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 How HR Can Wow the Business and Stay on the (B)Risk Side of Management

By Belia Nel

“Brisk” is one of those delightful words that sounds like what it means: quick, lively, bracing, and refreshing. Anything brisk is happening quickly, but not too fast. It is marked by speed, liveliness, vigor, and energy.

In the past decades, human resources (HR) has been under scrutiny for many reasons—two of the most important reasons are questioning the business value of the profession and the speed of execution. As Ulrich rightfully comments in a recent article, "Every few years there are public critiques about the HR field. Some prophets see what is wrong and give them a pathway to heaven."

However, I believe there has been too much focus in recent years on “strategic HR” and not enough on speed of delivery. Many consulting companies offered advice, pathways, and strategies, but few got to the core of it

The question is do we need to sacrifice quality and value to the business for speed? And, what are the risks associated to delivering with speed?

In the last 20 years, the “war on talent” has been the dominant metaphor to get HR in shape; but looking forward to 2020, there is a “war on performance.” Many advocated that HR should focus on delivering the business scorecard—that, in itself, will add value and provide HR with credibility. However, a focus on the business scorecard is not enough. HR needs to “wow” the business by focusing on holistic performance and excellence. Too often HR is blamed for pockets of delivery. This should all be done briskly and without the associated risks.

But how can this be achieved? Results and performance should be sustainable for the business, and HR must be a part of the whole picture. Wow the business by delivering holistic performance because the business scorecard is about holistic performance:  Management is tasked to deliver on organization, process, and people performance—but, as HR practitioners, we tend to focus only on people performance.

Deliver what the business wants and not what HR thinks it should deliver. Start with the customer and end with the customer—this is holistic performance that is sustainable for the business. The holistic performance is based on the trusted systems thinking theory by mapping the “double C” as follows:

Customer: What are the actual business needs?

Conditions: What are the conditions in the environment for sustainable results and performance?

Outcomes: What should sustainably be achieved?

Input: What is needed for sustainable outcomes? Do we have the resources and innovation?

Process: How will the sustainable outcomes be achieved? Do we have the right systems in place?

Consequences: How will holistic performance be managed? What are the feedback loops?

Customer: Have sustainable results and business needs been achieved and addressed?

Once this has been mapped, you can assess what the risks are to achieving holistic performance to the business sustainably. Ultimately, people deliver performance, and the risks should be identified at a holistic perspective as shown in the graphic.


Holistic Performance Foundations
The wow relationship has four foundations of holistic performance delivery. The war on performance will necessitate questioning our agility to stay ahead of the future. Do your reality check against the holistic performance foundations and assess the risks associated with getting ready for 2020:

Business and World Perspective Impact

  • The world around us—the challenge for internal and environmental green sustainability
  • The world is in a no-growth phase—no expansion.
  • Doing more with less
  • Movement, mobility, agility, flexi-everything
  • Global war for talent vs. war on performance—talent is not everything, but the differentiator is the upskilling and reskilling and holistic view to performance.
  • War on performance. This is a challenge for a strategic “whole new HR approach”— engage in holistic performance for sustainability.
  • Fluid nature of business—business-on-the-go
  • The era of “yes” to the power of big data analytics

People Perspective Impact

  • FOMO and “focus deficit syndrome”—rethink office hours, impact of connectivity, impact on performance outputs and results.
  • Innovation and creativity are needed everywhere—the new scarce skills.
  • Learning solutions delivery in “bits and bytes.”
  • Crowd-sourcing feedback systems—everything and everyone get rated and are involved in feedback.
  • A new breed of “knowledge doers” is emerging.
  • Where are the women? Women are vulnerable to job losses even though there has been a surge to place them in senior positions. Do the stats. Women are the most underutilized business resource.
  • Performance impact—work anytime, anywhere. Is the organization ready for this?
  • People need “everyday-EQ.”
  • Managers’ new role as “brand managers”— employees need to feel the value of the brand to stay engaged.
  • Leading vs. coaching and mentoring—the new must-have skills.
  • “Knowledge vs. managing” managers are replaced by team project management and assignment management. A new model for management is required.
  • Everything is about relationships and socialization.
  • Team performance and team-to-team managing
Process Perspective Impact
  • Prepare workforce for the pace of technology, automation, and innovation.
  • No turning back from digitization.
  • Prepare for a blended workforce to be ready for the future now—re- and out-deploy people who do not have the capability and emotional willingness.
  • The internet of things—how clients/customers/employees access information, make decisions, and engage with the brand—or not!
  • The everything cloud—tools, job aids, rules, procedures, and policies must be accessible everywhere to everyone.

Organization Perspective Impact

  • Business beyond compliance and governance—ethical and sustainable business is the new focus.
  • Demise of traditional performance management systems—strategic mindset shift and change is needed to get out of the caves.
  • Everything is about data and analytics—and interpretation.
  • Winners and losers—who are they?
  • Scenario and futures planning is replacing old-school strategic planning.
  • Apps are replacing HR management and everything else.

HR will wow the business if it understands and delivers on holistic performance, helps the business to identify the risks, and plans to meet the business needs briskly. This view on a war on performance necessitates a re-look of HR and management’s ability and agility to deliver facing the risks. A holistic performance audit—not a talent audit or skills audit—should be done on both HR and management’s roles, performance standards, skill, knowledge, and competence. When HR and management stand back to view the painting called “holistic performance,” they should both see the same picture.

About the Author

Belia Nel, CPT, is a performance specialist and coach. If you would like to know more about what we do, please subscribe to our blog at or visit our website at or connect with Nel on LinkedIn.