HR leaders gathered together at Sanofi a few weeks ago to share their journey in managing disruption.

HR leader or business leader? Same-same

The afternoon had a disruptive start! Instead of having an HR leader kick off the event, Sanofi’s Stephane Jacqmin, the Zone Head of Consumer Healthcare, SEA/China at Sanofi, shared his approach to managing disruption. He spoke with such ease about how he engaged his team that for a moment, we mistook him for an HR leader.

There’s been a lot said about HR speaking the business language, but here was a leader who truly owned the talent agenda and spoke the “HR” language. One could almost sense the ostensible sense of envy around the room. Stephane truly believed in partnering with his HR team by “walking the talk” in times of disruption. It is important to provide clear communication right from the start and down to the 1-on-1 level. There has to be a clarity of strategic intent, transparency, ownership and providing the necessary support.

Personal engagement by business leaders who show genuine trust and interest is especially important in times of change because it makes people feel valued and keeps everyone engaged and motivated. And it also has a ‘ripple effect’ by creating similar behaviour from the leader’s team members. This can be the critical factor that can either retain or divide a team.

Embracing change in a legendary company

3M, with more than 100 years of history and well known for its innovation, has a proven formula for managing disruption. Not only HR, but its managers are also trained in the 3M Science of Change, an 8-step approach to managing change. Internal and external changes are constant and having a consistent and embedded approach to managing change has helped 3M embrace change as an opportunity to become a better organisation than before.

HR taking the lead to change

Expedia, a technology company in a highly competitive industry, is another interesting company which operates in an environment of not just constant but rapid changes. HR is expected to push and lead change. This often means HR has to run fast, test any new ideas and push changes through quickly. In order to do so, HR has to know and work closely with the business and possess influence and courage to address the “elephant in the room”.

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Change in a young company

In an organization of constant innovation and sporadic growth, where 9 out of 10 projects can be aborted. Speed of communication meant information overload and new employees can receive hundreds of email on their first day. HR plays a very different role in a young company like Twitter. There is no deep relationship and culture to fall back on. It is a journey and HR looks to similar organisations to learn and shape its approach to managing change.

We would like to thank Annie Lim of Sanofi for hosting an interesting and interactive session. The HR leaders were presented with innovations and learnings from the collective experience and wisdom not just from HR but also from a business leader. An HR leader perhaps brought up the most disruptive thought of the afternoon—will HR still be needed if business leaders own the people agenda and are trained to think like HR and are supported by shared services?