Disruption Beyond Technology

Disruption Beyond Technology

HR disruption involves so much more than the simple implementation of technology. HR practitioners are missing a trick with this singular focus.


If you were to do a  web search for “HR disruption”, you would be forgiven for assuming that it would always involve technology. While technology is undoubtedly a robust enabler and a change catalyst, mere introduction of technology without altering any other aspect of a HR process or organisational system is futile. In fact, instead of simplifying processes and systems, it only leads to make them even more complex. E.g. The use of Natural Language Processing to sift through a large candidate pool to save time might feel like a straightforward “swap”. But when no clear protocols and guidelines are in place, it may inadvertently introduce its own selection bias.


It is required that HR remains effective and relevant in an increasingly dynamic working environment, where technology should not be always viewed as the only solution. The world of work is going through a dramatic shift, thereby rendering many of  the commonly used HR concepts and practices ineffective for the future.

Continued refinement of our current practices is no longer an option, and disruption is the key. The question is what and how do we disrupt. Josh Bersin, Principal, Bersin by Deloitte, sets out three micro-trends that help shape and influence such thinking.


1. The changing technology landscape:

Whether one likes it or not, we are now living in a world of always-on apps, a deluge of data, real-time communication, and increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), cognitive bots, and intelligent predictive software. These technologies are fast introducing newer functionalities to the world of HR.


2. The way we work:


The way we work, what is expected of work, where is the work performed, and by whom is the work performed   is all changing! We need to think beyond flexible work practices. Instead, organisations need to become truly location agnostic, tapping into talent pools across the globe. Equally, with the rise of “Social Enterprise”, purpose-driven work is developing into a requirement for today’s generation.

Overall, employees now make choices on the organisations and jobs they perform based on purpose  of  the work, the skills required, location or lifestyle, rather than the highest paying employer.

3. The way we lead and manage organisations:


In the past, the role of a manager was largely to manage and distribute work across the organisation. Welcome to the era of the “Servant Leader”, the “Player-Manager”, where the role of a leader is complex and varied, and often not performed by a single individual.


Taking these into account, one needs to be actively focused on the below mentioned five key, non technology HR disruptions to ensure that the HR function remains relevant.


1. Organisational structures transforming into a “Blueberry Pancake”

The traditional pyramid  structure  of an organisation—with a single overall leader, small executive team, power vertically distributed across several management layers—while serving us well in the past, feels archaic as agility is being viewed as the order of the   day.


Many leadership thinkers predict flatter structures with a good balance between fluidity and discipline — a “Blueberry Pancake” (first referenced by professor  Homa Bahraini at Berkeley in 1992). Here, the work is organised in small teams  or squads (the “blueberries” in the pancake) getting together for short durations and disbanding thereafter. These blueberries are held together by the organisation’s culture—the “pancake” batter.

Several organisations in the Silicon Valley follow such a structure.


2. The notion of the traditional job to “packages” of discrete work


Work within organisations has typically been arranged in a strict hierarchy of job families with skills linearly codified. Individuals in each family complete all the activities required in exchange for a bundle of benefits.  Not  every activity in each job family was however interesting or fulfilling, but that was actually the “deal”!


With tighter labour markets, work is increasingly being unbundled into discrete “packets” undertaken  by a broadening definition of an “employee” — encompassing everything from a permanent employee, contract worker, freelancer or gig worker—embracing a more fluid sense of who  is inside and who is outside the organisation. For instance, in HR, part of the bundle of work for an HR Business Partner was managing disciplinary cases. Now, this is often performed by an in-house Employee Relations Specialist or even by a third- party agent through a vendor relationship.

3. Talent Management practices that truly mobilise talent

The often-used Talent Management practices of succession planning, 9-box classification or elitist Leadership Development only serve to “box” employees designed to control the supply of talent. Instead, the ability to quickly mobilise both internal and external talent to meet a specific business objective will be pivotal for organisations. Interventions through which this could be achieved include the democratisation of talent and creating a true Talent Marketplace for internal moves or assignments.

4. Moving from a classic view of retirement to embracing the “3rd Age”


Traditionally, employees work for 30- 40 years, before coming to what seems to be an abrupt stop when they retire. In some cases, even the actual date is independently dictated (in markets where compulsory retirement is required)!


Now people have a longer lifespan, are increasingly financially free, and generally expect more from life! This is leading to the growing trend of embracing “The 3rd Age”—the intervening period between when an employee ceases to work full-time and when they finally stop working and truly retire. Organisations need not be threatened by employees joining the 3rd Age, but they should instead look to facilitate this transition by ensuring a continued connection with the organisation. For instance, a well- known financial institution kept a few offices free, and provided access to administrative support for its ex partners. Other organisations have strong alumni programmes, and many consulting firms encourage an ongoing connection via an “Affiliate network.”


5. Leaders taking an “outside-in” perspective driving strategic, beneficial external partnerships

Over time, leaders of large organisations can often become insular and inwardly- focused. With this ever-connected world, however, organisational leaders have to acknowledge (and embrace) the wider ecosystem within which they now operate—the industry the organisation works in, the dynamics of the location(s) it operates from, and the community it serves.

Leaders who leverage this ecosystem, by building strategic alliances and partnerships, will not only secure the future of their own organisations, but often that of the overall industry, and see the local communities progress  and flourish. These alliances could be with their competitors, industry trade bodies, NGOs, governmental bodies, charities, or even regulators. In Malaysia, for instance, higher-order technology skills (e.g. Cyber) are in short supply. Standard Chartered, like any other organisation had partnered with several government agencies (e.g. a trade body, the Human Resource ministry and local universities) facilitating the development of cyber skills locally, not just for their own practices, but for the benefit of the entire country.

The advent of Industrial Revolution 4.0 will need us to redefine and  disrupt HR practices, but I believe the profession has always been one to embrace change, no doubt this will be the case for this revolution too! 


Meena Anand is a Global CHRO and is currently the Managing Director and Head of HR for Global Business Services for Standard Chartered Bank. With a strong interest in HR disruption, she is constantly looking for ideas to innovate and actively invest in next-gen HR. Meena has previously held senior HR roles in financial institutions based in Switzerland and London.


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