HR Departments — Drivers of Change

Personnel questions are high on the agendas of many executive board meetings. And top managers are considering how HR departments can be even more effective in shaping the future of their companies.


“HR brings everyone together”: Ninjo Lenz and Isabel Neitzel are personnel strategy specialists. The two experts and their teams at the Porsche Consulting management consultancy support large companies going through transformation processes. Porsche Consulting/Andreas Laible

HR depart­ments nat­u­ral­ly need to stay on top of their com­pa­nies’ every­day oper­a­tions. That includes address­ing the skilled work­er short­age, recruit­ing and retain­ing out­stand­ing tal­ent, opti­miz­ing process­es, and inte­grat­ing inno­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies. At the same time, they are fac­ing a grow­ing need to man­age spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions and respond in flex­i­ble ways to unan­tic­i­pat­ed events — mean­ing exter­nal influ­ences from the world at large as well as inter­nal com­pa­ny developments.

Ninjo Lenz, Partner at Porsche Consulting: “HR must now become the driving force behind the success of the business and business service areas.” Porsche Consulting/Andreas Laible

Influencers and AI

“It’s no longer enough for HR depart­ments to man­age the sta­tus quo,” says Ninjo Lenz, Part­ner at Porsche Con­sult­ing: “HR must now become the dri­ving force behind the suc­cess of the busi­ness and busi­ness ser­vice areas.” That means acquir­ing the right tal­ent­ed peo­ple as an attrac­tive employ­er. In the process, Lenz notes, they are mak­ing ever greater use of inno­v­a­tive con­cepts such as cor­po­rate influ­encers, indi­vid­u­al­ized appli­cant out­reach with the help of AI, and alum­ni rec­om­men­da­tion programs.

The impor­tance of agile and adap­tive HR depart­ments is espe­cial­ly evi­dent in dif­fi­cult times when com­pa­nies are not per­form­ing as well as they would like. As Lenz explains, “HR should be able to respond flex­i­bly to changes and take effec­tive steps to adapt work mod­els, restruc­ture remote work, and apply orga­ni­za­tion­al tools to deal with crises.” HR man­agers should keep a sharp eye on employ­ee life cycles, which cover the entire spec­trum of com­pa­ny-employ­ee rela­tions, and become inven­tive design­ers of work­ing conditions.

Lunch break at Hamburg’s Gänsemarkt. “Walk the talk” is an integral part of Ninjo Lenz and Isabel Neitzel’s approach: Don’t just discuss — put new approaches at HR departments into practice. Porsche Consulting/Andreas Laible

Business sense and expertise

“In light of the major changes affect­ing all parts of com­pa­nies, HR depart­ments need new ways of think­ing and an entire­ly new approach. Not only in their func­tions but also in their skills,” says Lenz. In his expert opin­ion, “Many com­pa­nies don’t seem ready for this, or are hav­ing trou­ble doing so in prac­tice.” Lenz’s col­league, Isabel Neitzel, a psy­chol­o­gist and busi­ness coach at Porsche Con­sult­ing, explains how the restruc­tur­ing process can work. “The HR depart­ment first has to ini­ti­ate its own trans­for­ma­tion to be fit for the future. That requires a deep under­stand­ing of cur­rent and future chal­lenges, plus a desire to devel­op fur­ther at all times.” Cre­at­ing a team of top employ­ees with a strong busi­ness sense and broad range of exper­tise is of cru­cial impor­tance here, she adds. It puts employ­ees in a posi­tion to respond flex­i­bly to new chal­lenges and devel­op inno­v­a­tive solutions.

A dynam­ic per­son­nel depart­ment with a ver­sa­tile and tal­ent­ed team can respond rapid­ly and effec­tive­ly to unfore­seen events such as a pan­dem­ic. At the same time, a “well-estab­lished ecosys­tem is impor­tant in order to inte­grate new ideas and per­spec­tives.” This might be achieved by work­ing with exter­nal experts, for exam­ple, or by par­tic­i­pat­ing in indus­try or other open-space events. Devel­op­ing clear mod­els for func­tions and roles is anoth­er cru­cial task if HR is to com­mand the right abil­i­ties and exper­tise for han­dling future demands. One suit­able instru­ment is the fol­low­ing: “By cre­at­ing a range of career paths for HR per­son­nel from dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines, a depart­ment can safe­guard its suc­cess­ful tra­jec­to­ry on into the future.”

Isabel Neitzel, a manager and psychologist at Porsche Consulting: “HR departments need even more boldness. And above all, self-confident designers.” Porsche Consulting/Andreas Laible

Courageous designers needed

In Porsche Consulting’s expe­ri­ence, HR man­agers are a long way from occu­py­ing board or exec­u­tive posi­tions at all com­pa­nies. His­tor­i­cal­ly, HR depart­ments have been con­sid­ered mere employ­ee admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies and have there­fore often remained in the back­ground. “It’s obvi­ous, how­ev­er, that HR heads should be just as present as chief finan­cial offi­cers,” says Lenz. He gives an exam­ple: “HR should be sup­port­ing strate­gic invest­ment deci­sions about new sites with work­force and job mar­ket data. That’s anoth­er rea­son why HR heads need to be vis­i­ble at the high­est com­pa­ny lev­els. If nec­es­sary, they have to go out and get this vis­i­bil­i­ty themselves.”

Isabel Neitzel devel­ops con­cepts and train­ing for for­ward-look­ing HR depart­ments. They’re about a “new self-under­stand­ing,” says the psy­chol­o­gist and busi­ness coach. “Away from the admin­is­tra­tive role and toward that of a pow­er­ful com­po­nent and cat­a­lyst. HR depart­ments need even more bold­ness. And above all, self-con­fi­dent designers.”

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