I have been interested in making organizations work better since an undergraduate course in organizational communication. Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence was only a few years old and James Gleick’s Chaos: The Making of a New Science was recently published when I took the course. During the 90s, I devoured all of Tom Peters books along with books on complexity theory, networks, and entrepreneurship. For the last thirty years, I have thought deeply about managing public sector organizations, private sector organizations, and nonprofit organizations. In those thirty years, I have gained an MBA (focused on project management); a Ph.D. (in public policy and management); and several IT, project management, and HR certifications. I even have a Master’s degree in managing political organizations.
I write all this to observe that I have been wrestling with the issue of making organizations work better for a long time. I believe I have the outlines of a new organizational model to achieve better performance while providing a good work experience for the organization members. In the next several blog postings throughout 2016, I will sketch out this new organizational model. In this first blog posting, I want to talk about one feature of this new organizational model that also may be one of the most controversial aspects: combining the HR function with the IT function to provide a better way to augment the organization’s member’s contributions to the organization’s mission.
Let me briefly describe some recent readings that have influenced my argument to combine HR and IT.
1) Bersin’s writings on the Simply Irresistible Organization and People Management changed my perspective on how IT can reenergize HR by creating an IT backbone to the organization that augments the workforce.
2) The Alliance Model which introduced the “tours of duty” concept. Tours of duty abolish the traditional employee life cycle for a more engaging model where the employee benefits by personalized development while the organization has a more engaged employee.
3) The Harvard Business Review July-August 2015 issue that had several articles dealing with the strategic transformation of HR.
4) Dion Hinchcliffe’s writings on the new digital organizations convinced me that IT is also changing to serve the organization better. More specifically, the key engagement factors supplied by IT and the values of the new era of networked organizations.
5) Daniel Pink’s research on motivation.
At the core of my argument to combine HR and IT into one organizational function is the idea of an augmented workforce. Several futurists have written about the combination of humans with machine intelligence to produce a better worker than the human or machine alone. Rarely does HR and IT consult with each other in current organizations but, this will be a necessity as more organizations rely on cognitive computing and the tours of duty as the new employee lifecycle. It has been my experience (and maybe many of my readers) that current IT departments and HR departments seem to be the largest obstacles to doing my work. HR and IT needs to come out of their silos and become a combined department of strategic possibilities rather than their current roles as the Departments of No.
Imagine a future where the organization has an organization-wide IT platform built on APIs and easily configurable to meet current organizational IT needs. Workers can easily bring their work tools (BYOWT) that plug into the platform. Analytical measures are transparent and open while flowing easily through the platform so as to provide real-time feedback on the performance of the organization. Workers are measured on their contribution to the organization’s mission while the organization fulfills its promises to develop the workers based on individually negotiated Tour of Duty agreements. Employee evaluations are continuous and built into the feedback streams as are employee engagement measures are also continuous and easily observable by management (maybe blockchain technologies could help enforce the Tour of Duty agreements on both sides).
Combining IT and HR functions is not because either function does not perform well. In fact, most IT departments and HR departments do an excellent job in fulfilling their respective missions. The problem is that IT and HR departments are often hyperfocused on their local goals to the detriment of the overall strategy of the organization. IT departments have the vital job of maintaining organization’s technical infrastructure while HR departments keep the organization in compliance with the myriad of HR laws and regulations. These are important goals but, it often leads to a restrictive IT network that frustrates users. HR’s overemphasis on compliance prevents it from being a full strategic partner to the organization by helping to find the essential talent needed to achieve the organization’s mission. Siloed and myopic, HR and IT functions are a drag on the performance of the organization.
Talent and technology are what makes a digital organization. Digital organization needs a fully-engaged workforce that has been constantly learning and developing to keep the organizational agile and on mission. The digital organization’s workforce needs a robust IT infrastructure that augments the work of the employees and provides real-time feedback to keep the workforce aligned with the organization’s mission. Combining HR and IT will compel HR to become more strategic in helping to fulfill the organization’s mission while IT will be more supportive of the augmented workforce. This is the first step in realizing the new better-performing organizations of the future.