Q&A with IBM’s Gary Kildare: The evolving business landscape and the navigational tools for HR

Ahead of his keynote session at HRD Summit/Europe Gary Kildare joined HRD Connect for the final part in this interview series. Gary discusses IBM’s HR transformation in the evolving business landscape and his view on the future of work.

How can HR Leaders adapt and innovate to meet future demands? What skills and knowledge are needed for HR Leaders to navigate the changing business landscape?

IBM’s Chairman and CEO, Ginni Rometty, abides by the motto, “never protect your past.”

The traditional role of the HR function was to provide transactional support to management and optimize certain processes – things like processing payroll changes, recording appraisals, handling the recruitment process, or providing reports. However, in the current workplace most HR transactions are automated and business leaders no longer need our help to process transactions.

Today’s organisations face increasingly complex workforce challenges. Employees have higher expectations and the workplace is increasingly virtual with clients and workers going mobile and sharing their perceptions through social media. Additionally, there is growing demand for new skills, which creates gaps in areas where we have trouble recruiting –for example, in cybersecurity or Artificial Intelligence.

On top of this, there are several evolving technology capabilities, including cloud, cognitive, mobile and the Internet of Things, which are helping guide the ongoing HR transformation. Cognitive technology, for instance, is guiding managers and employees to make smarter decisions by harnessing the experiences of tens of thousands of people in order to provide individual guidance.

In this context, the role of HR is about helping reinvent the workforce strategy, improve the work experience and provide compelling employee value propositions. In addition, the business needs us to understand organisational effectiveness to help assess the health of the organisation and discover root causes that impact performance.

So, overall I think HR needs to partner with management on a more strategic level, developing a growth mind-set and using design thinking and agile to create human-centered experiences.

HR leaders need to develop skills that help the business win by bringing together the employee experience with the business need. This focus on growth mind set requires strong business acumen. We need to be executive coaches, influencing and developing great business leaders. This includes coaching for performance as well as development. Negotiation skills will also be key for HR to set and reset expectations at the most senior levels, including telling the uncomfortable truth and translating that into a solution or compromise.

How has the uncertain political landscape affected you and/or your organisation? What are the key opportunities or challenges facing you/your organisation as a result?

All large organisations will be assessing and preparing for both the risks and opportunities that come from the changing political landscape and IBM is well-positioned. We operate in more than 175 countries across the globe and have decades of experience dealing with the complexity of global operations across multiple jurisdictions. Clients rely on our wealth of experience as we help them navigate the current political landscape.

The HR Director Summit/Europe themed Enhancing Business Performance: Turning Strategy into Reality. Where can HR make the biggest difference in your organisation? What is HR’s role in enhancing business performance?

Addressing complexity on behalf of employees is fast becoming the new work of HR. This new priority is driven in large part by the growing need for a workforce that can readily adapt to an ever-evolving environment. Cognitive solutions can help HR professionals in their endeavours to create more efficient ways to interact with employees, provide easy access to insights from vast amounts of data, and deliver information tailored to the needs of the individual. We also identify three areas in which HR professionals are starting to leverage the power of cognitive computing: talent acquisition, talent development and HR operations.

To better understand the impact of cognitive solutions on the human resources function, we surveyed senior HR executives, CEOs and employees across a range of industries and geographies. As part of a larger IBM global survey of more than 6,000 executives, we asked nearly 400 CHROs about their current views on cognitive computing; we also sought input from employees regarding their willingness to receive guidance from cognitive solutions. Our research shows that CHROs and CEOs recognize the value that cognitive solutions bring to HR and believe its unique capabilities can address the new talent imperatives; however, most are uncertain how and where to proceed. Our analysis of employee views regarding cognitive solutions reveals a “cognitive sweet spot” – a set of parameters that characterize situations where cognitive solutions will have the greatest impact on employees and organizations.

To adapt and keep up with the world around us, we need to be experimental and innovative, apply design thinking, be comfortable with data and analytics, be bold and push back.

We are in a digital age and HR has a leadership role to play with new models of organisation design, career management, digital learning and performance management. Reinventing the employee experience and disrupting leadership. It’s not about metrics and scorecards. We need to be comfortable not just chipping-away at outdated practices, but ready to take the first swing of the sledgehammer.

HR professionals need to be comfortable rolling-up their sleeves and talking the language of the business. Take employee engagement as one example. We know it affects the bottom line, so let’s have the engagement discussion in those terms. If a workforce truly believes in what they do and are engaged in their work, there is a huge boost in additional discretionary effort. We all know how it feels when you can’t wait to leave the office, but we also know how it feels to be passionate about something and put in hours of extra effort. An employee who is passionate about their work, and employee who is enabled to make progress on things they care about… they represent the additional productivity we’re all looking for on our bottom-line. It’s easier to drive that extra point of margin improvement through engagement than layoffs.

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