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Organizational Complexity Overwhelms Many HR Leaders

Inability to cope with compliance, new technologies can undermine daily operations

More than half of HR leaders responding to a recent survey strongly agreed that their role has required them to manage increasing levels of complexity in recent years, and that they feel ill-equipped to cope, according to results released July 18, 2013, by global talent management firm Lumesse.

In an independent survey of 1,293 HR leaders from across the globe, 52 percent of respondents strongly agreed that the complexity of their jobs has grown significantly. The survey, conducted by Survey Shack for Lumesse, a developer of talent management software, also found that 61 percent reported feeling overwhelmed by it and that 52 percent said they did not have the ability to fully cope with it. Respondents represented employers from 11 different countries with workforces ranging from less than 1,000 employees to more than 50,000.

The research was undertaken to understand which complexities were driven by international and generational differences and what HR leaders perceived to be the resulting impact on the business. The factors identified as causes of increasing business complexity included changes in regulation and compliance as well as the emergence of new technologies that make it harder to gather important data.

In addition, 60 percent of survey respondents indicated that they did not have full confidence in their organizations’ ability to manage complexity, with 45 percent of “C-Level” respondents sharing that particular concern. Only 30 percent of HR professionals rate their leaders as “very able” to manage complexity, and when asked whether their organizations included the ability to manage complexity as part of their leadership selection and development process, only 30 percent said they did.

As a result, complexity has a significant impact on key business indicators such as sales revenue, employee productivity and motivation, customer loyalty, organizational profitability and sustainable long-term competitive advantage.

“If you drill down into the complexities outlined by the survey, the main challenge for HR leaders is the need to understand how the evolution of technologies, macroeconomic factors and globalization can be assessed to create a multi-channel, multinational and multi-generational approach to HR strategy,” said Katherine Jones, lead analyst at Bersin by Deloitte, in a press statement. “This can impact every detail from selecting which channel to best communicate with potential candidates, depending on generation and culture, to how to encourage learning within the organization and whether that should be social or traditional.”

“Complexity does not always mean difficult processes,” said Stephen Cerrone, former CHRO at Sara Lee, in the same statement. “It often indicates a number of moving parts—situational changes—[that] cannot be easily predicted and [that] can impact positively or negatively the way a business operates.

“The management of complexity should not be limited to the CHRO,” Cerrone continued. “It is significant for all employees and specifically for those who manage global teams; ultimately it will impact on everyone’s daily work processes. Team leaders need to be effective communicators and promote conversation when complexity does arise so that it’s fully understood and can be addressed.”

Jeremy Langley, marketing and business development director at Lumesse, said, “Our survey has found that HR leaders are not only feeling overwhelmed by the need to navigate the varying shades of each complexity, but over half don’t have full confidence in their organizations’ ability to manage it either. It’s particularly interesting that nearly half of our C-Level respondents lack this confidence. … In businesses where this is the case, it is often harder to put in place a people-shaped approach that tailors strategy and its components—recruitment, learning and development—to local and individual needs. It’s unsurprising then that 60 percent of HR leaders believe complexity will have a significant impact on their business’s ability to deliver and increase revenue.

“Businesses need to learn to embrace complexity, working with it rather than against it,” Langley added. “To do this, they need to first identify [what] has the most impact on the business priorities and [the] ability to perform. By using intuitive technology platforms that help better understand how these complexities impact recruitment, learning and development needs, HR will be better placed to develop a people strategy tailored for the business’s needs.”


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