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Francis Wade | Getting IT and HR to cooperate on change

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 7:00 AM
The advent of the smartphone has created a unique challenge in managing workplace behaviour.

Many top executives find themselves in a tricky spot. Human beings and technology, two essential ingredients for a company to thrive, don't naturally work well together. Here is one way to tackle the issue: using the case of business process management or BPM.

A recent McKinsey Journal article described the advent of a new role a chief transformation officer, or CTO. Operating with the trust of the board, this change agent operates like an extension of the CEO, holding top managers to account.

As a CTO, your mandate would be simple: cause the organisation to change itself, even as it continues to do business. With excellent emotional quotient and technology skills, you would be able to join the expertise of two organisations which usually avoid each other: human resources and information technology.

In most Jamaican companies, these functions operate in silos. As a result, HR is slow to adopt, let alone envision, new technologies, while IT is ill-equipped to implement the human side of digital solutions.

Case in point the introduction of email in the mid-1990s. This happened to be the single biggest culture-changing intervention since the advent of personal computing over a decade earlier.

Unfortunately, HR never saw it coming and was often the last department to be trained in its use. Its counterpart, IT, still has a hard time predicting and managing the behaviour changes ensuing from newly introduced technology. The smartphone is a ubiquitous example.

More recently, CEOs are demanding that executives implement another change: enterprise-wide business process transformation. They want to see the benefit of continuous improvement on a massive scale, in preparation for disruptive innovations that are just around the corner.

At the same time, they understand that new technology cannot simply be bolted on to old methods of doing business.

Plus, BPM projects don't take place on the sidelines; they affect core operations, and with them, the bottom line. Local companies have responded to this imperative in two ways.

 

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When HR is placed in charge of a firm's BPM programme, there's an immediate credibility problem. Usually, HR business partners lack critical technology depth and just haven't studied the combined impact of inventions such as cloud computing, mobility, and security.

Furthermore, they often lack the engineering skills to lead such an effort. Most HR professionals have no exposure to process baselining, measurement, analysis, improvement and automation. By contrast, these are skills taught in most IT programmes, albeit at an abstract level

Based on this realisation, it might be obvious that IT should take the lead. However, even though professionals in this unit have all the technical skills needed, they are often short of interpersonal, political and change-management capacity

To worsen matters, most local companies have manual processes which have never been baselined. Therefore, incumbent staff must be appropriately engaged in order to continue daily operations that they, and only they, understand.

Their lack of experience on BPM projects drives up resistance, forcing IT professionals to start by launching trust-building exercises, an unfamiliar tactic for them. Furthermore, the first round of changes only requires common sense, not newfangled robotics. When this fact is discovered, the business case for fancy automation is often found to be inflated due to poor, improper information.

Lastly, the IT professional who ends up in charge of implementing behaviour changes that don't require new technology is likely to struggle; it's just not his/her cup of tea.

Given the shortcomings of both these approaches, McKinsey's ideas offer a third way.

A CTO is not simply another functional role in the usual line-up of corporate officers. Instead, if you were in the job, you would be the driver of behaviour change, the one who makes a difference in the practices, habits and tools used to do daily work.

Pulling on all resources, you

would need the trust of other executives to share their people's expertise. As you form cross-business unit teams, you would help them implement process changes across silos.

You would be the advocate of the customer's journey the moments of truth the customer faces as they interact with different touchpoints. Spanning the enterprise, you would be one to see where revenue generation and service levels are being thwarted by organisational gaps.

In BPM efforts, it's critical that HR and IT continue to play their roles but don't make the mistake of saddling them with responsibilities they aren't capable of implementing.

It sets them up for failure, minimises their impact, and reduces their role to enablers of small improvements.

When a company needs to be prepared to make big changes, only a CTO-like function can succeed. Combining human and technological expertise, it's the only way to drive practical, large-scale change.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of "Perfect Time-Based Productivity". To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com