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PHOTO: Nicholas Green

Over the past few years, we’ve seen many HR departments switch their focus from annual performance reviews to real-time feedback, with companies like Adobe and Deloitte leading the trend. This marked a change in the way performance management was traditionally viewed, and opened the floor to more questions around people practices. 

Specifically, how can we better support individuals in their roles and careers, and change the focus from company-first to people-first?

Shifting Towards People Enablement

In response to this kind of thinking, a new trend emerged whereby companies and HR departments are shifting towards a more holistic people enablement approach. According to Deloitte's latest human capital report, companies are shifting from careers to experiences: instead of a steady progression along a role-based pathway, leading organizations are moving towards a model that empowers individuals to acquire valuable experiences, explore new roles and continually reinvent themselves. The company identified this trend as one of its top human capital trends of 2018.

The difference between employee management and people enablement is the latter is not a top-down strategy focused exclusively on what individuals can do to improve business results. People enablement is about removing hierarchical bottlenecks and empowering individuals to take the reins of their performance and career. When a culture is in place where people have clarity and alignment, opportunities for professional growth, and feel valued and recognized for their contributions, people feel motivated and engaged which in return, helps business increase productivity while retaining and attracting top talent.

Heather Hanson Wickman, founder of Untethered consulting and author of “The Evolved Executive” said, “I think the people enablement trend is rightfully on the top of the HR trends for 2018. I imagine it will likely be on most CEOs top 5 list within a few years as well.”

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Today’s Workers Have Different Needs

With an ever-growing millennial workforce, companies can't afford to ignore that people expect to find purpose and feel engaged in their jobs. With the attention shifting from HR to individuals themselves, there is the expectation that they will be more proactive when it comes to their careers, for example by asking for feedback themselves rather than waiting for the official performance review.

We reached out to four HR and leadership professionals for their opinion on why this important trend was happening, and more importantly, why it matters.

“Since the industrial revolution the collective way of relating to employees has been in a parent-child dynamic. As we're seeing, this isn't sufficient for the complexity and speed of change in the world today. This means rethinking what leadership is and a lot of unlearning! Gary Hamel says 'be revolutionary in intent, but evolutionary in the doing' and that we must 'go to the users.' In other words, involve people. For example, create a platform for employees to propose some 'hacks' and peer review them before running some low-cost experiments. Let's roll up change instead of a top-down rollout," said Lisa Gill, a trainer and coach with Tuff Leadership Training.

Gill's sentiment suggests it's time to review the traditional leadership model to see if it’s really suited to contemporary ways of working. It further hints that people at all levels of the organization need to be much more involved in the business, rather than being viewed as cogs in the wheel. 

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Advice for HR Professionals

“People enablement isn’t a one-off project, it’s a strategy. This is the perfect opportunity for HR managers and leaders to play a more strategic role within their organizations,” said Drashti Patel, head of brand at my firm, Impraise

If we want the support of HR departments in implementing these changes, it won’t happen overnight — but it’s certainly possible. Lara Plaxton, head of HR at FDM Group said, “Don’t panic or rush into building solutions. Take the time to learn and change your own mindset first, and then other people’s.” By taking the time to think things through, you will be better prepared when the time comes to introduce changes.

To change your mindset, start by observing the trends around you and identify the best practices. Who is disrupting the industry and what are they doing that you admire? An executive coach can also help you prepare for the change.

As you prepare to make a change, Helen Amery, founder of Wild Fig Solutions suggested you, “Undertake a strategic review of people practices: performance and development reviews, succession planning, learning & development, rewards, recognition — is it only upwards moves that receive focus and recognition?”

Indeed, while outsiders may be observing and analyzing the trends, the change has to start from within. And for that to happen successfully, HR managers and departments need to be ready to embrace it, and believe in its importance.

“Beyond just implementing or revamping performance and development processes, there are two other critical things to be mindful of: The first is to keep coming back to the business level value of your planned initiatives and technology. How can this help us mitigate risks, cut costs, and increase profitability? The second is to make sure you look for a technology that is relentlessly focused on adoption. The benefits are only as good as the usage, it has to be simple, easy to use, and accessible,” added Patel.

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What’s Next?

As the industry shifts towards people enablement, the responsibility doesn’t lie only on HR. The implications of this change are such that senior leaders, managers, and individuals themselves need to be prepared for this new way of working and thinking about careers. But the opportunity for HR is to lead the change.

Further areas of development for HR leaders to explore as companies make the shift towards people enablement are leader development and growth culture. 

“We need leaders who understand what it means to create an environment where individuals can explore and reinvent themselves. More importantly, leaders need to reinvent themselves at the same time,” said Hanson Wickman. Indeed, some of today’s leaders are still from previous generations where work was viewed very differently. People sought a job for life, and weren’t actively seeking purpose or meaning in their jobs. In this environment, a top-down work culture was common and worked well. However today’s outlook is completely different. If leaders want to adapt, they have to unlearn a lot of how they’ve functioned over the years and try new methods, that will likely be a bit uncomfortable to start with.

Hanson Wickman added, “I’d urge HR managers to take a good look at their current culture and determine how compatible it is with a culture that enables others.”

And while leaders should most definitely set the example, people enablement needs to be embraced on all levels. Individuals themselves should seek change and workplaces that offer them a different way of looking at their careers. Plaxton said, “you need a diverse group of people for true people enablement” — companies should be aware of the champions they may already have in their midst.