How can HR support Business Disruption?

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My guest on this week’s Digital HR Leaders podcast is Nick Holley. Nick has extensive experience, not only in researching key trends in HR, he also works with major global businesses and has a background in senior HR roles as a partner at Arthur Andersen and a Director of Global People Development at Vodafone.

This gives Nick a highly focused commercial and practical outlook on HR. As well as running his own Consulting business. He is Director of Learning for the Corporate Research Forum. One of the largest HR networks in Europe where he runs open and bespoke in-company programs helping HR business partners, HR directors and Group HR directors become less HR and more business focused.  

In this extract from our discussion, Nick and I discuss how HR can support the Business when it comes to organisational development and disruption in the business itself. If you’re interested in learning more about how HR can become more business relevant, then I urge you to watch the video with Nick below, read the transcript in this blog, or to hear the rest of the interview on the podcast then you can listen or subscribe here.

David Green: HR is traditionally involved in building organisational capability. How can it help companies actually become a disruptor themselves?

Nick Holley: In a world of disruption my belief is that the world is moving so fast and disruption is so huge. And by the way, that's not just technology its demographics its politics etc.

We need to become disruptors. Because I think the companies that will fail are the companies that try and react to disruption rather than moving ahead. And therefore I think HR's role is to create capability in organisations to become the disruptors in their industry.

And I think there are lots of things but one is risk taking. I think HR has a major role as the cultural gardeners to create a culture in which risk-taking isn't punished, but we work out what good risk-taking is and that's not just let's take massive risks and bet the business on it.

But let's take small experiments and let's learn from the move and move and learn. I think a second issue is collaboration. Most good disruption doesn't come from the lone genius. It comes from groups of people usually from very very different backgrounds. So again if HR just sits within HR rather than engaging with the with the rest of the business and the external environment.

I think a third thing is agility, which isn't just structure. I think it's a way of thinking around putting the customers first about being willing to experiment etcetera doing things at speed and the fourth thing is hyper-awareness, which is most disruption isn't happening at corporate head office.

It's happening out there in the business on the periphery. So your corporate people, your senior people aren't seeing it. It's your front line staff. So my daughter worked for a while, she was in the fashion industry, she worked in a summer job when she was at Uni at Zara, and it fascinated me, they were trained to question customers. Not on what size do you want? But what do you like, what don't you like? What are some of the trends you see coming? What are you going to be buying in the future. Every evening when they shut the store, they would debrief all the people in the store and then they would send a report overnight to La Coruna in Northern Spain.

The next morning they're sitting down together analysing and the key thing is together. And when you see the video of their offices, they're all open plan because you've got the people who are driving the designs here, then the manufacturing etc and they can get from I think their phrase is design to shelf in three weeks.

And that is hyper-awareness because it's based on not like some of the old fashioned businesses where they kind of like to predict a year in advance and work out people like stripes or green or whatever, but every single day they're changing what they're selling.


David Green is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys. You can follow David on LinkedIn and Twitter and also subscribe to The Digital HR Leader weekly newsletter and podcast.