Transformative HR: A book review by Bob Morris

TransformativeHRTransformative HR: How Great Companies Use Evidence-Based Change for Sustainable Advantage
John W. Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan
Joszsey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2011)

How and why the principles underlying evidence-based change bring clarity and validity to decisions about human capital

In my opinion, John Boudreau is among the most original business thinkers now publishing articles and books. He makes unique and substantial contributions to thought leadership with regard to establishing and then sustaining a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. I read Transformative HR when it was first published and recently re-read it, curious to know how well Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan’s insights and counsel have held up. If anything, they are even more relevant — and more valuable — than they were in 2011.

As they explain in the Introduction, “Evidence-based change is a kind-set and approach to making HR decisions. In evidence-based change, the principles covered in the first five chapters of this book [logic-driven analytics, segmentation, risk-leverage, integration and synergy, and optimization] are combined with a robust change-management process to ensure a sustainable competitive advantage for the organization.”

I agree with them that “the transformative future is not an idle dream; many organizations have made great strides toward applying the principles of evidence-based change and reaping the rewards.” In fact, Part Two consists of six in-depth case studies of six companies — Royal Bank of Canada, Coca-Cola, Khazanah National, IBM, Ameriprise Financial, and Royal Bank of Scotland — demonstrate how the five principles have been applied. Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan suggest a number of lessons to be learned from each. Thoughtfully, they also provide an Appendix, “Summary of Lessons Learned” (Pages 233-239)

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Boudreau and Jesuthasan’s coverage:

o The Five Principles of Evidence-Based Change (Pages xv-xxi)
o Understanding Logic-Driven Analytics, and, The “Analytics” in Logic-Driven Analytics (5-11)
o Creating Buy-In and Developing a Logical Framework (17-19)
o Supply-Side Segmentation, and, Demand-Side Segmentation (30-34)
o Making Segmentation Happen (39-41)
o Portfolio Theory and Risk Diversification (60-62)
o Integration and Synergy Within the HR Function (79-82)
o Mechanisms for Integration and Synergy (84-85)
o The Optimization Mend-Set (98-101)
o Analytical Approaches to Optimization (102-106)
o Royal Bank of Canada: A Diversity Program That Thrives on Integration (116-119)
o Royal Bank of Canada: Integration and Employee Commitment (126-128)
o Coca-Cola: Integration Without Squashing Flexibility (139-142)
o Khazanah National: Doing and Feeling Leadership Development (150-153)
o Khazanah National: The Leadership Gap (155-158)
o IBM: Human Capital and Globally Integrated Enterprise (170-172)
o IBM: The Payoff (178-180)
o Ameriprise Financial: Getting the HR Basics Right (185-187)
o Ameriprise Financial: Million-Dollar Turnover and Other Opportunities (196-198)
o Royal Bank of Scotland: Listening to Employees (204-207)
o Royal Bank of Scotland: Rethinking Leadership (212-215)

In their Conclusion, Boudreau and Jesuthasan reflect on what they have learned from their wide and deep experience, then shared in this book. The material they provide really is evidence-driven. Establishing and then sustaining a workplace culture really does pose significance challenges to business leaders who pursue that worthy objective. They are challenged to provide leadership that is courageous, results-driven, and flexible rather than hostage to what Jim O’Toole so aptly characterizes in Leading Change as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Boudreau and Jesuthasan suggest a number of first steps that begin with an analysis of risk associated with incentives and conclude with identifying democratic change in mature markets. Because all six of the exemplars are large global companies, I hasten to add one other point: With appropriate modification, almost all of the insights and counsel that John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan provide can be of substantial value to leaders in almost all other companies, whatever their size and nature may be.

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