Wherever you are in your HR transformation project, these four questions will help you maintain your focus:

  1. What are the most important outcomes you’re seeking? 

Every organisation has broad goals when they get started on this journey – such as more efficient transactional processes or productivity gains through automation; they’re the reason these initiatives get the green light in the first place. But having a compelling picture of your desired outcome gives everyone involved a much stronger ‘why’ to unite around.

This is especially important if you’re chasing continuous improvement. When the goalposts keep moving, it’s hard to know where to aim – let alone celebrate success when you arrive.

Think about your aim in a holistic way – what it will mean for HR, and for the organisation as a whole – and you’re more likely to maintain success over the long run.

  1. What are the major milestones we need to hit on the way?

Once you have your headline outcomes in place, you can work it backwards to create a series of key objectives and milestones that will guide you along the way and help you maintain momentum.

People in an office looking at a laptop

It’s classic change management, but important nonetheless. Having effective programme management in place to measure your progress will help you to adapt to fresh challenges and opportunities, while keeping good communication and governance. In short, you’ll ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

Your plan is only useful if you can readily track progress and adapt should new information come to light. You might need to change your near-term objectives if your longer term outcomes are going to be fully delivered.

  1. Whose buy-in do we need, and how do we get it?

For transformation to work, you need to have the support from the key players in your organisation. But, you might need to rethink who you consider those ‘key players’ to be.

Ultimately, the success of any change will depend on the co-operation and effort of people on the front line in the areas where the change is happening. But more than that,  team members who follow the processes and carry out the transactions every day will provide a great source of ideas about how best to deliver efficiency gains.

Organisations aren’t democracies, but as far as possible, everything you do that affects your people should be open for challenge.

Wherever possible, use existing engagement channels – and don’t fall into the trap of thinking broadcasting information is the same as engaging your teams.

  1. What technology and MI will help?

The technology you use and adopt during your transformation is hugely important – automation will, if deployed effectively, enable significant efficiency gains throughout an organisation. There is also an ever-increasing expect

ation that managers will be provided with smart technology to support them in their jobs, in the same way that we typically do outside the workplace.

Person typing on a laptop technologyHaving the right technology will also be instrumental in providing you with ready access to real-time management information. If you are dealing with legacy systems and struggling to mine helpful data, your challenge to understand the true performance of your people and organisation will be near on impossible. Having good MI will help you evidence your starting point and track business improvements in a clear and compelling way.

Once you have the information you truly need, you can focus scarce resources where they’re most needed, make decisions on the basis of real evidence and – importantly – show the impact your transformation is having across the organisation.

Wherever you are in your transformation journey, keep planning 

This is all well and good if you haven’t started on your HR transformation journey yet – but what if you’re already well on your way, and you didn’t prepare this way at the outset?

My advice is exactly the same.

Having robust governance on reviewing your plans and taking regular pauses to reassess is good discipline – and will help you spot issues and avoid failing to deliver your transformation outcomes.

What did I forget?

How are you approaching your own HR transformation? Were you able to plan your journey in advance, or are you course-correcting as you go? Are there other key questions you’d add?

Please do me know in the comments – I’d love to discuss this further and hear about your experience.

Here at AdviserPlus, we help a number of businesses with their HR transformation journeys. Get in touch if there’s a project we can help with, and make sure you subscribe to our insights series to keep up to date.

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