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Executive Roundtable: Finding and Embracing Disruptors

April 24, 2019

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is the need to be agile. We live in an era of disruption where lack of agility will lead to failure. They need to adapt, in real time, in response to the changing demands of their environments. Executive Roundtable Editor, David Reimer, and column regular, Sonja Meighan, recently sat down with Kristin Supancich, Senior Vice President and CHRO of Kelly Services, and John Healy, Vice President and Managing Director, Office of the Future of Work at Kelly Services, to discuss how they are anticipating and adapting to changes in the industry, while balancing its legacy revenue streams with the Kelly of tomorrow. What roles do relationships, information flow, and innovation play in its pace of adaptation?


Finding and Embracing Disruptors


People + Strategy: Can you ground us in your context?

John: Kelly is a talent company with two different businesses. One is people services—we are connecting people and jobs; the other is in outsourcing, where we focus on outcome-based delivery models. While the two sides of the business are focused on different things, all of it together is about putting people to work in ways that enrich their lives.

As we look at the future of work and think about the changing expectations of both the workforce and the workplace, you have a massive shift of expectations. As an example, look to your behaviors as a consumer. Today, we don’t tolerate hierarchical and complex systems to purchase goods and services. We expect an app that connects us direct-ly with the simplest way to achieve a desired outcome—AND, we expect the company that we engage with to be socially responsible and genu-ine in their stated purpose. We have high expectations of the physical place that we go to complete our work—whether a corporate campus, a home office, or a co-working facility—AND we expect the technology that allows us to communicate with our colleagues to be in place.

P+S: What are some of the key implica-tions for you as an enterprise?

Kristin: Everyone says, “Millennials need this and that,” but across all of our employees, everyone wants to create value. They want to do some-thing different, create new skillsets, work longer, and ensure they are on the cutting edge of what is happening in their field. At Kelly, we have been spending time as an HR department trying to find out what makes our internal talent tick. What is happen-ing with our talent and how do we get our leaders to think differently about talent? We spend time thinking about where they need to work. Where does this talent fit? How do we as a com-pany improve our chances of making sure we are finding the right talent, getting it in our doors, and leveraging what we are learning from that? Com-panies win by improving their talent sourcing to adapt and be flexible. Most companies have the desire to innovate, to have their teams be agile, and to disrupt, but they have to oper-ate inside an operating model and be efficient and lean. It is balancing the yin-yang in the workplace and in the workforce.

P+S: What are other ways this is impact-ing how you work?

Kristin: We have a long-standing, tenured organization at Kelly and we have also brought new talent in to think differently about the outside world and what is happening—essentially, to be disruptors. When we think of buzzwords like change agility and being bolder and braver, what does that mean in our current organization? When you put a disruptor in the network, how fast can they start being a leader in the company and how fast can their voice be heard? It can get squashed because it isn’t what people are used to. We are being purposeful and planned. We are trying to create an ecosystem that allows us to inspire an engaged, productive work-force. We want to foster a culture that embraces new thoughts, is inclusive, and increases the ability of new employees to be successful and effective faster.

P+S: What kind of conversations have you had as a leadership group to think about finding and embracing disrup-tors in the way you just described?

Kristin: A company is a social organiza-tion and because of this we have been very transparent, and it has made some people uncomfortable because we talk about planned disruptors. I think dis-ruptors work better with many assigned to the same area or department rather than a lone person who might be isolat-ed because they think differently.

John: I will declare to the team that this individual is my “purposeful disrup-tor.” I’ll leverage the approach when a group has very different opinions and is challenged by a macro issue requiring them to look beyond their individual perspective. Once you have named someone a disruptor, if some-one has an issue with their approach, it becomes his or her own issue, not the disruptor’s. Having a disruptor within discussion and debate or you have hallway conversations where the dis-cussion happens. The second does not create sustainable change. We talked openly about how we want our culture to evolve. This is a safe zone. We may not agree, but let’s talk and we will be united before we walk out the door.

Most companies have the desire to innovate, to have their teams be agile, and to disrupt, but they have to operate inside an operating model and be efficient and lean.

We are also doing very intentional tal-ent planning and rotation. We have been rotating people to break down walls. One of the big benefits is that we’ve proven that employees value new opportunities, and there are many more transferable skills across all of our functions and ser-vices than people want to believe.

I spent 25 years in sales and opera-tions but now I’m a CHRO. If you had suggested to me three years ago that I would be coming into HR, I would have said, “Are you sure?” People are seeing that different experiences give them a different way of thinking to help our company move forward. I now get to lead a global human resource organization for a talent company us my teams has been helpful because people pull back and say, “Maybe I’m too rigid in my thinking, too set in my ways. Maybe I need to pause and look at things from a different perspective.”

P+S: Any particular ways you’ve made this idea real?

Kristin: Kelly decided a year ago to tap into 90 leaders across the globe who sit in all different functions. We needed to empower them and show them what being a purposeful disruptor looks like. How do we set up safe zones to show people how to debate civilly and agree and disagree? That is a changing environment in corporate America. You either create a positive, inclusive organization to support constructive ing my business, sales, and operations experience. It doesn’t get any better than that.

P+S: Once you’ve identified someone as a disruptor, can you give us the play-book you give them? How do I disrupt without annoying my colleagues?

Kristin: It’s an emerging playbook. One way we identify disruptors is we have talent forums where we ask our leadership, “Do you have someone who thinks differently?” Disruptors are chal-lenging the system, and we are trying to purposefully put them into work teams. We can’t put them all together because we could have chaos! We are trying to be selective in how we form work teams. We ask people to leave their title at the door and help us fix a business problem. We are preparing them by saying here is what we’d like the role of a disruptor to be. Here is what the outcomes are. Then we collect their feedback at the end.

John: The idea of just declaring people disruptors is easy and a simple thing to do, but you have to have their back when you declare that role.

P+S: As you both have experienced this as leaders yourself, are there things that you have had to not do or stop doing?

John: In our marketing efforts, we’re regularly using #ditchthescript. We have had to let go of a lot of the old paradigms of how we operated and what the expectations were. We have gone through some hard things as a business—we divested our health care and legal staffing businesses last year to bring more emphasis on areas we know we can win based on scale and special-ization.

Operationally, day-to-day, a lot more of it is being able to think differ-ently, to pause and be willing to look at how you integrate people into your organization differently. Our organi-zation needs to accept new ideas and new norms that are coming in. You look at bringing people in and setting up squads of teams and people to do things in different ways—that requires letting go of the way we have always done it or making decisions based on data when it doesn’t match your intuition. That is a hard thing to let go of—you have been successful, you have grown to a position of leadership because you have followed your gut at times you didn’t have data. But now the data is telling you to go left instead of right—which do you do? Those are difficult decisions and every-one evolves through that at a different pace.

Kristin: I think for me it is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Human nature wants people to get along and to have healthy debate, but at the end we agree and walk out. I had to get comfortable with the fact that at the end sometimes there isn’t agreement and that is okay. Some conversations canget uncomfortable when people are pas-sionate about the topic. When you come from a culture like ours where it has been very service-oriented for years, you can be kind and still be edgy. You can be incredibly professional and still push the envelope to stretch people’s minds to think different about what could be. You must get comfortable with that.

HR must constantly ask, “What’s next?” We can’t protect the past. The pace of change
is accelerating faster than any of us have experienced. If we are not looking to what is next, then we are going to miss out on what the people we are serving are asking for.

P+S: Besides revenues and EBITDA, what is on your dashboard as you trans-form yourselves?

Kristin: I have a new dashboard of HR initiatives and the impact they will have on the business. We know that if engagement goes up or down, there is a natural correlation with profit and our growth. We know that if employees are advocating for us inside and outside our walls, that will help our marketing and sales. We are working on metrics that are not just about finances—both themanagement team and our board are pushing us to think differently. Finan-cial measures are one thing, but they want to know how we are measuring execution of our strategy and how we are managing the employee experience since talent is going to be a driving force in the workplace for the next few years.

John: I’m hunting for the most effective measure of simplification. One that takes us back to the human experi-ence. Everyone is frustrated by long and illogical processes. When I have
to go through 72 hoops to get some-thing done, we know instinctively that’s not right. A process or organizational change that doesn’t improve simplicity for the targeted users is a failure to effectively “finish” that change.

For companies that have a history of running pilots as a way of demonstrat-ing agility, I challenge you to look at whether those pilots have been broughtto scale once proven, or been allowed to linger and create chaos. If you find yourself with 400 processes because you just kept adding to them, you’ve actually damaged the organizational agility you were striving for. One of our EVPs uses the term “focus and finish.” Focus is knowing we are prioritizing things, but finish is about executing something all the way through and recognizing that we did identify a better process. That means we need to decommission a couple of other things, making sure we see the success of an outcome. Our dashboard is going to have to put more emphasis on the outcomes after an effort—what you do as a result of what you accomplished—and making sure the adoption rate matches the targets established in your initial business case.

P+S: In the kind of transformation you describe, all the game pieces are moving simultaneously. If HR could do one thing to help its organization accelerate through transformation most effectively, what would that be?

Kristin: When I came into this role, I purposefully said to my team that we were going to reinvent HR and how HR showed up. We were going to stop being a functional group and move to be a business group. HR gets a seat at the ta-ble when we are adding value and deliv-ering strategies that will both disrupt the company and push for growth. There is a compliance part and functional part of HR that never goes away. If we are really going to be transformative, I believe HR leaders must have a heightened sense of where the organization is going, and they need to come to the table with business solutions, not just the function-al group solutions. For me, that means that when I sit with the executive team, I’m pushing the envelope on where we are mitigating risk, where we can push further, and I’m trying to be a voice. My functional role is HR, but I’m there to ead the company forward, help us grow, and meet our strategic objectives.

John: HR must look at the entire work-force the company uses. That includes both internal and external talent. The days of HR being able to only look at internal talent have to end. If anywhere from 30-50 percent of the workforce are external and you don’t account for them in thinking about how you are accomplishing work, it is malpractice within the profession, in my opinion. HR must constantly ask “what’s next?” We can’t protect the past. The pace of change is accelerat-ing faster than any of us have experi-enced. If we are not looking to what is next, then we are going to miss out on what the people we are serving are asking for. I would say those two pieces of looking at the whole talent supply chain and keeping a focus on what’s next are what HR could do to help an organization accelerate.

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