CHROs and Collaboration


IBM CHRO pic  I’m in the US for the Enterprise 2.0 conference next week but unfortunately arrived just too late for this week’s HR Happy Hour – Episode 74 – ‘Creativity, Flexibility, and Speed’ (they didn’t get much time for calls anyway).

Steve and Shauna were interviewing IBM’s Dan Roddy – the study director for IBM’s Chief Human Resource Officer study based on conversations with more than 700 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) worldwide.

The study identifies three areas that are the most important for CHROs and are also most poorly done.


Creative leadership

Roddy explained that leaders need more creativity rather than linear thinking.  They have to think differently in order to do something different now that we’re facing higher levels of complexity in business.

I’m pleased IBM have come round to recognising this need which contrasts to the conclusions in some of their previous reports, eg their 2008 human capital study which I also reviewed:

IBM also believe that managing this kind of talent market requires a structured, analytical approach: “A more data-driven, fact-based method to hire, pay and reward top performers”.

“If the workforce is truly to be valued as an asset, much like financial capital or brand equity, the entire C-suite, not just HR, will need more robust and accessible information about current and future talent needs, employee productivity and resource availability.

No matter how much respect the C-suite may have for the CHRO, until the HR organisation has access to workforce data and information with the same level of timliness, consistency and validity as the financial or operational data available to the CFO or the COO, its insights will not hold the same weight.”

This argument doesn’t work for me. Human capital may be just as important as financial or brand capital. But this doesn’t mean that human capital is like financial or brand capital, ie should be treated in just the same way as them. Management of financial management involves cause and effect relationships. Management of human capital requires an understanding of

Again, I’m not against measurement and analytics, but I think these need to be conducted very strategically, and often qualitatively. And I simply don’t believe that more or even better measurement is the difference that will make the difference in HR’s strategic impact. The magic is in truly developing an adaptable workforce (or whatever you decided is going to be your organisational capability, perhaps even something that will make you seem a bit strange?), and using measurement as an enabler to this.


See this post on imagination (vs evidence) based HR.


Speed and flexibility in workforce planning

One interesting finding here is that organisations using social media for learning and collaboration are more effective in developing skills to support strategic needs.

I agree with this, although I suspect the more important use of social media is to enable the workforce to align more closely with changing business requirements, rather than just supporting a traditional, command and control focused planning process.

I fully connected, social organisation won’t need workforce planning, as the whole organisation will be much better and sensing and capturing opportunities as they arise.

(However, this is clearly some way off for most organisations, so I accept the need for more rather than less workforce planning in the medium term.  See this post on workforce planning – and on the need for more creativity too).


Collective intelligence

Workforces are becoming more networked and less hierarchical.  This isn’t about replacing hierarchy – you still need control, standardisation, harmonisation etc – but you need to combine this with the ability for people in the field to make decisions.  This means you need to think about replacing the hierarchical information flows that networks have taken the place of.

Organisations need to emphasise collaboration – culturally and technically breaking down silos:

  • providing the infrastructure and technical capabilities for collaboration
  • culturally not rewarding behaviours that limit sharing etc.


Unfortunately, this is the are that CHROs report being least effective – with 78% reporting that they didn’t do anything in this area or weren’t effective in doing it.

They key for IBM is integrating social collaboration into the workflow – connecting it directly into business operations and project management activity.

That’s not the key for me – not in most knowledge management roles and organisations any how.  To me, processes need to support (not get in the way of) collaboration, not the other way around.  But collaboration needs to be a strategic focus which permeates everything an organisation does, and the way people behave – naturally, all of the time – not just when they’re following a process.


It’s about Relationships

Like most of IBM’s studies, this is a good report.  But I can’t help feeling they’re missed the central point.  Just as IBM’s focus on technology initially led them to miss the importance of creativity, so it’s now constraining their thinking to a focus on information, rather than relationships.

Collective intelligence isn’t about information flows and processes.  It’s about people and their connections.  Speed and flexibility isn’t about formal planning processes – supported by social tools, it’s about giving people autonomy to make quicker and smarter decisions – supported by social relationships.

I hope I’ll get a chance to come back and review a rethought through IBM survey in another couple of years time!


And if you’re a CHRO who can’t do collaboration, get in touch!




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  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com


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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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