This article, by John C. Camillus, was originally published in HR.com, July 22, 2016.
In business, some problems are easy, some problems are hard, and some problems are so complex, so intractable, and so threatening to organizations – or entire industries – that they are best described as “wicked.” Based on extensive study and consulting, I have determined how to devise “Wicked Strategies” that will successfully cope with these challenges – and even permit companies to profit from them.
I have also determined that the importance of the human resources function in enabling the effective implementation of Wicked Strategies cannot be overemphasized. After all, competencies reside in personnel. HR is responsible for ensuring that the firm possesses the competencies needed to succeed in new markets by recruiting or developing the right personnel.
The strategic importance of human resources was conveyed to me by Don Beall when he was the chairman and CEO of Rockwell Industries and had gained the reputation of being the most sought-after manager in the aerospace industry. When describing how he was transforming the company, he emphasized that Rockwell’s VP of human resources was as much or more responsible for effecting the transformation of Rockwell as the VP of finance and strategic planning.
Here are the three steps HR must take to enable their organizations to implement Wicked Strategies:
1. Fortify the firm’s values. The firm has to ensure, to the fullest extent possible, that the values articulated in its identity are genuinely subscribed to by all employees. When recruiting personnel, a firm must make alignment with and commitment to its values an essential requirement.
2. Eschew layoffs. In normal circumstances, the only personnel that may be outplaced are those whose values turn out to be unaligned with the firm. Jeffrey Pfeffer’s description of the negative impact of layoffs on the bottom line of the firm has been persuasively presented in both an academic article and in a Newsweek cover story. The impact on morale is deep and long lasting. Personnel remaining in the firm after others are laid off are known to experience survivor’s guilt. Many “survivors” will seek to leave the firm for situations they expect will provide them with more security. And it is inevitable that those finding employment elsewhere will be the best of those that the firm has chosen to retain, resulting in a loss of important capabilities.
3. Ensure shared competencies. The firm has to ensure that competencies are shared across the organization. GE and Rockwell Industries, for instance, are known to transfer personnel from high-tech growth units to less innovative and stable units to rejuvenate them. Sharp Corporation grew and prospered by leveraging counter-conventional niche technologies, and by engaging in a process that the company calls “chemicalization.” This involved moving the top three per cent of researchers to new departments every year. Sharp also engaged in the practice, alien to most Japanese companies, of adding talent drawn from other companies at all levels of the organization, in addition to developing its existing personnel.
Only with the support of human resources can an organization effectively implement the Wicked Strategies for today’s wicked problems demand.
About the Author: John C. Camillus is the author of WICKED STRATEGIES: How Companies Conquer Complexity And Confound Competitors (Rotman – UTP Publishing), and the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Pittsburgh. He has served as consultant on strategic management to over 100 organizations on four continents, including many Fortune 500 companies.