Mind the HR, as in Human Revolution


by Stelio Verzera

It was 2011 when I realized that times were ripe for a Copernican Revolution in how organizations are conceived, designed and managed. With an important baggage of errors and failed practices, done first-hand or observed very closely, and well before the "bossless organization" narrative hyped, I perceived the time of the org-centric world of work was over. Always attracted by the edges of change and in the beautiful company of a crazy crew, I traveled through what-if thinking. LiquidO was born out of that trip and, most notably, we started to come in touch with amazing people from all around the globe who had embarked on the same path at the same time, or even before. Two generations of entrepreneurs, managers, and organization designers learning to surf together a completely new wave. Amazing experience.

The revolution we all had spotted was the shift from a world in which people had to adapt to the rules, roles, expectations, growth, and even values of mechanistic organizations, to one with a new horizon of organizations able to adapt themselves so that their formal systems of rules and processes reflect their real human systems dynamics, principles and values in any given phase. We, as human beings, have a very long history of complexity-surfing in our DNA, and these VUCA times call for us to be able to do it massively. Thus, organizations needed to change, to become adaptive. People had to be back in the center.

A true epiphany, indeed. Nevertheless, that was just the very beginning of the journey. Today, after only five years, I've come to understand much more. And not just about the nitty-gritties of "how" to do it, actually much more about the "what" itself. I've glimpsed at the big picture in which we are moving from an ego-systems society to an eco-systems society, understood why there is no such a thing as a "horizontal organization" for human systems, witnessed the need for focus on strategic agility through adaptive governance, and realized that the most important function ahead for the new generation of organizations is to serve as platforms for people's growth.

I can't find words to express my passion for this journey, and the excitement for what lies ahead. And I can't stress enough my care for this crucial moment in history. What we'll seed and feed in the near future will make all the difference.

But let's stop for a moment. Let's look at what is already here.

We know that the seeds are already taking roots of a world in which work is an important part of life to be lived in-depth and with full meaning, in which work is not a place but - as John Hagel would put it - a system for accessing creation spaces and achieving our full potential, in which our emotions, intuition, creativity, playfulness, are important parts of our being, and success can be redefined in terms of contribution, understanding and people's growth. These things are here, today.

Still, there are many key questions about the future. In the words of Charles Handy: "Might it be wiser to aim to grow better without growing bigger? Is money in the new digital world a true reflection of value? Can schools, as institutions themselves, prepare people to live outside institutions? Is selfishness necessary for economic growth? What will hold a society together?" Plus, considering the steep acceleration of our dependence on technology, or rather of our integration with technology all the way up to biomechatronics and artificial general intelligence, the additional question is: "What will it mean to be human in a few decades from now?"

In 2011 I was wrong. I suspect most of us riding that edge of organizational evolution were wrong. The revolution we were starting to experience was much greater than we understood. Today I feel we are at the verge of a much bigger Copernican Revolution, the Human Revolution. We are about to face the passage from adolescence to maturity for our race, embracing the responsibility of shaping our own identity. The intimate relationship between our tools and ourselves, so well-studied by Marshall McLuhan, is coming to a sublimation point at which we extend ourselves directly, becoming some of our tools or, better said, allowing some of our tools to become ourselves.

I've never been able to sit around waiting for the future to unfold. I'm always stoked to watch others surfing the waves, but I need to have the salt in my mouth as well. So what can I do? What can we collectively do to help the best seeds of our future to grow strong?

Just start where we are, with what we have.

I've been working and talking a lot with "HR people" in the last months. And I believe they play a crucial role. Organizations will take time to evolve into the new form (or die), and the new ones will take time to grow in quality and number before having significant impact. Our culture, and our own mindset and consciousness, will need even more time. But there is something we've inherited from the past that can take action now, being an explicit part of most organizations everywhere in the world. Scopes where the turbulence of evolution has already begun, passion is high for the human being, and there is enough experience to start supporting this revolution right now: the HR people.

When HR people stop thinking of themselves as a function of a mechanistic structure and understand they are actually a platform for the evolution of our race, they have the power, right and responsibility to allow any organization to become a platform for people's growth. They must realize they're everywhere in the organization, well outside of org-chart boxes. They need to understand that being a strategic asset for the company today means attracting the best talent in terms of humanity, creativity, passion, playfulness, honesty, and empathy. Then, they can ensure these humans are enabled to work at their best, contaminate others, challenge the status quo, understand the whole, and contribute to the choices charting the course. They can stop thinking of their title as "Human Resources" people, and start being Human Revolution people.

They stand at the intersection that can launch and nurture a second curve for Mankind, while governments, education, economy and many entrepreneurs, managers and specialists are slowly groping their way off the decline of the previous curve.

There is a lot of work to do, much passion needed. These are exciting and extremely important times.
Let's make it happen.

Stelio is a curious and active contributor to the global community evolving the concept and practice of work in this decade. If you'd like to know more about him, start here. Other blog posts by Stelio are here. Credits: thanks Dawna Jones for precious editing support, and Thomas Hawk for the header image.