The HR Evolution From Transactional to Interactive

October 16, 2017

Digital disruption is being spoken about in every space that we know of. All organizational dimensions are impacted by it, and that includes the people dimension. HR, therefore, stands at the juncture of a big change that can consolidate its role as a true business partner. Making the choice to evolve from transaction-based work to becoming interactive and aware of business realities, is that big change and a few organizations like the World Bank Group are committed to make that change.

Through his session at the SHRMi Conference, Sean McGrath, HR Vice-President - World Bank Group explains how WBG is undergoing a change as an organization, and how that translates into a change in its HR function. When the World Bank Group came into existence, its role and the challenges it addressed were different.  One of the biggest achievements for the Group has been the dip in poverty worldwide which has been possible due to strong global trade and growth. Around 1.1 Billion people have escaped poverty since 1990 due to its efforts. India has made significant progress as well. Even so, there are still 270 million poor people in India as of now.

Similarly global inequality across the world has been reduced in the past 25 years. The reasons have been a positive economy both in India and globally. But the same drivers that helped to achieve this will not work in our world today considering how there is a clear slowdown in international trade. That is the change that WBG is facing today. Has it resulted in the way it defines its role and operates? Yes, it has.

Sean believes, that there are only 3 ways to get to the shared prosperity goal, by 2030 which WBG has in mind, given the current global scenario.  

1. Through sustainable and inclusive economic growth, which is connected to better infrastructure and governance; this also means a clear emphasis on education and achievement of agricultural efficiency.

2. Through specifically investing more in people and talent, both on the education and health fronts.

3. Through fostering resilience to the global shocks.  There are man-made and natural disasters impacting our world. The number of refugees is at a historical high. The climate is in distress. We need to face the prospects and prepare accordingly.

So while the macro-level changes have taken place, in order to move towards shared prosperity and poverty eradication, the WBG needs to collaborate even further, with India, one of its key partners, in its growth, since 1949. Poor sanitation is leaving half of India’s children malnourished and their growth stunted. India spends USD 53 billion per year in health care, which is 6.5% of GDP and yet there is a lacunae. Hence, a USD 1.5 billion World Bank project was started in December 2015, to support the Clean India project, which is India’s largest ever drive to improve sanitation. These kinds of projects need WBG to find the right resources at the local level, so that they can deliver the results. To find those resources, the HR team of WBG needs to be more attuned to the current business context.  

What this translates into is that, given the kind of work that WBG is doing worldwide, the organization has seen a change in how its own workforce has been shaping up and growing. For the first time now in this evolving world, there are multiple generations working together. Multi-cultural and fluid workplaces are now a part of our reality. And each diverse segment brings a distinct set of behaviours, values and cultures. Such changes in the workforce, bring their own challenges to overcome, as well as strengths to harness.

In order to be able to leverage the strengths of such a multi-dimensional and layered workforce, the World Bank Group decided to change its operating model, from being focused entirely at the region level. The organization realized that global knowledge needed to be raised up from the local levels where it resided and encapsulated, as well as replicated across.

As with any major change that takes place in an organization, HR and people, are at the forefront of this change in the operating model as well. A change management intervention such as this can be very demanding. It needs HR to be proactive and to go beyond the regular approach of showing benefits like improved productivity or efficiency, to actually demonstrating its alignment with the business strategy of the organization.

As Sean shares “We needed an HR function which was more credible at building the workplace of tomorrow.” Such a workforce is possible only when there is a shift from tactical or transactional roles to becoming interactive and strategic. That is the focused change that was made to HR’s work responsibilities. Automated processes were put into place, which reduced the time spent by HR on tactical work. Technology is used effectively to take on repetitive aspects that are time consuming, so that the HR function’s mind-space is free to spend time on assessing the links between people and business.  

WBG also worked on reorganizing the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and the systems to create a balanced approach towards business impact. EVP is an important area that HR today, needs to invest time in, in a committed way. It has the power to draw the right kind of talent into the organization.

Apart from the above areas, another good example that enabled HR to transform its role is the changes that WBG made in Workforce Planning. With digital disruption taking place, harnessing technology and resources, in the optimal manner for this area, was the right way to go.

As per Sean, the attributes for an HR professional of the future are “Reason, learn, connect, communicate, collaborate”.  So knowledge and talent are the drivers, but HR has to focus on reasoning and learning the business, followed by connecting and communicating with the employees, and collaborating with the stakeholders. What this means is that driving both organizational goals as well as individual aspirations in a balanced manner, is the new role of HR.

Due to these path-breaking steps, WBG can now project, plan and recruit, the most diverse set of talent anywhere in the world to tie up with its mission – and this phenomenon is being led by HR, because it was empowered to become more interactive, particularly from the business perspective. WBG is also able to now deploy the right resources across right segments of the organization.

Two years ago, a major framework was launched within the World Bank Group, in an effort to focus on skills and not just tenure. Apart from that, WBG also did an engagement survey in 2013 to sense how employees were accepting the changes that were being made. With the engagement index, the management effectiveness index was also assessed.  Employee feedback was great and it helped them to realize how there must be committed focus on business and its results.

Some HR paradoxes that also came to the fore were evaluated. The first of those paradoxes was that just as HR needs to care for the talent, they also need to focus on competitive business impact. Balancing these elements is important.

Secondly, using technology is essential for efficiency, but combining it with human connection is what HR needs to work on. Human touch is essential and relevant today as it was earlier.  

Thirdly, responding with wisdom, speed and patience to all issues that come up during the change management intervention is the key to success for new-age HR professionals.

Fourthly, HR needs to have the analytical ability to use structured and unstructured data, so that they can make decisions with the wealth of data that they have available today.

Finally, overall and comprehensive well-being that comprises of customers, the organization, investors and employees, is what HR should be driving and not just a uni-dimensional approach which covers the workforce.

In all change management projects, the critical part is the voice of the employees. That voice needs to be heard. That voice needs to also be understood so that organizations such as WBG are able to balance their culture and become mission led, as well as performance driven. Sean, through his presentation, shares the experiences of different employees who are part of WBG and have been through difficult journeys of their own, prior to joining. That is why the emphasis on hearing the employee’s voice, is key. It helps organizations to assess the past and also plan for the future, in a better and more specific manner.

Overall, the important aspects to remember are how HR as a function and practice has evolved from being a contributory part of the organization, to becoming a business driver. It can help organizations find and define their competitive edge. In many cases, the HR itself can become the competitive advantage because of the way it shapes up its role and takes the decision to revisit its transactional work and swap it for business-critical actions. This is only possible when there is more interaction and better understanding of business and organizational needs, which means that HR needs to look beyond the silos of employee needs.



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