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August Community of Experts with Nick Denoon-Stevens

5 Minutes with Nick

Nick Denoon-Stevens is our presenter at this month’s CoE event. Over the past 22 years, Nick has helped managers at all levels of business increase their profitability and improve their efficiencies and productivity through his action-learning business simulation programmes. We spent five minutes talking with him about the HR discipline, changes in the world of work and his methodologies to improve business success.

What have been the changes in HR over the past few decades and what is the biggest opportunity you see facing HR managers today?

40 years ago HR was part of the finance dept as it was predominantly a payroll and leave function. From 30 odd years back, there was a greater need for businesses to deal with IR and labour issues and so more skilled OD (organizational development) specialists were needed and HR stood more firmly on its own.

HR has since then structured organisations, created job functions and descriptions, developed staff’s skills, and much more. The challenge is that in the past 10-15 years business has become obsessed with automation to reduce costs and create greater efficiencies, and the HR management function has receded to more of a process function again in most businesses I see. There is even SAP HR to assist line managers with these processes.

But the HR manager is then under increased pressure from the business to deliver better results through the people in a business that itself is under pressure to keep shareholders and customers happy.

So, I see the greatest opportunity for HR managers and directors is to become a true HR business partner in the company they work in. This involves understanding what line managers want, why they want it for their business needs, and how you are going to respond to these needs.

The world of work seems to be getting increasingly challenging. Many are calling it a VUCA world! Can you explain VUCA and what this means for organisations and HR managers in South Africa?

VUCA is a concept that was first introduced in the early 90’s by the US Army War College that referred to the multilateral world that emerged after the cold war. A world that was more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than ever before. In the business context the VUCA concept took off after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. So our companies find themselves in a volatile world, with a brutal increase in type, speed, volume and scale.

As a result of this volatility, uncertainty prevails and we are unable to predict future events. The complexity increases and widespread confusion prevails with no clear connection between cause and effect. This lack of precision creates ambiguity and as a result, greater confusion.

Our brains love to catagorise and learn from the past to secure our future. This has worked well for thousands of years, but will not serve us moving forward. So four habits we can create that can help HR managers drive business success in a VUCA world are:

  • Ask different types of questions, inside and outside our businesses.
  • Take on multiple perspectives of what could be the “right” answer.
  • Develop a “big picture” view of our business and our role in it.
  • Obsess with creating value at every step in the companies value chain.

What it means for our companies and HR managers is that disruptions will become the norm, smaller organisations or departments that think like businesses, that are more flexible will dominate.

A more connected and collaborative workforce is needed to be flexible and intrapreneurial rather than a hierarchical one. This will require a high levels of managerial capacity that HR managers need to deliver.

What is the philosophy behind action learning and how can it help HR managers and staff in a VUCA world?

Action learning provides the learning experiences and the opportunity to reflect on the outcomes. It develops knowledge, skills and relationships all at the same time. It’s the synthesis of the three that is needed for business success.

Most transmission programs provide solutions for the past. Best practice as it was then. We intuitively know that leaders learn and change most effectively through experience.

Action learning takes place in the current VUCA world and anticipates the future. Because you can increase the level of complexity in a simulation, you can develop the confidence in delegates to manage complexity in the real world.

Tell us about the Team Business methodology that you work with and why are so many companies embracing it?

Team Business simulation is a competitive, interactive business simulation. In this process managers and staff make increasingly complex business decisions, execute them and then measure and reflect on their outcomes. These decisions and concepts are then applied to the real world to better understand it. Delegates then use all of this to identify and access actual opportunities for improvement at work. The magic here lies in working with others to create improvements across the value chain and between the silos of the business.

We create different simulated experiences to drive business acumen and continuous improvement knowledge from the shop floor all the way to senior management.

Part of the answers the attendees will get at the session and the rest they will acquire in their own HR Business Partner simulation afterwards.