Transformative HR: Book Review

As many of you know, I love to read! While I have an appetite for all kinds of books, news & blogs, I just love great content on HR. And often, that’s the hardest to come by. One of my favourite authors on HR is John Boudreau. I became an instant fan when I read and reviewed his book Retooling HR. I felt that the frameworks, approaches and tools he talked about can not only help HR professionals to up their game, but can also help in talking coherently, logically and meaningfully with the business. The application of usual business analysis tools such as portfolio management, segmentation, conjoint analysis etc. to HR issues was extremely appealing.

So, when I got a copy of the book Transformative HR, I was thrilled. Transformative HR has been written by John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. Ravin is a senior colleague of mine and is the Global Practice Leader for Talent Management at Towers Watson. I hungrily read the book and I think it is one of the best I have read so far. The key takeaway is that HR professionals and leaders need to make informed human capital decisions to keep their organisations competitive. ‘Informed’ is a key word here and the book outlines an evidence-based approach to human capital decisions. They outline 5 basic principles of evidence-based change:

1) Logic-driven Analytics: How often do we HR professionals have an overload of information and metrics? Do we just have numbers or can we tell a powerful story? In a transformative HR future state, the authors share how we can use frameworks & mental models to go behind the metrics, understand the real picture and produce insights which are in high demand by other organisational stakeholders. After all, getting the numbers right is just the beginning. The real value-add comes from using a multi-dimensional approach by synthesizing business strategies, business metrics and talent metrics to produce real insights that help in achieving those business objectives.

2) Segmentation: Conceptually, most of us agree that one size doesn’t fit all and we need to segment our workforce. But, how? John and Ravin propose 3 fundamental questions:

  • What are our vital talent segments?
  • Which employment elements induce the desired responses at optimum cost (supply-side talent segmentation)?
  • What do we need employees to do (demand-side talent segmentation)?

I think this is a powerful way to think through key talent investment decisions, as it helps to understand how to customize the employment deal to create the highest payoff in terms of business outcomes, at the optimum costs.

3) Risk Leverage: I feel that Human Capital Risks are often under-reported and worst, not well-understood. Now, all organisations face HR-related risks, but instead of just mitigating risks, the focus should be on optimizing risks. The book presents a number of systematic approaches to optimize risks and develop sustainable advantages. Again, the approaches are rooted in management tools that business leaders are used to – tolerance analysis, portfolio theory, stochastic simulations, probability matrices etc. In two words: cutting-edge and powerful!

4) Integration & Synergy: Often, HR processes operate in silos which prevents us from getting the “1+1=3” effect. This principle talks about how to integrate various HR sub-functions as well as integrating HR with other organisational units. The live example about the Talent Management Game at Shanda (one of China’s largest online gaming company) is just fascinating!

5) Optimization: The principle of optimization follows from segmentation. It is all about identifying where & how the payoff of certain HR investments will lead to exponential returns. It is all about identifying the mix of investments that will have the most desired business outcomes. So, instead of spreading HR investments across the board equally, the focus should be on understanding & positioning ‘fairness’ to mean strategically differentiated treatment.

The book is full of great examples and brilliant case-studies from leading global organisations such as IBM, Coca-Cola, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Telekom, Ameriprise, Royal Bank of Canada, Khazanah Nasional Berhad etc. Overall, it’s a compelling read. It is for anyone who wants to bring rigorous thinking, informed decision-making and sustainable impactful change in their organisation. Did I say that you just can’t miss this book!

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