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In the week of March 20th 2017 I have tweeted about HR disruption under the hashtag #hrdisruption. This is the second article about that. You can read the first one here.

4 lenses to look at HR disruption

From that twitter discussion I have learned that there are 4 different ways we could look at hr disruption:

  • Lens 1: HR disrupts itself by applying  similar models of disruption on itself.
  • Lens 2: HR helps organisations to cope with disruption.
  • Lens 3: HR focuses on building capabilities that strengthen organisations.
  • Lens 4: HR gets disrupted.

You can look at these 4 lenses differently and ask two important questions:

  • What’s the attitude of HR in disruption? Is it active or reactive/passive?
  • What’s the focus of HR disruption? Is it about HR itself or is it about the organisation?

The attitude question is an interesting one. Like Jan Dillis states:

But there’s a lot of scepticism about whether or not HR is able to play a role in disruption.

(HR and Disruption in one sentence? That’s not very credible … And maybe it’s better like this)

HR disruption Lens 1: HR disrupts itself.

This is a proactive attitude oriented towards the HR Profession. We could ask ourselves if HR needs to be disruptive?
Very often we see disruption as the implementation of new technologies. In a report of Deloitte’s Bersin 9 trends are described for the HR software market in 2017. If only we have the latest cutting-edge HR technologies we are disruptive. This is of course delusional. HR is not disruptive because it innovates in terms of technology.
If HR wants to be disruptive, it needs to grasp the trends in the surrounding context.
There are three trends: the demographic shift, the automation and the talent cloud.

Demographics is clear. We live longer and will have work longer. We look at HR to find meaningful answers.
Automation is clear as well. We expect massive disruption of the talent market due to digitization. This generates many challenges for organizations.
The Talent Cloud is the third trend. There’s a new talent market coming with many (temporary) sources of talent. I call that the talent cloud. But that talent cloud is not always that satisfactory. A CIPD report shows that there are many issues.

HR should be careful not to get carried away. Veerle Verspille phrases it correctly:

Any way, we can expect different HR Models.

And of course this Deloitte report gives an overview of how human capital management will change

The question if if HR should be disruptive. The answer is yes and no. Hrdisruption has no value in itself. It only has value when it at least facilitates organisations in disruption.

HR Disruption Lens 2: HR facilitates an organisation in disruption.

Jan Dillis tweeted that HR will be the glue of the fragmented organisation. Maybe that’s too much of a compliment, but I would argue that HR can offer a lot to organizations that go through major change. One of them is organisational design.
You could say that new ways of organisation is a major contribution of HR, like Veerle Verspille argued.

And then you could say that design thinking is one of the ways HR can facilitate.

Organisation design is for sure (again) an HR contribution of the future.

Enjoy the YouTube video on Spotify as an example of this.

But also management innovation is a way HR could help organizations in disruption.

But one thing should not be forgotten. Disruption, innovation is about emotions. And therefore it’s a human thing, as is well explained in a WEF blog.

Many people talk about the human side of disruption and digitization.

If  HR is about the people dimension in organisation and disruption is a human thing, HR has a bright future would you not agree?

HR Disruption Lens 3: HR builds capabilities that prepares an organisation for a disruptive world.

In that sense HR returns to its essence, but in a disruptive context.

The question HR could ask itself, is which capabilities a given organization needs to develop. And the second question is how to do that. I will blog about capability building later. But if you want to know more about this, I can refer to McKinsey.

HR Disruption Lens 4: HR is disrupted.

A fourth lens is the disruption of HR. In this lens HR plays a passive role. This is what many people seem to believe. HR does not play a significant role in disruption and will be disrupted instead. Some argue that the HR disruption (lens 1) has in itself no value.
Indeed if HR will not focus on the facilitation of organisational responses to disruption or on disruption-resistant capabilities, HR will not get any credit and will get disrupted.
I do not want to say that HR should be saved at all cost. But as the human dimension becomes even more important in a disruptive digital context, every organisation has to give attention to that aspect. And like I’ve stated in previous blogs: HR is not a function, it’s a process. Or maybe it’s a capability too.

Is it a matter of HR Maturity?

I think it is. Immature HR thinking will make sure that HR gets disrupted. In many organisations HR has never set foot outside of the payroll role. But if HR people see their own process as administrative, HR is bound to be disrupted by automation. When maturity increases HR will lose the focus on itself and focus more on facilitation and capability building. And only then it will reach its potential. But one thing is sure, the future of HR is not big data or technology. It’s about facilitation and capability-building. And most probably HR needs to disrupt itself to get there. If it doesn’t, HR will be disrupted.
HR disriptipn
Thanks to those who have participated to the discussion week. Follow the debate here.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Jim SMith says:

    The big question is, whether HR is positioned to have the impacts offered for discussion. Twenty years in fortune 500 companies and 20 years consulting to the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, I haven’t seen many where the HR group had enough influence to move the CEO or their peer officers. Imagine doing this before implementing an EE project. A preliminary question is posed to the employees asking whether they believe HR is the right group to sponsor EE improvement. Never going to happen, but it’s a question to be considered. EE solutions should be provided exclusively to the CEO, HR is just another group likely to be on the receiving end of the input. This is pretty disruptive to HR, but the approach has been measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Change the focus from the data to the execution, the data isn’t all that important especially if it gets ignored.

  • Thomas Roehm says:

    On the long term, HR will be Uber-ised. With the right tools in their hands, employees will eventually manage themselves

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