Four ways to respond to workforce disruption

By Jane Sunley + Jo Harley, Co-Founders Purple Cubed

It’s fair to say that in these VUCA times, HR faces more disruption than ever before as digitisation gallops ahead in its sophistication and impact. According to McKinsey, the changes presented are ‘akin to coping with the large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing that occurred in the early 20th century’. No challenge there then… 

This surge in workforce disruption is largely driven by increased competition, technological transformation and ever-widening customer expectations. In their recent Global Talent Trends SummaryMercer cite the current seven most significant human capital risks as: 

  1. Excessive time taken to fill vacancies 
  2. Low or declining employee engagement 
  3. Inadequate diversity 
  4. Weak leadership pipeline 
  5. Ineffective hiring decisions 
  6. Lagging production [surely linked to (2)?]
  7. Slow decision making

Yet, according to the same study, just one in three executives believe their companies have the ability to mitigate these risks. Perhaps this is because people are overwhelmed with the enormity and complexity of the task. In this blog, we attempt to cut to the chase by suggesting some practical approaches for responding appropriately. 

Speed over perfection: 

In our work helping growth brands adapt to change, we constantly come across slow, or absent, decision-making because “in uncertain times, we want to be sure”. Or because the board / owners / CEO / investors are still making most of the decisions. By over-perfecting the decision making process, inertia sets in, which, in reality, is far more damaging than trying things based on ‘simple and sensible’, then tweaking as you go. By democratising information, meeting regularly as a group to discuss the decisions faced and introducing simple ‘rules’ for deciding stuff, the process will speed up. A simple structure: 

  • Is the outcome of this decision going to provide a real business benefit? Gather relevant, succinct information staring with ‘why’ – this is vital as it’s so much easier to dive into the detail of what and how and that’s how confusion occurs.  
  • Examine options and associated risks – ideally the person / team who will implement and / or are closest to the problem should think this through, make sure it’s aligned to business strategy and values, then present to those with ultimate sign off. 
  • If the most likely option feels 60% right to most people in the room (you will never get to 100%) then go for it; make a plan, communicate with the right people (remembering the why again), implement and review, refine, evolve. 


Today, you can’t fix employee engagement, or anything else for that matter, without access to the right information. Yet, according to Mercer, just one in four HR leads utilise analytics. In our experience, many people are either drowning in a ‘bonfire of reports’ or missing out on the opportunities and the possibilities for stress-free data capture. In their recent report in conjunction with KPMGour friends at the Corporate Research Forum gave excellent advice for considerations to make before implementing any HR tech. Here’s a summary – with a few editions in [brackets] from us: 

  • HR are the guardians of [potentially] the most valuable company information; crucial success drivers and the ability to enable talent led change. You need this intel to inform better decision making (see above).  
  • Sort out where the HR function [and the business] is likely to be in the future and figure out what tech you’ll need to support that. 
  • [Measure outputs not inputs to ensure people tech improves performance rather than ticking a box or filling in the forms].  
  • Understand that the overwhelming speed at which tech is disrupting the workplace is having a profound effect on how companies and people interact.  
  • No business can afford to have HR limited to ‘support and compliance’ – HR needs to become a dynamic change enabler. [And this means harnessing the right technology]. This poses an exciting opportunity for HR to reshape their work [though there may be some enabling to be done personally in terms of knowledge, skill and supporting change – or do what our clients do and ‘ask an expert’] 
  • Boundaries blur as tech providers add more features [so don’t do anything without a clear plan. Proactively seeking out what you need is by far preferable to reacting to slick sales patter  a strategic approach is essential] 
  • Tech must be mobile responsive and people will [if they don’t already] expect consumer grade usability [they want to be able to use it as and when they prefer, driving the overall process rather than something that ticks boxes and is ‘done to them’].  
  • Best of breed no longer means all in one solutions [the smaller more creative providers are now partnering, merging, integrating. This is not just an expectation of single sign on’, which is now a given, but how can data from different systems be combined to give real business insight] 
  • Moving from a hotchpotch of legacy systems and dirty data is a long slog [so make sure the priorities are clear, plan well and start with the ‘quick wins’. Talk to existing providers first as they may have advancements and integrations in the pipeline that you don’t know about yet]. 
  • [Stop doing employee surveys (and certainly not long complicated ones) unless you’re going to act on the findings and communicate throughout].

Perhaps most importantly, it’s less about what tech you buy, it’s how you use it, and the support you can now expect to receive in doing so. The tide has turned and it’s now the suppliers with broader industry knowledge and expertise combined with a desire to help, rather than sell, who can advise and guide on how best to implement. Beware over zealous sales people and take references from existing clients before you commit 

Choosing the right partners is just the start; you could have the very best, state-of-the-art systems, though if people don’t understand what’s in it for them and therefore want to use themand if leaders aren’t committed to doing the same, your tech will never deliver the transformation you seek. 

Flexibility and new approaches: 

  • Roles that adapt and change will become the norm. The advantages of reviewing and redesigning jobs so they deliver better value, are obvious. Look towards designing structures that flow around your people rather than fitting good people into out-dated approaches.   
  • There’s a huge opportunity for every organisation and every employee to deliver better value via the redesign / reskill / redeployment of the existing workforce.   
  • There are potentially exciting opportunities to enable people to redesign their own work content and structures – you might be surprised by their suggestions. 
  • This, in turn, will help HR to reshape their work and thus become more transformational. 
  • As with all change, aim for evolution rather than a revolution; a positive for everyone so plan, consult, communicate and review as you go.   
  • Move on from the ‘post and pray’ approach when it comes to vacancies – the ‘talent hunt’ is on. This means that creative approaches are needed and your reputation as a great place to work is paramount. It takes only a few minutes to uncover a company’s reputation…  
  • According to the Mercer report, UK workforce priorities are: recognition for contribution, ability to manage work life balance and a fun working environment.
  • On the flip side, it’s never been easier to market companies and roles so anyone not harnessing the power of social media and the associated analytics will be left behind.   
  • Review hiring processes to encourage better diversity and inclusivity. 
  • Learning and development teams will move from creators and deliverers to curators of the best solutions and resources. Development must become employee led whereby people openly access what they need, when they need it.  
  • As the CRF report echoes, victory will go to the most agile businesses…

When it comes to hiring, this also needs a makeover so thoroughly review your process to ensure it’s as contemporary, simple and sensible as possible. Robust hiring can be achieved both quickly and effectively with the right criteria, techniques and tech.  


  • It’s essential to work out ‘how we lead around here’ via a set of values linked leadership behaviours. This is not about ‘cookie cutter’ style, but parity of approach.  
  • These behaviours can then be used to form a consistent and cohesive approach to hiring, promotion, performance assessment, learning and development and so on. 
  • Develop the behaviours (in varying degrees) across the workforce (leader or not) to enable better collaboration, enhanced team dynamics and more flexible teams. 
  • Everyone’s responsible for his or her own development, so encourage people to learn all they can ‘on the way up’. 
  • Ensure your leaders are aware of, and firmly committed to, their role as leaders of change, as employee engagement masters and, overall, as role models for your company. 

In conclusion, HR may be faced with challenges though must find the confidence, drive and skill to meet them. These are incredibly exciting timesbursting with opportunities to disrupt the way things have been done traditionally, enabling organisations to become more agile, more productive and more successfulBring. It. On. 

For further help and advice we can be contacted here 

2019-05-09T16:32:35+01:00 May 8th, 2019|