Everyone is talking disruption these days. “Disruption” is this era’s “total quality management” (ugh may we never relive that mantra). The concept of disruption was birthed a few years back to label technologies that did not simply replace or upgrade prior processes, they made them obsolete, creating totally new approaches to work. Always a little late to the party, the people-management side of the house are now talking about disrupting Human Resources practices.

 Since we declared years ago “we hate HR“, one would see this as a fertile practice to start disrupting. Indeed, a grass-roots effort has emerged called Disrupt HR. I attended two of these meetings in the last few weeks and see some promise but we still have a long way to go. I will share two examples that demonstrate how challenging it is to get leaders to reformulate their thinking on HR.

 One Disrupt HR presentation I heard opened with the speaker challenging us to hold people accountable, a basic tenant of managing performance. She then went on to talk about creating SMART goals. Oh please. SMART goals can hardly be labeled disruptive having been coined by Peter Drucker as part of his management by objectives (MBO) practice in the 1954. I would scarcely define using a management tool birthed in the Mad Men era as disruptive. Retro, yes, like suggesting that we all don suits and ties and drink martinis at lunch.

Thankfully another Disrupt HR speaker suggested that we throw out goals and replace them with continuous conversations about business strategy and the work needed to achieve the business targets and measures. I see disruption of HR as anything that can streamline the administrative side of performance conversations while maximizing clarity and communication. Coaching and feedback, direction reset, course correction are an integral part of the future of work since the speed of change demands robust, fluid and flexible systems. 

Disruption is difficult because it requires destroying the current to build the new.  Much of HR is mired in the old and is long overdue for a massive overhaul. I look forward to following those leading-edge disruptors as they figure out how to transform HR from a thing to vilify and ridicule to being a valuable business asset.