Can HR Be the ‘Marie Kondo’ of the Workforce?

By: | February 11, 2019 • 3 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He will be speaking at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition China in Shanghai, May 14 through 15, and HR Festival Asia in Singapore, May 8 through 9, as well as the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas, Oct. 1 through 4. He can be emailed at [email protected]

Despite steady GDP growth and company profitability, workforce productivity (output per hour worked) has been dragging for several years. Much of this can be attributed to the productivity killers that are common to work today. We spend way too much time on emails, meetings, time-consuming processes and other work overhead—all of which gets in the way of doing actual work. Even Agile, the latest fad in organizational design, is proving harder to do than expected.

With an economic slowdown possibly looming on the horizon, taking on workforce productivity is a golden opportunity for HR. The IT department buys and maintains technology and the finance department sets budgets and goals, leaving day-to-day productivity practices to managers and business leaders. In most cases, managers are not experts in productivity and need help with where to start and what to do.

Successful HR managers know how to make work better. They understand the importance of job design, skills and motivation, and they focus on employee engagement, which is directly related to productivity.

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In fact, I am convinced productivity and engagement are two sides of the same coin. When you feel productive, you get things done. You’re “in the zone” and engaged, happy and inspired. When you are stuck in unproductive meetings, inundated with emails or bogged down in a complicated business process, you feel frustrated at best, ready to quit at worst.

While technology is supposed to make our lives easier, it can also be part of the problem. The HR technology we buy today—from learning platforms to goal-managing systems to performance tools—is all designed to attract attention. Too often, it ends up taking people away from their jobs. Instead, we need to put “HR in the flow of work,” which means making HR happen in an easy way—when and where employees need it. This is the new world HR professionals must lead.

Let me give you an example. A large insurance company was rolling out a series of new products, and the change and enablement team found the project slipping. New pricing and offerings were stalled; employees couldn’t keep up; and the business leaders were frustrated. The company’s HR team did an analysis to determine where people were spending their time. They found dozens of processes where people spent inordinate amounts of time filling out forms, validating results and checking their work, even as managers kept asking for more information. Overall, there was a lack of empowerment and trust, and as a result, a lack of productivity and employee engagement.

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When the HR team showed business leaders how many hours were being wasted, they were shocked. They immediately took a time out to simplify the rollout and agreed to stop micro-managing all decisions. Clearly, there were also trust and cultural issues at stake, but by bringing them up in the context of productivity, HR became the hero.

There are hundreds of opportunities for HR to add value by helping increase productivity. How much time does it take a sales person to enter a lead? What is the process for pricing a proposal? How many people are required to sign off on an expenditure or change order? What is the process for quality checking a new manufacturing fix? The list goes on and on.

In the world of always-on work, HR needs to be the “organizational Marie Kondo” and unclutter the workplace wherever we can—by renewing focus on the essentials, using tools like design thinking and behavioral economics, and simplifying business processes so they get out of employees’ way.

Somebody’s got to be the czar of productivity, and who better to take this on than the HR team? This is a role that builds on our strengths and adds real, almost immediate value to the business. I’ll talk more about this topic in my presentation at the upcoming HR Technology Conference from Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 in Las Vegas. I hope to see you there!