Mind-set over matter

One of the four shifts for the future of HR


Posted by Garth Andrus, Dana Swanson Switzer, Arthur Mazor, and Michael Stephan on January 8, 2019.

It’s a changed world out there, and the future of the enterprise, the workforce, and how work gets done demands a new future of HR. We’re exploring each of the four shifts HR needs to make to step into the future: mind-set, focus, lens, and enablers. Today we’re tackling the mind-set shift needed to adopt new traits, behaviors, and ways of working for thriving in the digital age. It’s more than just doing digital things like creating apps or adopting digital technology and automation. It’s about reshaping an enterprise’s culture to act with agility and collaboration.

What’s in this new HR mind-set?
Gaining the capabilities and the cultural readiness to fail fast but learn faster and continuously innovate new solutions are critical elements of HR’s new mind-set. As artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive solutions grow in sophistication, the nature and typology of work will continue to change. Organizations must reconsider how they design jobs, organize work, and plan for future growth.


Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP

What’s HR’s role in this transition? HR is a true linchpin that not only helps the organization transition but also leads by example. Here are some ways enterprises we work with are stepping up to adopt these new mind-set traits.

Example 1: Fail fast but learn faster
Our most recent digital research1 reveals that the No.1 reported challenge impacting an enterprise’s ability to compete in a digital environment is lack of experimentation. And only 37 percent of respondents agree that their leaders share results from failed experiments in constructive ways that increase organizational learning. So, those enterprises aren’t consistently experimenting, and when they do experiment, they are often challenged to benefit through learning from the outcomes.

Why? We’ve heard from several CHROs recently (three in the last week alone) that their enterprise has a “whack-a-mole”-type culture when it comes to experimentation and failure. If people try something and fail, there are negative consequences or impacts, which of course discourages the kind of fail-fast-and-learn-from-it mind-set needed to really progress.

So how do you shift the mind-set from “failure is bad” to “we learn from our failures”? One of the most effective ways we’ve found is through the use of minimum viable changes (MVCs). These are small, incremental adjustments that become embedded in the culture to create a mind-set shift from within. Certain areas are deemed off-limits to experimentation, such as those that could negatively impact health and safety, and other areas deemed in-bounds, such as customer service or internal processes.

For one manufacturing organization we worked with, using MVCs to shift mind-set looked like this:

Leaders observed that although they had sent the message that it was okay to fail, no one was actually experimenting with the opportunity to fail—after all, who wants to be the first to fail? And the lesson ingrained in the organization was that failure was bad.

So, starting with the C-suite (CHRO included), we introduced “fail-forward moments” at the beginning of every meeting, similar to the safety moments that were already customary in a manufacturing culture. The company was trying to become more customer-centric, so the 3-minute fail-forward moments focused on a customer interaction in the last week, noting what didn’t go well, what the person did/was doing about it, the expected outcomes, and how results would be measured. As ground rules, no one could attack the situation, and the person presenting it couldn’t defend his or her actions.

After several months, the executives felt the process had become routine and chose to cascade it down to the next level as part of weekly meetings, and then continue down to the next level, and so on. They are pleased with how it’s becoming part of the enterprise’s DNA and shaping the mind-set and culture around what’s acceptable failure and how they can fail early, learn from it, and be iterative to keep changing and improving.

Example 2: Dynamic skill requirements
Adopting digital technologies is often how HR functions begin the digital journey. But the trap many fall into is putting the technology at the center of their work, rather than their customers—the leaders and workers they serve. This results in situations where new ideas or requests for specific services are derailed because of positions like, “This is how our system is structured, so we have to do X and we can’t do Y.” Technology becomes the limiting factor, instead of the enabler it’s meant to be.

More digitally mature organizations have a mind-set that starts with the customer and a bias to figure out how to serve customers with the technology as a tool, rather than a dictator of how work gets done.

At a large tech company we work with—and yes, this is evidence that even native technology companies are still maturing digitally—the CEO has set specific expectations that HR will be THE face of digital in the company—becoming digital itself, representing what “doing digital” looks like to the business, and guiding other functions such as finance, marketing, and legal in their own digital journeys. HR realized that leading in this way would mean upskilling its capabilities to be able to hear what business leaders need, and architect the work to fit the need. HR is currently rolling out a consulting skills program to embrace those problem-solving, collaboration, engagement, proactive, strategic capabilities to stay ahead of business needs and drive the digital agenda.

Even more mind-set shifts
We have many other examples of how HR can shift its mind-set and lead the enterprise in the same effort…actions like redesigning jobs because of technology and new ways of working—even inventing totally new jobs. One new type of job that didn’t exist a couple of years ago that we see popping up is “manager of talent ecosystems” and “manager of business ecosystems.” This really reflects the broader shift toward operating as a social enterprise, cultivating a wide array of workers and business partners that work together as networks of teams.

Another example: intentional collaboration through the use of digital workplace collaboration tools that enable an enterprise’s entire workforce (employees and non-employees) to work together effectively across geographies and time zones. These tools are changing the way work gets done, for the better.

What does a mind-set shift look like for your HR organization? The future of HR is happening now, and simply standing still is a giant step backward. Start by picking one or two of the digital mind-set traits and GO!

Garth AndrusGarth Andrus is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads the Digital DNA offering focused on helping companies become digital organizations.
Dana Swanson SwitzerDana Swanson Switzer is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, specializing in helping companies become digital organizations.
Arthur MazorArthur Mazor is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, Deloitte’s Human Capital practice digital leader, and the global practice leader for HR Strategy & Employee Experience. Art collaborates with complex, global clients to drive business value through transforming human capital strategies, programs, and services.
Michael StephanMichael Stephan is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the US and Global HR Transformation Leader. He develops and integrates HR service delivery models across the operations and technology spectrum, with a targeted focus on optimizing the delivery of HR services around the world.


1 Coming of age digitally: Learning, leadership, and legacy, 2018 MIT SMR and Deloitte Digital.

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