HR Leads Business

Nov 2, 2016 | Barry Lawrence, HRCI Staff Writer

HR Must Mash-Up to Move Up

Pablo Picasso did it. So did Steve Jobs. Borrowing ideas from other “artists” and making them your own has been common practice throughout history. In fact, this technique has given birth to numerous innovations – both in the pre-modern and in the post-modern technology worlds. Today it is called the mash-up, and HR should take heed.

“HR’s capability can meet its opportunity only through retooling and reaching out to other disciplines, and not being too rigid about its professional boundary,” writes John W. Boudreau in The Rise of HR, a compilation of HR thought leadership sponsored by the HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). (The e-book is available for free download.)

In other words, HR can benefit from the mash-up, where two different frameworks or disciplines can collide to produce something of higher order, something more innovative, fresh and perhaps even breakthrough to help HR move business forward.

The Advantage of Connecting Disciplines

In its simplest terms, a mash-up is the combination or mixing of content, ideas or things from different sources to create something new or innovative. Hang around anyone under 30 long enough and you’ll hear them play new music recordings that are mash-ups, using a combination of vocal and instrumental tracks – even ones you are familiar with – to create something new.

While a younger generation of musicians and techies embrace the mash-up, it has been more challenging for HR.

Evidence from the research on HR’s future suggests that HR must advance by embracing more interdisciplinary approaches, according to Boudreau. He is a professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations (CEO), where research on HR innovations is being conducted.

“Our work uncovered isolated examples of groundbreaking HR innovations, but the responses from hundreds of HR leaders painted a picture of a profession with lofty ambitions but a less-elevated reality,” Boudreau writes. The CEO’s data, however, suggests an answer:

“HR leaders must avoid the temptation to be too territorial, particularly in the early stages of emerging trends, and extend their competency set to embrace frameworks from other established disciplines,” notes Boudreau about the findings.

Mash-up Advantages

Mashing-up HR with other business disciplines may even require HR departments to hire talent with non-HR expertise such as marketing, finance, logistics and engineering. Boudreau also provides examples of what the mash-up of frameworks could look like:

  • Retooling leadership development using options theory and portfolio risk optimization.
  • Retooling talent development using a supply-chain framework.
  • Retooling performance management using engineering frameworks to optimize the return on improved performance (ROIP).

Libby Sartain, a business advisor and the former star head of HR at Yahoo! and at Southwest Airlines, has made a career out of mash-up thinking. In her article in The Rise of HR, she urges HR practitioners to “think like a marketer.”

At Southwest Airlines, for example, customer service is the company’s key differentiator. You’ve seen the advertisements. Southwest Airlines marketing and branding is all about friendly service. For Sartain, such positioning meant she had to recruit and retain the right, service-minded people. A mash-up was born.

“Our people were our brand,” she writes. “Eventually it dawned on us that creation of an employer brand was as important as our corporate brand – and thus that HR and marketing should be attached at the hip.”

Sartain, in her article, has seen the value of mashing-up of marketing with workforce planning talent management, for example. Customer analytics and tools can also be applied to strengthen a company’s value proposition ― inside and outside an organization. Employee segmentation can work just like customer segmentation to determine employee offerings.

At Yahoo!, Sartain’s HR team worked with marketing to segment talent, similar to how marketing segments customers to deliver the appropriate goods and services.

“We asked our market research partners to provide insights from segments of potential employees to inform out efforts,” she explains. “We learned that tech talent required smart and edgy messaging and a targeted candidate experience, while for creatives it was more about design. Ultimately, we established two entry points on our career site, one for techies and one for creatives.”

HR Outside the Box

HR can no longer operate in a silo of HR practice – a message that reverberates throughout the thought leadership articles compiled by HRCI in The Rise of HR.

“The resulting retooled frameworks and tools do not abdicate HR’s professional stature,” Boudreau concludes. “Indeed, the hybrid combinations of management frameworks and HR principles create new and more powerful professional models.”

Interdisciplinary partnerships, like those described by Sartain and Boudreau, show much promise for future HR leaders. Don’t be shy about borrowing good ideas. Long live the mash-up.