People + Strategy Journal

Fall 2020

From the Executive Editor

Current events have only made this question of evolution or revolution more urgent. The one response to this changing world that is guaranteed not to work is an attempt at achieving stasis.

By David Reimer

​There Is No Single Playbook

david reimerOver the past few years it has become fashionable in change management and digital transformation scenarios to cite Microsoft as the textbook example of how to get a digital playbook right. Yet, when you talk to senior leaders at Microsoft, they seem viscerally uncomfortable with this characterization. They shift in their chairs, cock their heads sideways, and talk about what they are wrestling with now, or next. While generous in sharing their own learnings, adaptations and the narrative of their shift from a culture of “know-it-alls” to one of “learn-it-alls,” they will also rush to point out that their journey is not done. It’s not even the same journey today that it was 12 months ago, let alone 3 years ago. Part of being a learning culture is understanding how to never stop evolving. The race isn’t over—and never will be.

In early conversations with guest editor Joe Whittinghill, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Talent, Learning and Insights, he posited a challenge: is building a digital organization a revolution or an evolution? The answer to that question for your company will determine not only how you start your playbook, but how to approach filling in its pages for your people, leaders, investors, customers and board.  And there is no one playbook—there’s your organization, its strategy, the resources and limitations you have, and the optionality you are trying to create.  But that does not mean you cannot learn from others’ successes or failures. In this issue, we asked leaders from a range of industries and company sizes to talk about what building their own digital playbook has meant.

Many of the collective conversations Whittinghill and I had with senior HR leaders could be categorized into a few key buckets—writing your own chapters on culture, talent, technology, process and strategy. The outputs of those discussions inform this issue. Though it includes Microsoft’s story, from the outset, Whittinghill and I were both determined that this issue not focus primarily on the Microsoft playbook. Rather, we solicited contributions from a range of senior HR leaders, academics, CEOs and board directors.

Context matters, too. 2020 has fast-forwarded most organizations’ digital playbooks, and the rapid digitalization of both internal and external processes has meant that many organizations have accelerated their digital implementations by as much as 3-5 years in a little more than 6 months. It’s one thing to think of that acceleration as a crisis response—a temporary revolution, perhaps—but increasingly the shift is to long-term sustainability and enhancement of these new ways of working and thinking about our businesses. For many organizations, the discussion now shifts to evolution. For others, a revolution is waiting in the wings.

For HR professionals, the year has provided an unprecedented opportunity to anticipate, react and adapt to a range of challenges. A September 2020 survey by Forbes showed that 82 percent of workers preferred working from home, and a PWC study released in June showed that more than half of executives expect to need to offer that option. Business models also remain in flex—a senior HR leader from a consumer goods company told me in September that her organization suddenly has a burgeoning direct-to-consumer business where before they have always sold solely to retailers. Is this a blip or a trend? They aren’t sure yet, but their organizational design and talent pipeline now has to fully consider the direct-to-consumer experience. These and similar opportunities put HR in a unique position to lead, learn, and influence. 

Interestingly, current events have only made this question of evolution or revolution more urgent. The one response to this changing world that is guaranteed not to work is an attempt at achieving stasis. 

We invite and encourage your engagement in this discussion. Let’s keep learning from each other.  

David Reimer
Executive Editor