Those who can connect ideas and people are becoming indispensable, writes Camelia Ram
Historically, the expert would seek to prove that her choice was best under all circumstances. Today, it is common to find experts who help decision-makers understand the circumstances in which choices work best – and where they are most vulnerable. Consequently, experts are being drawn outside their area of deep expertise to learn more about the changing conditions in which their proposed solutions must sit.
Integrators can facilitate and accelerate such learning by educating experts and their stakeholders on what they don’t know that they don’t know. They help foster growth based on a clear understanding of what is needed to drive value. They can simultaneously operate at strategic levels to be a credible business partner, and at operational levels to deliver results while paying attention to detail.
Some roles naturally lend themselves as integrators. Take, for example, the ecosystem of people management, where the objective is to match organizational need with the supply of talent to have people in the right place at the right time. A cocktail of individual capability, personal motivation and organizational fit is required. The complexity of this mix means that no one knows in advance whether a hire will materialize or not. The HR business partner, the chief of staff and the recruiting agent are well-placed to connect ideas and people, creating the space for compelling people-management solutions to be created and delivered.
The organizational integrator
In organizations with leading-edge people practices, HR business partners are trusted advisers to executives. They regularly provide key management information on recruitment and attrition, employee engagement, and learning and development initiatives. They make recommendations on organizational changes to enhance performance. They achieve this by partnering with their business stakeholders and centres of expertise in compensation, acquisition and talent to create relevant strategies to drive productivity, and to share and scale best practices. In so doing, HR business partners translate business requirements into people requirements, using insights on people to inform readiness to change and ways to bridge critical execution gaps.
The leadership integrator
The chief of staff is generally tasked with helping a leader identify business priorities. To achieve this, they must understand how to distil strategic priorities into everyday detail, but must also be flexible. Like HR business partners, they are in regular contact with leaders so are well-placed to influence outcomes based on a unique understanding of the leader’s objectives, personal preferences and dynamics of their environment. They often build bridges across functions and regions to align stakeholders on why, what, how and when.
The talent integrator
Even though they lack a formal role inside the organization to influence people management, recruiting agents are constantly learning about what leaders in an organization and/or industry are buying, and not buying. As a result, they can build a rich, reliable picture of how a CV may be received. Agents can therefore provide advice to candidates on the extent to which they are likely to meet the requirements of an employer, helping target and prepare the application for submission to improve its likelihood of acceptance. Agents can then navigate the complexities of joining the new employer and negotiating an exit from their current one. They also have an intimate understanding of a candidate that the hiring manager does not. They can use this to advise leaders on candidate attributes that may help or hinder organization objectives over time; highlight blind spots in what the organization may be looking for; and challenge assumptions about what is required. Similarly, hiring managers will build a profile of the type of CVs an agent is likely to submit. By acting as an advocate for the candidate, and a bridge between the candidate and hiring organization, the agent can deliver value to both parties.
Integrators for change
In an era where disruption is ubiquitous, these roles are understated in their importance to frame the transformation journey and steward the organization through change. Despite the threats posed by automation and self-service recruitment through, for example, LinkedIn, these integrator roles continue to stand the test of time and are being reshaped to provide more strategic advice alongside tactical delivery. Facilitators, literary agents, project leaders and production designers play similar integrator roles in their respective sectors.
The skillsets embedded in integrator roles will be increasingly in demand as complexity and uncertainty increases. Integrators are mediators who open and improve dialogue, often translating requirements and finding common ground to help reach agreement on solutions that will work in different circumstances. They are coaches, listening to what others need and asking questions to help individuals uncover solutions themselves. At their core, they are comfortable with ambiguity and actively look for opportunities to learn – so they become more effective at connecting ideas and people.
Those with deep expertise can develop these skills themselves so that their knowledge has a better chance of practically addressing challenges. However, this will come at a cost to developing specialist knowledge. They would instead do well to enlist the help of integrators to help position them effectively in an organization, to help them navigate stakeholder landscapes and ultimately raise the profile of their contribution. Building these relationships requires trust in the unique capabilities that each brings. This can be deepened by finding quick wins from partnerships, and working through obstacles together.