A Systems Thinking Approach

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Enterprising HR
A Systems Thinking Approach
By Barb Krell, MBA CHRP

With an increasingly                        desired outcomes – thinking of the HR       business including its structure and
networked world and a customer cen-         practices we design as a system, not as     functions.
tric worldview, traditional organization-   separate and discrete policies, proce-         Model of the information system –
al boundaries and structures are being      dures and technical applications by         the architect’s view; defines the busi-
challenged. Recognizing inter-depen-        each of the major functional areas with-    ness in more rigorous terms.
cies amongst all facets of an organiza-     in Human Resources.                            Technology model – the designer’s
tion (a systems thinking perspective),          Within the Information Technology       view; describes how technology may
cause and effect relationships are much     discipline, John A. Zachman has pro-        be used to address the information
more complex and cannot always be           moted a systems development approach        process needed.
predicted in advance. They will depend      drawing on analogies from the world of         Detailed representations – the
on specific context and circumstances.      architecture to recognize the interplay     builder’s view; includes database list-
    The HRIA’s Spring 2005 conference       between multiple perspectives in            ings and specifications that constitute a
theme of “Bringing the Pieces Togeth-       designing an Information Technology         particular system.
er” requires a systems thinking             framework for an organization.                 Functioning system – A system is
approach to the development of HR               “The Zachman Framework draws            implemented as part of an organization.
within our organizations. We need a         upon the discipline of classical archi-        Each of these perspectives seeks to
framework that enables and demon-           tecture to establish a common vocabu-       help define and represent the same sys-
strates the interdependencies of people     lary and set of perspectives, a             tem, but from differing vantage points.
practices within the uniqueness of our      framework, for defining and describing      Each is a row within the matrix. The
organizations’ ecologies.                   today’s complex enterprise systems.         columns in the framework describe the
    In recent times, HR has learned to      Enterprise Architecture provides the        dimensions of the system, and the cate-
effectively draw on and apply models        blueprint, or architecture, for the orga-   gories of information that need to be
from other disciplines to gain new          nization’s information infrastructure.”     described at successive levels of detail.
approaches and understanding of our             The concepts of multiple perspec-       The Zachman framework outlines six
organizations. From marketing and           tives and how they interact are of sig-     dimensions – data (what), function
communications, we have applied the         nificant value for us in HR. We need to     (how), network (where), people (who),
concepts of branding and gaining mind-      consider the impacts of our HR pro-         time (when) and motivation (why).
share in the increasingly competitive       grams and practices simultaneously          Below is a first attempt at applying this
marketplace for talent. From finance        from multiple perspectives – from a         enterprise architecture approach to
and accounting, we have learned about       macro organizational perspective, from      designing an HR infrastructure. This
the importance of Return On Invest-         the group level (unit or team) and from     initial endeavour focuses on the first
ment and other measures to demon-           the individual level. The owner’s view      four columns of what, how, where and
strate value. Working within the            will be of the overall design and plan –    who. The “what” and “how” columns
Balanced Scorecard approach for busi-       what it should look like, once complet-     tend to be the most commonly devel-
ness, we have now created HR score-         ed, whereas the builder’s view requires     oped within any system design process.
cards. From implementing information        more detailed technical drawings.           However, one of the major contribu-
technology applications we have creat-          The Zachman framework defines six       tions of the Zachman framework is to
ed employee self-service and taken          different perspectives:                     highlight the need to look beyond data
advantage of streamlining administra-           Scope – the ballpark view; defines      and function from a traditional IT per-
tive processes through technology           the enterprise’s direction and business     spective and recognize up front during
automation in our efforts to act more       purpose.                                    the design stages which organizational
strategically. Being strategic means            Model of the business – the             issues will come into play when sys-
thinking about the overall purpose and      owner’s view; defines the nature of the     tems are implemented.

NETWORK • Spring 2005                                                                                                        19
                           Data (what)                            Function (how)           Network (where)                                      People (who)
 Objectives/Scope          Organization Mission                   Values                   Reach                                                Relationships
 Model of                  Core business                          Key roles                Social Network                                       Decision-making
 the Business              processes                                                       Analysis                                             accountabilities
 Model of the     Skills and Competency                           Decision support         Culture and norms                                    Performance
 People/HR system (know-how)                                      systems                                                                       Expectations
 HR Program                Organization of jobs –                 Performance              Employee Relations                                   Employee
 design                    analysis and design                    management                                                                    Development
 Detailed                  HR planning                            Compensation             Collaboration tools                                  Code of Conduct
 Representation            and talent strategies                  systems                  and processes for                                    Accountability
 e.g. tools and                                                                            employee communication                               Agreements
 Functioning               HR Capabilities                        Leveraging for           Networked organization                               Learning
 System                                                           business results         for knowledge flow                                   Organization –
                                                                                           and innovation                                       adaptability to change

   The value of the framework is the                     ing an enterprise approach to human                      As an HR Architect and Knowledge
understanding that changes made in                       resources, there is much to be learned               Management practitioner, Barb’s area
any one cell will have some level of                     from our colleagues in Information                   of interest is in engaging companies in
impact on other parts of the enterprise                  Technology Systems, as well as much                  a knowledge-based approach to orga-
system. Within the IT world, much                        we can share by bringing an integrated               nizational design and building organi-
work has been done to develop models                     systems approach to designing effec-                 zational capability through the
and representations to be used for each                  tive HR practices for our organizations.             effective integration of people, process-
cell and to understand the interdepen-                   We need to build the blueprints for our              es and technology. Barb can be
dencies of their connections. In creat-                  organization’s HR infrastructure.    ■               reached at

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