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Disruption: How comfortable are you with discomfort? by Suzanne Elshult/Your Executive Coach/HRNow

hryaksmallDisruption was the topic for discussion at my most recent peer executive coaching group. Michael Erisman, CHRO with DocuSign and a long term member, was a cohort in designing this session and we were both juiced up about the subject, which we approached both on a personal and organizational level with participants.

We all agreed that disruption some times feels like trying to turn a super tanker around a corner. Together we explored whether there is anything currently occurring or something we are anticipating that will cause HR to think in a whole new way, something that fundamentally will change how HR works. And is it coming to us from external or internal sources? As we were addressing disruption we looked at it from three considerations:

  1. Do we invest in the traditional (ignore).
  2. Counter-attack (disrupt the disruption).
  3. Adopt, embrace and improve.

In some ways this session reminded me of the discussion we had several years ago when social media first was taking off. Everybody at the table was pretty much in a defensive mode: how can we keep this beast at bay? Dial forward and the social media dialogue has certainly shifted massively. HR executives are now largely trying to figure out how to embrace the beast and leverage it for the benefit of their businesses. Lesson learned?

We explored what disruption means to us on a personal level: how comfortable are we living in discomfort every day. Are we playing big or are we playing safe as we are on our journey in life and at work? Are we taking risk and allowing ourselves to “fail forward” and learn? How comfortable are we in the space of ambiguity and intangibles – the world of top executives! What are our fears and opportunities missed if we do not find ways to move forward with courage?

In the world of business, disruption often means the introduction of brand new business models. Think Uber. All an Uber employee needs is a car, an app and a drivers license. Customers are more than willing to enter a stranger’s car to get where they want to go – no questions asked. Think about the chasm between this and what we still tell our kids every day: “whatever you do, don’t get into cars with a stranger.”

We briefly landed on a topic that makes me shudder a bit: policies and enforcement models. But, what if we had policy free workplaces (there will always be some regulations created by the legislative environment anyway). Wait, wait – don’t be so quick to dismiss. Netflix and other companies are actually experimenting with policy free workplaces. So, what IS the value of our policies? Do they really enable us as organizations to make the right judgments the right way?

Staffing is another area undergoing a form of disruption. Think “owning” versus “renting” employees. Nowadays employees in many industries do not expect to stick around much more than a year or two. And, in the staffing industry, employers have apps allowing them to go directly to employees/contractors who can instantly respond to job requests: Yes/no I will/will not pick up that job!

HR executives need to ask themselves whether they are keeping pace with the disruption occurring in their businesses. Are they at the C-Suite table sharing that “yes I am with you and I am going to be part of the disruption!” Failure to do so will likely continue to result in relegation to policy enforcement, not talent management and enablement.

So, how are you showing up in the world of HR disruption? And, how do you want to show up? Are you leveraging disruptive social media such as the Glassdoor or letting it happen to you? Are you on the frontline in the battle of ridding us of the much hated traditional – and largely dysfunctional – performance management models and replacing them with new, continuous, feedback cycles and leadership far, far away from the command and control models of last century? And, the list goes on…..

My favorite quotes from this session were:

  1. Unless you are substantially uncomfortable you are probably not growing?
  2. I love change as long as I am the one driving it.
  3. Disruption is more comfortable when you are the skipper.






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