Article: Put people at the heart of transformation: Korn Ferry's Handan

Strategic HR

Put people at the heart of transformation: Korn Ferry's Handan

Today's business landscape is one of near-constant disruption, and businesses need agility to adapt to changes and continue creating value. And to do so, they have to center their strategies—whether in terms of purpose, technology, or just daily work—upon people, says Handan Aribas Toker, Senior Principal at Korn Ferry Singapore.
Put people at the heart of transformation: Korn Ferry's Handan

2020 was a year of high-speed change, but 2021 seems likely to be a year of adapting to those changes. People Matters asked Handan Aribas Toker, Senior Principal at Korn Ferry Singapore, who has two decades of managing multi-cultural teams through leadership and business transformation, for some thoughts on what she's seeing in today's landscape. Here's what she shared.

What transformation strategies do you see businesses pursuing in the current business landscape? Which areas do they tend to focus on?

Transformation today revolves around the need to generate new value and sustain growth for now and in the future, in the face of near-constant disruption. Sustained growth requires agility to re-invent and innovate. Because transformation today happens at unprecedented speeds, how well organizations identify and orchestrate various interconnected elements within their eco-system plays a significant role for success of the transformation. This requires a high level of collaboration, communication, and integration/inclusion not only between processes and systems but also among people.

Digitization continues to be the go-to transformation strategy for many organizations It serves as a response to the need for agility by providing integrated systems, data and AI-driven decision making, enabling collaboration and communication at high speed with maximum efficiency. The recent Suez Canal crisis gave some good examples of how digitization can provide outstanding value to organizations During the crisis, companies who had invested in real-time visibility of shipping containers were ahead of the game to mitigate the disruptive impact to their businesses. 

While finding the right technologies is important for a successful business transformation, putting “people” at the heart of the transformation is a key enabler for sustained growth and agility to innovate.

Innovation is a team play. Organizations who communicate a strong sense of purpose and actively build a culture of collaboration and inclusion are better placed to nurture creativity. Attracting the right talent with these skills to lead and execute transformation is another important aspect of a successful transformation. 

What's one area that HR professionals in particular should look at as their organization undergoes transformation? How can they get started on it?

There is a Rumi quote that I like: “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” The truth is that there is no one future, no single solution that fits every company and every situation. Each organization needs to identify what will work best for their purpose, culture, strategy. Having said that, HR professionals can guide organizations by providing a step-by-step approach and identifying the crucial interconnected levers for successful transformation. 

In Korn Ferry, we see workforce change as the function of six interconnected levers. These are: 

  • Who do you need to be successful? What skills, behaviors, and experiences are critical?
  • How do you need people to work?
  • What do you need people to do?
  • When do you need people to work?
  • Where do you need people to be based?
  • Why does your organization exist? What is your purpose?

Understanding and properly handling these inter-dependencies allows organizations to make significant, conscious decisions. To properly transform your workforce, clear focus is vital. Take meaningful action on two or three of these levers, rather than more minor steps across all six. Previously, I worked in one of the leading global FMCG companies as a procurement director. The “WHO” and “WHY” were the strongest: focusing on developing right skills, leadership behaviors and experiences, all built on a very strong organizational purpose. This approach helped the organization to remain one of the most desired companies to join among new graduates year after year, while enabling high levels of employee engagement during the most difficult times, connected with a common purpose. 

We've seen a lot of changes at very high speed over the last year, often so quickly that policies and processes haven't quite caught up yet. Which policies and practices do organizations need to revisit this year?

The need to be more agile, combined with the pandemic-driven accelerated remote-work experiences; forced organizations to adapt new models of engagement. Many organizations tell us they are considering a ‘hybrid’ model, where no one is likely to work five days a week on-site 

How you manage these new models for remote work still needs to be consciously thought out if you are to inspire performance and retain talent over the long term.

This will depend on the nature of your work, your people, and your strategy. Remote models may bring together aspects like flexible work schedules, mental health benefits upgrades, data-based employee metrics, touchless tech and less corporate travel. Policies related to these practices such as rewards & recognition, performance management, organization-team job design, engagement will need to be revisited. 

For multinational organizations, it’s also important to acknowledge the cultural differences in employee preferences for remote or in-office working, along with different local regulatory requirements. 

The idea of "purpose" has become increasingly important in recent years, but there's still a gap between the ideal and the implementation. Could you share some thoughts on what works to make "purpose" into "reality"?

COVID-19 has given companies a taste of why being purpose-led is necessary and how strongly interconnected business is to society. Transitioning to a purpose-led business can make organizations far more agile, resilient, and sustainable in the face of disruptions. We see many good examples of successful organizations who follow their purpose boldly. In the book “Rehumanizing Leadership” by Sudhanshu Palsule and Michael Chavez, authors give real-life examples of organizations who transitioned to a purpose-led business and how they aligned both the culture and strategy to their purpose. Unilever, ANZ Banking Group, American Express, Roche Pharma India are a few to mention. 

Organizations who bring their purpose into reality are not only guided by their purpose, but they also focus to bridge the gap between an “organization's purpose”, “strategy” and its employees’ “daily work”.

To bring purpose alive into everyday work, leaders have a responsibility to help employees find a relevant connection between a person’s life purpose and their job. Leaders must seek to create a connection between personal purpose, role purpose and organization's purpose. 

For agility and sustained growth, organizations require high levels of engagement from their employees to collaborate and innovate. Purpose will remain to be the strongest motivation for human-beings. Indeed, a 2016 study by Harvard researchers suggests that companies with employees that maintain strong beliefs in the meaning of their work experience perform better. 

As Mark Twain said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."

Two buzzwords are hot now: sustainability and innovation. What are your thoughts on how these might guide business direction in 2021?

In my view, there is no longer a tension between sustainability and profit—the only tension is one of time frame Sustainability requires investment and commitment today, to build future resilience. Sustainability targets can be linked to growth, brand transformation, top line revenue, share price, or other financial measures. When executed well, the benefits are far-reaching— impacting the entire business. For example, INSEAD research has found firms that appointed a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) registered a higher Tobin’s Q a year later – a measure of the market’s long-term valuation of the firm. Customers are also interested in purchasing from companies that demonstrate some social or environmental benefit. 70 percent of millennials—the demographic with the most potential spending power—actively consider company values when they make purchases.

Organizations need to innovate to remain sustainable. On the other hand, innovation is the most fragile and easily disrupted kind of performance. Even a brief unpleasant interaction with the boss or a patronizing and dismissive comment from a peer can inhibit creative thinking for days.

And, in modern business, innovation is a team sport, requiring input from several people to bring a new idea to practical effect. Leaders’ role is to create the inclusive environment for their team to be innovative together. 

Our research and experience in Korn Ferry indicate that effective innovators succeed holistically. They promote alignment around a clear leadership vision. They recognize that having the right people working with the right leaders in the right environment and culture is essential to the development of new ideas. And they ensure that processes and practices are in place to translate creative activity into implementation and end results. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, #ReinventToReimagine, #HybridWorkplace

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