How HR can become a game-changer

I was fascinated by some research that came out last week on the DNA of ‘Game-changers’ – those people who are ahead of the curve, not afraid to step outside of the norm, and have the ability to drive real change.

The survey by talent firm eg.1 suggests that although these ‘idea generators’ and ‘risk takers’ can have a huge impact on business success – and indeed survival – they are often overlooked by organisations, both internally and when it comes to recruitment.

Perhaps this is because they are not necessarily the most comfortable people to deal with? Although organisations often say they want people to be innovative and creative, the reality is that managers can feel threatened by employees who are constantly pushing the boundaries and generally trying to shake up ‘the way we do things around here’.

HR clearly has a role to play in making sure that recruitment and talent processes are not inadvertently ruling out game-changing individuals. But HR people also have the potential to become game-changers themselves.

So what are some of the key characteristics of this special breed of people and how can HR practitioners develop and apply these qualities to the way they approach their role?

Big Picture Thinkers 

Game-changers are able to rise above the detail and look beyond their immediate environment. The HR people who will make a real difference are those who are able to develop a deep understanding of how the world of work is changing, what’s happening in their own wider market or industry, and how technology might change the way products and services are developed and delivered. It is this level of foresight that will enable them to develop the innovative people strategies their organisations will need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

One action to take this week: Read the CIPD’s Megatrends report on the future of work.

Strategic Approach

HR teams often don’t have the time and space to think strategically; they are typically poorly resourced and stretched just to deliver the day-to-day tactical stuff. Developments in HR technology are, however, giving the profession the opportunity to step away from the admin and concentrate on activities that add real value. Practitioners who want to be in with a real chance of changing the game need to make sure they are clear about the direction the organisation is headed in so they can ask the difficult and challenging people-related questions, and develop HR strategies that are truly aligned with business priorities.

One action to take this week: Find out when the board are having their next strategy meeting and ask if you can sit in.

Creative Idea Generators

Creativity is embedded in the DNA of a ‘game-changer’. Look around the profession and you will be able to spot these ‘bright sparks’. They are the people who are on the conference platforms, in the pages of the HR press and on social media sharing leading-edge initiatives and stimulating debate about new ways of doing things. What these people have in common is curiosity and passion. They are able to look at what is happening outside their ‘HR bubble’ and see how developments in other professions and industries might be applied to the practice of managing people. They favour collaboration over competition and are willing to exchange ideas with others and share their passion for forging a new path.

One action to take this week: Arrange to have coffee with an HR colleague from a completely different industry. What are they doing that you could learn from?


Game-changers understand that risks are sometimes worth taking – and that if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. HR is often seen as a risk averse profession; they are the people who follow the processes and stick rigidly to the rules. It is of course important to have policies in place to guide people and to comply with legislation, but the HR people who have the courage to push the boundaries – trying a different approach to recruitment or experimenting with new ways of rewarding people, for example – are the ones whose influence will be felt on the ground.

One action to take this week: Experiment with a new, non-monetary way of rewarding outstanding performance.

Strong Influencers

HR has traditionally struggled to make its voice heard – both in the boardroom and with managers on the front-line. ‘Game-changers’ understand the need to sharpen and bring a greater level of sophistication to their influencing skills. It’s about talking to senior leaders in the language of business and finance, convincing line managers that HR can be a help rather than the hindrance it is often perceived as, and having the confidence to exploit the latest developments in internal social media to engage directly with employees.

One action to take this week: Book a place on an influencing skills course to improve your techniques.

As eg.1 CEO Nathan Ott says: “Game changers are wired differently to other people; they have a specific ‘DNA’. They are willing to put their neck on the line and take risks, they are the idea generators that all great leaders need to help develop sound strategies and run a sustainable business.”

Are you an HR game changer? Let us know how you are making a real difference in your business.

You may be interested in reading our article on five TEDx Talks for HR people looking to up their game.

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