In March 2016 ChapmanCG co-hosted two Amsterdam HR leaders gatherings at Philips Lighting and Naspers OLX, which included global and regional HR and functional leaders from a diverse range of industries. We enjoyed welcoming some new faces, as well as a number of close HR contacts from our 70,000-strong network who travelled from Germany and Belgium to attend the meeting. The groups included leaders from companies as diverse as AkzoNobel, Danone, Ernst & Young, Genzyme, Goodyear, Heineken, IBM, KLM, Mars, TomTom and many more.

It was great to see so many attendees from previous gatherings in Amsterdam, with most sharing their latest thinking on best practice for creating an agile HR presence. ‘Agile HR’ was defined by the groups quite simply as getting things done that have an impact on the business. A corollary to this is actually taking care not to create processes that serve to slow the business down.

At OLX, Mark Jacobs, Global HR Head, shared some of his challenges with the group, as well as how he is aiming to develop HR within the organisation to support the business strategy. Mark provided some fascinating insights, as well as sharing his key priorities to support what is a very fast growing business:

  1. Capability Development across the board;
  2. Purpose and Values of the organisation;
  3. Collaboration and Communication for all employees;
  4. Ensuring HR remains agile in a fast growth environment, whilst protecting the entrepreneurial spirit that started the business.

Interestingly, many of the leaders around the table agreed that in most cases, a number of existing people processes could be streamlined with little or no negative effect on the organisation. There was also consensus on the wisdom of prioritising the most effective HR practices and principles, such as ‘empowerment’, as opposed to a ‘command and control’ culture’. Almost all also agreed on the importance of HR being driven by the business, rather than by what HR considers to be best practice – there needs to be a focus on what is going to make the greatest contribution in terms of both agility, and is aligned with business’ purpose and values.

In the session at Philips there was an emphasis on agility from a technology perspective, including the digitisation of HR. Taking a quick survey of the room, on average this group felt they were operating at 50% of where they needed or wanted to be, in terms of using the available technology effectively.

John Mahoney, Global Head of Learning with Philips, informed the group that Philips Lighting has made all digital learning solutions available to the entire workforce, regardless of expertise, seniority or location. There was agreement in both groups on the goal of instilling a sense of 'empowerment' and 'accountability' in employees for their own learning and development. The Philips Lighting digital initiative was a significant step in this journey.

Another relevant example of one of the many small things that can have a larger compound impact on driving the culture of accountability and empowerment, was concise, respectful and mature guidelines on for example, travel and expense policies. This is in contrast to what are often multiple page documents that are not often read and were designed with control in mind.

An interesting observation from both of the sessions in Amsterdam was how important it is for both HR and business leaders today to be courageous and creative as they explore totally new ways of doing things. Agility is needed to come up with new solutions, and the ability to challenge what has become the norm - or what is expected - is crucial.

Many thanks go to our hosts at Philips Lighting and Naspers OLX for these valuable sessions, and we look forward to bringing the group together again later in 2016.