Strategy & LeadershipCisco on redevising HR to overcome new conditions

Cisco on redevising HR to overcome new conditions

Gianpaolo Barozzi, senior director of HR at Cisco, outlines the cultural, strategical and technological innovations that are changing HR

HR is now becoming part of the business conversation and even influencing purchase decisions, indeed, HR is becoming a decision maker. HR has the unique opportunity to help business reimagine the world of work as we know it.

The pandemic has killed the Taylorist approach for good. From our core ideas to the theories of advanced management gurus, we have always thought that work can be broken down into small tasks. Each piece of work is connected to the task; in order to do those tasks, we needed a specific role and a specific skill. We were trying to find the right people that had the skills to take up that role.

I think this world has been killed by COVID-19. I’ve spoken with the Ford HR team about this old, wonderful idea, where people said they wanted faster horses instead of cars, and sometimes I feel that we were doing that in HR. We were trying to do the same thing on steroids, the old way of working, instead of making the bold the leap into the new way of work.

The importance of collaboration today

A study on teams by IDEO, with Microsoft support, showed an analysis of teams as if they were individual, independent units, but this is not the case anymore. Right now, teams are active and leading nodes of a major network, within the organisation and outside the organisation, within the company and outside the company. The way HR needs to help the business to reimagine work is realising that we need an ecosystem and the network perspective in everything we do.

Individuals belong to networks, teams belong to networks, and the social capital, the connections, the ability to access other resources, like decision makers and experts, are fundamental, critical success factors. HR has the unique, historical opportunity to help reimagine work through the collaboration among human beings. The other element is that HR is the only department that can look at artificial intelligence from a non-specialist, non-opportunist perspective.

Sales is looking at artificial intelligence to sell more; marketing wants to get more customers, branding visibility and loyalty; research and development wants to build and develop new features; manufacturing wants to easily build new products.

However, nobody’s looking at how AI is actually impacting on human beings internally and externally to the organisation.

HR’s unique influence on innovation

I believe HR has a second opportunity to be the ethical compass, to ask questions around AI application.

Every organisation should consider whether they have the right people asking the right questions. To a certain extent, is there a vein of humanistic questioning against the infatuation of technology that we have? Many people in HR have a humanistic education that is coming from a non-technological perspective, but that will need to be mixed with people that have an understanding of the capability, potential and impact of new technology.

For instance, if we continue to do people analytics for the sake of HR, we’re not going to change anything. We’re still in this world of ‘I am the HR team that is going to discover how you can work better, and I’m going to tell it to you.’ Many professionals in people analytics finally recognise that they have hired very smart professionals, so want to give them the analytics and the intelligence to do at their best at work.

Stop creating vast layers of dashboarding which managers are going to impose on their teams. There is an interesting distinction that we are doing at Cisco between metrics and intelligence. Metrics is the is the data and the insight that you provide to an upper layer to act on the lower layer; you’re providing metrics to managers, so that they can tell their teams how to work differently to get their KPIs. You provide metrics to organisational leaders so that they are going to tell their leaders how to act.

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Defining metrics and intelligence

It’s time to move to intelligence; intelligence is delivered within each layer, for the usage of a specific layer to work better. We should deliver intelligence not to team leaders, but to teams, so that teams can work better. We should deliver intelligence to organisations so that organisation can work better.

When I was leading learning and development, I shocked my team by saying ‘our target should be to be invisible.’ People should learn without even understanding that there are learning, so people analytics should be delivered to people so that they do something with the information, not delivered to the manager so they can act on their staff.

Let me extend it to the entire question of technology. We should learn from the wearable industry. What are the insights and information that the wearable industry is delivering to people? They’re delivering information for users to decide and do something.

What HR needs to do is start developing HR labs, with people coming from different domains, different functions, different expertise, and the ability to ask the right questions, and do the right synthesis of all the answers that are going to find.

Developing a conscious culture

Cisco has a concept of a conscious culture. We were prophetic, because we launched it a couple of years ago; we moved from the historic vision of changing the way people play, live, work and learn into powering an inclusive future for all. The pandemic was not even on the horizon.

The idea is recognising that you need people to bring their whole self to work, and you need to accept it. You need to enable them to be as such, and so you need to allow them to be vulnerable, you need to allow them to have time to recover. I think organisation are doing it, even though mental health is still seen as a stigma, but it’s becoming more and more an element of conversation.

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