An interview with Prof. Luca Solari, University of Milan, Human Resources Management, author of the recent book entitled “Using data to govern organizations. A scientific approach to HR management”.
At companies, the processes and technological tools for sharing knowledge should determine a cross-departmental redistribution of power and a new organizational structure, no longer based on hierarchical principles and dependency relationships. The switch should be from a transactional orientation to a relational one.
It will probably take time, above all when the top positions are to be reviewed; but this seems to be the policy adopted by the most innovative companies. (Although the digitalization of processes and introduction of social technologies do not necessarily produce a less hierarchical and structured organization …).
With this perspective in mind, I ask Prof. Solari: what would be a more appropriate definition of a person’s talent? And, above all, how should HR assess it?
“Talent will change nature in organizations that fully absorb the social technology that accompanies the digital environment, made up of cross-departmental collaboration. On the one hand, it will become difficult to imagine assessing talent using the traditional processes, that is, the people review, excessively focused on the perceptions of the immediate boss, despite the use of calibration sessions. The flexible and pliable nature of the talent required by these organizations will make it a moving target that nobody will be able to formalize in advance but will discover afterwards. On the other hand, the concept of success will change form and what is talent today, often linked to an extremely conformist model of behaviour and management of the worker’s in-house image, will lose its value. The broadening of the field of operation of those responsible for identifying the quality of contributions, possibly through peer-to-peer systems and the emergence of values more closely linked to specific knowledge and collaboration than to hierarchy, will do justice to the processes that now rarely reward deserving people. Also because deserving people do not have to wait to be defined talented …”
In the past (but still today at many companies), the assessment of workers was centred mainly on their marked capabilities and differentiating skills required in the various functions, although other elements, such as loyalty towards the company, their bosses and the principles and policies adopted by the company were certainly not considered secondary. A worker’s career was adjudicated in advance (unless something inopportune happened).
Today, with digital technologies, organization charts are used increasingly less; a worker’s capabilities and skills are no longer established by a role or function. They do not represent an exclusive element because they may vary according to the circumstances (assignments) and are considered pragmatically. Sometimes, whether the objective has been reached or not counts less than checking that the procedure followed has produced a learning experience and has contributed – in one way or another – to the company (basically, an error is no longer a stigma but a stimulus to improve). Loyalty and a submissive attitude towards the boss counts less and less today. People are now on the same level and, people capable of criticizing their boss constructively are preferred (managing your boss).
With this perspective in mind, Prof. Solari, how will the psychological contract with a worker that has been given independence and responsibility change? How should relations with him be structured? How should HR address and guide his professional and personal growth? Will the concept of meritocracy remain valid (assuming that it has actually been valid)?
“This question hits a key point: the challenge that faces HR and the large number of companies set up in the wake of the digital revolution. In fact, it is no coincidence that an answer is already given in a book that is little known in Italy, which probably represents the most lucid contribution to the end of the traditional psychological contract. I’m talking about the book The Alliance, which, focusing on an experience of LinkedIn and a series of organizations based in the Silicon Valley, proposes three radically different methods of managing people.
I deal with this issue in a book about to be published by Edizioni ESTE, entitled ‘The use of data to govern organizations. A scientific approach to HR management’ and aimed at introducing some new concepts, which I believe to be indispensable, in the Italian debate through a popular experimental approach, and discussing evidence based HR and HR analytics.
Going back to The Alliance, organizations must recognize that people are destined to become the protagonists of their growth and work decisions. In the future, HR must learn to bring what the organization needs into line with people’s desires and plans. People will not ask for meritocracy because this will be imposed by the market and competition and maybe, in the end, we will stop seeing investments being made in costly analytical processes that prove to be ineffective!”