The Complex World of Organisations for HRs, Part I: How They Work

15.04.20 02:20 PM

This material aims to analyze the possibilities of uniting the role of the HR Director with that of the Organisational Consultant. Traditionally they have been connected, but not occupied by the same person. Usually, consulting is a function carried out by external consultants who help the organization to improve or pave the way for change. Is it possible that the HR Director represents the dual role of director and consultant?


We should start with the analysis of demands that the environment makes on organizations and how they adapt by making, at first level, some transformations. We will see how they affect the HR function and how it adapts (or anticipates) to the system. On the other hand, we will briefly analyze the consulting practices, their meaning and usefulness, the different approaches and the role of the consultant. Finally, we are going to unite the HR function with consulting and ask whether this union is possible, under what conditions and with what limitations.


This article is presented as a basic reflection on this role.


In the world of organizations, as in life itself, there are many ways to get to the same place. It is the contingencies of each company that give us the clues so that our choice in methodology is as effective as possible. The most important thing is to keep learning. There is no use if it does not lead to a change, however small it is, in our mental model.


One last consideration: the word EASY does not exist in the world of organizations, management and consulting. Things are usually simple or complicated, obvious or complex, but they tend to be difficult.




We cannot introduce the subject of HR and consulting without offering a brief explanation of the context in which organizations currently operate. Nothing makes sense without its context. It is very difficult to read a situation without first having placed it in your environment. It is difficult to understand the functioning of the Roman Empire without situating ourselves in its time, in its mental model of understanding the world, in the values that sustained the actions of those who directed and those who were directed. It is not easy to understand the operation of a Chinese cooperative that wants to increase production without taking into account the Taoist culture. We cannot diagnose if we do not know how the different elements that make up our object of work are interrelated: the organizations.




We will refer to them with a broader concept than that of companies. An organization is made up of people who work together in a certain way to achieve a common goal. That is the concept of organization. It can be either a multinational company, a basketball team, a hospital, an NGO or a small or medium-sized company that struggles to survive. They are people who direct their energy to obtain certain results.






We cannot understand organizations without making a mandatory reference to the environment. Everything is there. The environment sets the conditions for the survival of the company. We must not forget that organizations have a life of their own, they are alive. They are born from the hand of an entrepreneur who, for different reasons, transforms a business idea into a business opportunity and develops it in a temporary, economic and social moment. Everything must be referenced to the environment. In it, the company will develop, grow, become ill and, if it does not have enough health, it will die. If it does, it can evolve. Sixty million years ago, the earth was populated by dinosaurs. They lived in it for a hundred million years, but there was a change in the environment, they did not adapt and not a single one remained. Something like this happens to companies: those that adapt to the environment survive, are able to interact with it and even modify it. Companies that do not do so face serious problems that could end their existence. Everything is in the environment. Companies must pay attention to it and change, adapt, transform at the same rate as it does.


The company that does not know its environment will not have opportunities to develop, since it will have to dedicate all its energy to subsisting.


It is worth analyzing the elements that make up organizations and that are related to the environment.




Companies relate to the environment through strategies. Developing a strategic plan is setting a direction for the future. The future is not built with the decisions that are made in the future, but with the decisions that are made in the present. When organisations decide what they want to do, where they want to be in the future, they are setting their strategies. As the reader knows, there are always strategies. It is possible that they are not made explicit or that they are not known, but companies have or are going in a certain direction. Sometimes they are more controlled, sometimes erratic, but they are always moving. Whenever the environment varies significantly, company strategies should be modified.




We know where we want to go. Now we must organize ourselves. The structure is to define how we are going to organize ourselves to achieve the strategy, what is the best way to align the company's resources in one direction, to define how power should work to make things easier. The structure should be conditioned by the strategy and each time it changes, the structure should do so. This is not always the case. Changing strategies is difficult but relatively simple: you have to know the environment, the strengths and weaknesses of the company and bet on a direction. Changing structures is less complex, but even more difficult. Other elements, from legal to cultural, intervene that make any modification slow and expensive.




In addition we must have technology. Everything we need to make the structure work. Define how communication will work, what technology and what information systems will be used, what will be the computer support that will streamline our structure. The more suitable the technology, the more efficient our structure and the better results for our strategy. But everything is interrelated. The more appropriate the technology, the better strategies we can develop, with which we must change, adapt and / or transform the structure. For example, in hypermarkets, there is already an arc scanner (technology) that reads the entire shopping cart, without having to remove the items from it. This allows a single cashier to perform a workload of eight traditional cash desks, which means that the structure can be lightened or the speed of customer service can be dramatically increased with the consequent elimination of queues, and improve thus the quality of service (strategy) of the company. Having the best technology is above all a question of economic cost.




There are more elements that make up and explain the functioning of organizations. The latter need people who move the technology in a certain structure to achieve a marked strategy in a specific environment. We are not referring to the quantity but to the quality of these people in their professional and personal profiles. It is essential to constantly adapt the skills of the staff so that they are able to meet the new needs of the company. This endeavor is not easy. Behind things, there are always people. Much has been said about the importance of people. We will not delve here. Just remember that it is the subject of HR work.




If behind things there are people, behind people there are ideas, beliefs. We refer to the organizational culture. Principles and beliefs shared by the group of professionals that make up the company. The essence of the results is hidden in the shared mental models. They are the guides that explain what is right and wrong, how to act in a crisis, what to do in the face of conflicts or how to understand success or responsibility. Each company has its own culture. The values ​​that people internalize and that serve to differentiate what is important from what is not in the operation of the company. Later we will return to this key aspect not only in HR but in any area of ​​the company.


We could understand the organization as one defining the mental values and models (culture) that professionals (people) must have to manage the systems (technology) with a certain organization (structure) to achieve results set in advance (strategy) in a moment and a given situation (environment). All the elements are interrelated (see Figure 1).


Any intervention in one of its elements affects all the others. When we talk about consulting interventions, we will see the importance they have and the support that will have to be expected by consultants.



  Figure 1




As we have seen, everything revolves around the environment. The most advanced organizations manage to influence the environment, being able to modify it. They are few, the vast majority are adapting to it, trying to anticipate some changes. Healthy organizations are very attentive to the environment and its evolution.


Doing a little foresight is a more than necessary exercise if we do not want our organization to be reactive, that is, to react when the transformation is happening, instead of proactive, anticipating the transformation.


The Royal Dutch Shell Company has foresight systems that allow it to survey the future. In the interesting book Synchronicity, Joseph Jaworski describes his experience as responsible for prospective studies on the creation of 10-year panoramas and how they use them to transform their companies in relation to the trends established in the panoramas.


Klaus Doppler and Christoph Lauterburg offer some of the most relevant information about the evolution of the environment by defining three framework conditions that try to explain the radical change in the environment we are in and how leadership and management must evolve to maintain organizational health:


·  Framework condition No. 1: Shortage of the resource TIME.

We are not aware of the speed of changes. You must react quickly. Adaptations are in short-term. We must continue to be innovative, only now, more quickly, since the cycles are shorter. It is convenient to look back to realize things that are normal today, and that a few years ago did not exist. Doppler points out the formula that companies should apply to be successful:


E = Cc2

Where E is SUCCESS, C is QUALITY and c2 is the speed of light squared!


An exaggeration? I recently received a publication where a company used the fable of the lion and the gazelle to sell its services. More or less it said:


In Africa, when the sun rises, the gazelle knows that it must run faster than the lion, otherwise he will eat her.


In Africa, when the sun rises, the lion knows that he must run faster than the gazelle because otherwise he will starve.


Every day when the sun rises, it doesn't matter if you are a lion or a gazelle, start running!


Smiles aside, speed is a value that makes Tom Peters affirm: "There are two types of companies: the fast ones and the dead ones".


·  Framework condition No. 2: Shortage of the resource MONEY.

It is not new, but it is more pressing. The economic resource is the oxygen that our companies breathe. If companies do not make a profit, there is no investment. If there is no investment, there is no future. So far, so good. The second cause of the prompt disappearance of small and medium-sized companies is financial problems (the first is the difficulty of understanding between partners).


·  Framework Condition No. 3: Dramatic increase in complexity.

Too many events at the same time make it impossible to control everything that happens. The systemic approach of interrelating all the variables in a global and interdependent conception – we could understand it by facing reality. Everything is chained together. We have to work with more variables (and in less time). That makes it extremely complex. Other skills are required.


There was a time when it was used the following formula to calculate the price of something:


Price = cost + profit


Depending on what the product or service cost us, we had to add a reasonable benefit and we already had the price. Of course that was before, in other settings. With the turbulent environment chart that we are drawing, it is not applicable today. You have to establish some change in the formula:


Profit = price - cost


The company has to make profits; the price is not set by the company but by the customer, the competition. We only have the cost. One of the functions of professionals will be to reduce costs. In a simplistic first reading, companies lower costs by reducing waste. But it is insufficient. Organizations take initiatives to adapt to these trends of social, economic, technical and organizational transformation. The companies most sensitive to these changes carry out actions similar to these:


1. Organizational changes

They carry out all kinds of reorganizations, decentralizations, shift centers of interest and modify processes. Managers must make these changes in their departments while maintaining normal business. This causes a feeling of overflow.


2. Suppression of hierarchical barriers

The hierarchy that does not add value should be removed. Organizations become flatter, not simpler. The management margins are broader, which makes the management process more complex, because they have to work with more variables.


3. Flexibility in roles and their time scheduling

Anything that involves stiffness is not adequate to replace costs. A greater flexibility, better and faster adaptation and greater learning of this value in people.


4. Women in key positions

The incorporation of women in key management positions, not just in the world of work, it's a true (but slow) fact. The woman does not direct like the man. Sally Helgesen elaborates on this idea and points out that one of the basic differences is that the approach to power is made differently from the male manager. For them, power is a means of achieving something. For them, on many occasions, it is an end in itself. There are many traits that unite us and differentiate us. Culturally we are living in the era of emotional intelligence and we find many managers who do not know what to do with their emotions and with those of others. In an article in the Journal of the Spanish Association of Personnel Management (AEDIPE), Williams and Byrne point out the perceptual differences between male and female managers. When women embrace the leadership profile effectively, they have 5% higher results.


5. Management and control through communication

As public opinion makers and value formers by example, managers have a critical role to play in creating a state of opinion.


6. Organization of training and development

Incorporating concepts of organizational learning and knowledge management is something that is not strange to us. The environment demands learning more and faster, all together. The questions that have sparked the rise of intellectual capital are not without significance.


7. Integration through visions and ideals

Few messages are given and these are central and convey meaning. Saint-Exupéry's message must be realized: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." What are we building? What do I contribute? If people are not able to answer these questions, the costs go up.


8. Performance through synergy

Collaboration is one of the rarest attitudes in organizations. We confuse collaboration with good education, with courtesy. Companies deepen teamwork and networking, to make the most of everything that is done. No one knows as much as everyone together.


We could continue. This enumeration is not exhaustive. It is just a sample of what companies do to lower costs. Reread the above list and ask yourself if this is part of your job.


(To be continued)