“Adapt, or Else” is the title of a recent New York Times article about AT&T, but it could easily have been about any corporation in the country. Companies face shorter lifespans because they fail to adapt to the increasing complexity of the business environment. A guiding principle for survival shared by AT&T CEO, Randall Stephenson is that “there is a need to retool yourself and you should not expect to stop.” In recent conversations with HR leaders, I’ve observed the impact of today’s business environment on HR.

HR executives are increasingly supporting the reinvention of the business, while facing their own challenges in adapting to the new normal of constant change and the need for radically new solutions. Another way to think of this is “does the cobbler’s children have shoes?” HR is often busy facilitating the business through transformation and making them more agile, but have they been able to do this for themselves? This is “Cobbler’s Children Syndrome” –the proverbial children of the shoemaker who go without shoes.

In exploring this ground and developing my own perspective on HR agility, I came across the question –“Are you future agile?” It was posed twenty years ago by HR giants Bob Eichinger and David Ulrich in Human Resource Planning magazine. In that article they shared a list of the essential HR skills of the time. In the table below you can see their list compared to a current view provided through the lens of Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report. It’s interesting to assess if there are any potential skills gaps on your team. How is your HR organization keeping up?


Bob Aubrey, author of Measure of Man: Leading Human Development, suggests: “The difference between the day-to-day work of HR professionals and the need to have professionals who can anticipate, strategize and invent creative solutions for fundamental social changes constitutes one of the most important gaps in management development today.”

There are going to be many unknowns that HR professionals face in the future, so equipping them to adapt –to be agile, will be critical.

In the latest Deloitte Human Capital Trends report of 7000 business and HR leaders across 130 countries it became clear that digital technology, demographics and rapid innovation are causing companies to focus on understanding and creating a shared culture, designing a work environment that engages people and constructing new models of leadership and career development. This radical change in the world of work will have an impact on organizational structure and talent strategies.

It was found that half the respondents are either planning a restructure or in the middle of one and that even though 92% of companies need to redesign their organization, only 14% are ready to do it effectively. Only 21% feel confident in building cross-functional teams.

This means HR has a new role in the new world…they have to tool up to create a culture of collaboration, empowerment and innovation. My belief is that if we, as HR practitioners, want to create the capability to change in the organizations we serve, we must first do that for ourselves…give the cobbler’s children some shoes.

-Anita Bhasin

Anita is the founder and CEO of Sage Ways. Connect with Anita at anita@sagewaysconsulting.com to share your views on current trends in HR and learn more about HR Agility.