HR One met with Rita Gunther McGrath, a globally recognized expert on strategy, innovation, and growth with an emphasis on corporate entrepreneurship. She is one of the 25 smartest women to follow on Twitter according to Fast Company, was voted one of the Top 10 Most Influential Business Thinkers by Thinkers50 and HR Magazine’s Most Influential International Thinker. The Columbia professor has been writing about the entrepreneurial mindset for about twenty years.

Today, creating an entrepreneurial mindset is one of the key priorities on the HR agenda… but is it a recent trend?

No, not really. I wrote a book called "The Entrepreneurial Mindset" which was published in the year 2000 already, so almost 20 years ago. I think the reality that this is essential is new, but the recognition that this is really an important issue has been around for a long time.


Have you seen the HR Managers take it into account recently?

Surely it has become a new agenda item for HR managers. We are now seeing HR people asked by the core business to find new kinds of talent and to adopt new practices. As an example, employee retention has been seen historically in HR as a very essential goal and today we are beginning to recognize that people can actually come and go. People may have an opportunity in an organization where they have a particular project or a particular skill that is needed. They will come in and perform that task and then they may well leave the company and maybe later come back again when a similar challenge is made clear. I think the business is starting to push HR teams to get rid of some traditional measures. Retention is a good example because it is not always a good thing. You may not want that person hanging around for all time. You may want them able to come and go, and offer their skills when necessary. The business pushes HR to develop new practices.


HR are usually considered as risk-averse and dedicated to operational tasks. On your side, you are inviting this community to engage more in initiatives towards what you call "discovery-driven growth". What is it about?

If you think about the rhythm of a company's competitiveness, you can think of it almost as a series of waves. Any competitive advantage a company has today can be thought of as the innovation process and then the exploitation process – when the company is actually developing an offer to the market. Then competitors catch up, customers need change… There is the whole erosion process. What we are seeing in organizations is the necessity to have the rate of change in the environment being met with the rate of renewal in the organization. From an HR perspective, companies need talents able to manage the entire lifecycle: that's the first challenge. That requires talent at innovation as well as talent at operations. The reality is that people are hired and rewarded for being excellent operators, very good at executing against today's challenges, but they are not so good at the innovation process and they tend to try to avoid the disengagement that is necessary when business has gone into erosion. What I think the discovery-driven growth principles are suggesting is that of course people need to be good at operations, but they also need to be experts at innovation, to be able to get new things going and to be courageous about disengaging. When to decide it is time to exit a particular business requires a certain amount of courage. It is very challenging from an HR perspective.

Companies need to have growth businesses but they are inherently uncertain. Let's say maybe only two out of every ten projects go on to become significant for the parent company. If managers did their job right, top talents are working on all of those projects. What does the company do with the eight people whose projects are not going to move forward? It requires a huge amount of care from HR to develop a system that is capable of accommodating them.


Going in this direction is also linked to a strategy of transient advantage and pushing HR to be more agile and experimental at the same time…

Exactly. HR has a huge role because you want people to feel empowered and safe in tackling some of these newer challenges. Therefore, HR has a wonderful new role to play in creating the conditions under which companies can compete.


We read recently that HR should switch from a recruitment based on degrees to a recruitment based on skills. Is there a new set of skills that we should take into account?

You really need to be able to address every dimension of the competitive lifecycle: skills at starting new businesses, skills at executing and scaling businesses, skills at managing businesses and keeping them fresh and current and then skills at being able to disengage – or being able to stop the business once it has exhausted its potential and you need people able to manage all of these.


Is this also going to impact the employee experience, which is a huge topic on a retain point of view today?

It is. The job has changed. We see it, for example, when HR has to staff the marketing team. If you think about it, marketing today is completely different from what it was 25 years ago. There is digital, the need to go where the customers are (increasingly on online platforms), etc. If a company hires traditional marketing people, they are not going to have any idea how to access these consumers on those platforms. There is a complete shift in the skills that companies are trying to recruit. So what HR is going to be increasingly responsible for is to know what networks to tap into (business schools networks, digital natives…). Traditional recruitment processes are not useful to find people like that.


Should HR therefore be closer to startups, incubators, etc?

That is indeed one vector people might want to explore. One of the other things I think is that maybe HR get a little bit lazy. I mean that, for example, they take a college degree as a marker of what a person is capable of doing, whereas increasingly that matters less and less. Actually, a college degree does not show if a person has the requisite skills to accomplish a particular task.


So the best decision would be to have people with an entrepreneurial mindset onboard in your team, or besides your team, the same way incubators or accelerators do with startups?

Yes. I think it is a big challenge because the reason we use degrees as a barrier to who can apply to a particular role is that is simplifies things. Part of what HR is going to increasingly have to do is going beyond the traditional and being able to ask whether people have the right skills before they rely on a traditional approach. They will have to look for people who have done the particular task they need and that may very well be an unconventional hire. The other big thing companies are getting very concerned about is diversity and not only the politically correct version, but rather diversity of thinking, diversity of identity, etc. Really bringing diverse points of view to bare on the challenges our economy faces and in Europe in particular. I work with a lot of European companies and there is still a certain model of leader in these companies, and they are all the same. One of the things HR is going to be forced to do is increasingly bringing diverse points of view and diverse candidates into the pool. And that is not easy, it puts more responsibility and more challenge to the traditional role of HR.


Interview by Fabien Amoretti

Publié le 08 mai 2018