People, process and technology… the ‘unholy trinity’?

hr leadership blog imageThe verb “Transform” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as to “make a marked change in the form, nature or appearance of” a word having its roots in science and nature.  However, the term has been hijacked by endless business academics and writers and of course, is now embedded into the lexicon of the public sector as if some form of holy grail.  Yet in this context and in its noun form, transformation is a term which is not only most widely used, but one could argue, most ill-defined.

The unholy trinity of ‘people, process and technology’ are widely quoted as the component parts of the transformation recipe and become a power struggle between those who are adamant that information and technology is the key, in competition with those relative ‘process’ upstarts from the world of ‘lean systems’ etc. who emphasise that organisational transformation is achieved through re-engineering task and activity.  The emergence of ‘digital’ into the lexicon masks rather than challenges this divide.

In its definition of ‘transform’, the Cambridge dictionary introduces a human dimension; “to change completely the appearance or character of something or someone especially so that that thing or person is improved” and we have all heard the ‘after the event’ protestations that our transformation “concentrated too much on the process improvement strategies and business re-engineering, whilst essentially ignoring the people aspects of change”.  Then we have the C word, with studies showing that approximately three quarters of business re-engineering efforts do not achieve their objectives and subsequently do not sustain themselves over the long term, with one of the most commonly cited failure being due to the lack of focus on the organisation’s culture.  One could ask why, if ‘people’ comes first in the trinity description, is it the common point of failure?

I’m not going to answer that question in a short blog article, but our recent experience in the delivery of our Aspire HR Business Partner Programme offers a glimpse of light upon an alternative ‘trinity’, that of HR, OD and Transformation.  Almost all of the Aspire research projects have been focused on delivering organisational change, very much being in the OD space, evidently releasing colleagues from the day to day drudge of doing the reactive HR stuff to explore what needs to happen to develop organisational culture and hence effectiveness, but with very little reference to ‘transformation’ perhaps reflecting that we (in HR) feel more comfortable with the C word in its context as a facilitator of change rather than joining it up more strongly with outcomes?

Closer to the ground, we also observe in practice that “HR” (and OD) are also often perceived as subservient to process and technology in driving and leading transformation and yet at the same time, have seen examples where ‘HR’ functions are placed under scrutiny for not delivering real transformational outcomes.  That may, of course, be fair or unfair depending on the local circumstances, but let’s wrap this up with some contextual truths;

  1. The desired change needs to be clearly defined and understood;
  2. All three elements of the ‘transformation trinity’ are essential components to delivering change;
  3. People make change happen and (at least until AI takes over) ensure success or failure
  4. Leadership is a trait of people, and everyone in an organisation makes a leadership contribution to change, and (I would argue);
  5. An effective transformation team is one made up of change agents who understand people, process and technology.

I’m sure there are many examples of where all aspects of the ‘transformation trinity’ are working in tune and if you want to share your experience or achievements, then we’d welcome contributions ‘from the floor’ and others would love to hear.

Article by Colin Williams – Director, West Midlands Employers (find out more about Colin)

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