Friday, June 29, 2012

Driving agility - HR’s role in enabling change

By implication, HR has an absolutely vital role to play in helping organisations to tackle changing circumstances and ensure they are ‘fit to change’. Let’s look at each in turn. 

Strong leadership
Ensuring a business is agile enough to respond to constant change isn’t just about strong leadership at a given point in time; it’s about future leadership too.

HR has a role to play in identifying and nurturing tomorrow’s leaders, ensuring they build the right skills through good followership and engagement across the business to help them successfully navigate a changing world. They will need support, and at Fujitsu, we offer this through a dedicated Head of Talent Management who is responsible for providing opportunities for employees with leadership potential to work directly with the current executive leadership team on special projects. 
By the same token, today’s leaders must engage with everyone in the organisation to ensure they understand the reason behind organisational changes required to help the business keep pace with external demands. 

The right organisational culture
Similarly, people must understand the reasons for change and be given a mandate to help effect that change. We’ve adopted ‘lean’ principles within Fujitsu, which are founded on a bottom-up approach, whereby the people actually doing a job will take responsibility for making small changes to beneficially impact the business. People don't have to ask permission to introduce improvement; changes are implemented and judged on their effects, rather than changes being proposed and assessed for their possible impact. People are therefore trusted to evolve the business in real time.

A good example of this working in real-life is on our HR helpdesk at Fujitsu. With over 11,000 employees, the department deals with an average of   per day. Instead of having to field those calls around the team for a resolution as we have done in the past, we now provide front-line support on most queries, meaning 90% of them are resolved within 24 hours. 

The capacity to change

If you are going to be able to respond to external changes, you have to get your own house in order first. For the HR department, this means ensuring the team structure is flexible and can adapt and respond.

I realised my own department wasn’t equipped to cope with market and customer demands last year, and recognised I needed to fix our cost base; the structure of the HR department; how we captured and shared knowledge between us; and, most importantly, how we could develop better opportunities for career progression. 

To transform the department to address all of these issues, I knew I had to have the whole department behind me. I personally ran a series of roundtable discussions and focus groups with the whole team so that they understood the need for change and were involved in it right from the very start. 

The right people

Having the right employees in suitable roles is a vital component of business agility. It is the HR function’s responsibility to ensure the right people are deployed doing the right things; and to understand that what is ‘right’ changes over time.

It’s vital therefore that the HR function looks inside the organisation in order to identify the right people, but also outside of the organisation to understand what is required from them based on changing demands. It helps if you can make decisions locally. Too many companies, especially in the technology sector, are forced to refer strategic decisions to executive teams on a different continent. We’re lucky at Fujitsu that our colleagues in Tokyo place their trust in us to make local decisions. That enables us to react quickly and equip our people to adapt to the changing needs of the whole business.


As the HR function within an organisation becomes more strategic, CEOs across the private and public sector will be looking to their HR heads to enable agility and rapid change in response to market needs. Undoubtedly, people are a company’s best asset and as organisations fight to remain competitive and relevant, it is that very asset that will make those things happen. A business that is fit to change has to shift focus quickly and it has to shift as one unit. 

Similarly it needs to know when not to respond to change: when to stay true to the long-term vision – a vision that has to be understood from the boardroom to the mailroom. If this is not at the top of the HR agenda, any attempt to stay ahead in the race to keep up with change will stumble at the first hurdle.

Ella Bennett, HR Director at Fujitsu UK & Ireland 

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