It is a case reflection on how a solution focused mentoring process was used to build organisation design competency at United Consult.
By Andrea Jurecska and Elvira Kalmár
United Consult is a leading software development and IT consulting firm in Hungary. It was founded 21 years ago and still managed by the founders. The number of the staff has grown over the years to over 300 people. In the new strategy, they are envisioning a dynamic growth by 2025.
The management of the company was to strengthen the HR team, and its activities will be key to enabling this growth, so a new management position was created, the Head of HR.
In this case reflection, we would like to share with you our one-year journey together: Andrea Jurecska as the newly recruited Head of HR, and Elvira Kalmar, her mentor on this journey.
As a result of this journey, Andrea can be proud of:
the HR team, that is connected by its shared values
the competency level of the team, which ensures being accepted and acknowledged company-wise
having a very clear HR strategy and the continuous delivery of its promises
being an HR leader, who is an Internal Organisation Designer as well: first able to redesign HR, and now is ready to support the company’s redesign as it grows.
As a result of this process, we can also conclude a few things about OD:
Organisation development and design do not have to be event-based (no workshops, training, team coachings were needed).
Having your organization design process supported as a leader by mentoring is not just a cost effective way to have support, but makes the process more personalised, practical, and effective.
The organisation's ability to move forward gives the rhythm of the process, and not the OD project milestones.
HR can inspire the rest of the organisation by starting with themselves: understanding the challenges better, and the possibilities, will enable them to support the rest better (ex. like the oxygen mask on the planes).
The leaders of the future need to have futureproof knowledge, and Organization design is one of them. To be able to understand complexity, having the ability to redesign and readjust fast to changing needs, is a must nowadays.
This case is also a great example to show, you can not stop to change: transformation is a continuous process of evolution.
HR can, and should, deal with hard issues as well: strategy creation, operating model review and value creating process reviews should be in its OD portfolio, and just team-building and collaboration-strengthening.
The new strategic HR role: aligning all parts of the organisation to the business strategy, that is organisation design.
Tha maturity of the HR team will either pull back or push forward the whole organisation: it is a better role to run ahead and inspire colleagues with a good example.
A lot of changes can happen within a year, even when in the process it seems we are not moving fast enough.
So let us share more details with you about what has happened, and how the solution focused mentoring could support Andrea on her journey.
The arrival of the new Head of HR
Andrea arrived with her corporate HR leadership background from the financial sector into a dynamically growing medium sized IT company.
Andrea: I have felt we are having a very good understanding of each other with the CEO already at the job interview, and they needed the experiences that I had worked previously in an agile organisation, being an Employer Branding specialist, and having many years experience in recruitment.
Although, we have contracted for fine tuning the HR processes, soon I had to realise, we might have misunderstood each other. There was a much bigger gap between the current practices and the preferred future we have been talking about. This meant not just fine tuning, but re-creating HR at a very different level.
There was no company strategy with no HR strategy in place, and the good practices of HR that I found, were mainly focusing on the community building aspect of HR, rather than providing the foundations to the exponential growth.
I had to realise that staying on a strategic level and just giving direction might not be enough in the beginning. I had to dig myself deep into the operations as soon as I arrived, if I wanted to make sure our HR is built on solid legs. I have seen many different HR operations in many different companies, but I was also very sure that bringing in best practices from elsewhere will not be the solution to the ambitious growth of the company. This requires an HR that stands on stable feet, will be structured, planned, but agile at the same time, while quickly able to respond and redesign. From the firefighting strategy of the HR, we need to move to a human centric, business centric, and an adaptive operation, while keeping the core values of the organisation, and creating a great employee experience.
Personally, the biggest challenge was to maintain my boundaries: to have enough time to get to know the organisation and not to be buried in day-to-day tasks right at the beginning. So I have put together a ten-question interview for my first meeting with the business leaders to be able to better understand their challenges. I have understood that the expectation towards me is to create an HR strategy, the operating model of HR, build a great team, new products, processes, and systems all at the same time. I have to admit, this all seemed a bit overwhelming.
The role of the mentor in my arrival
Andrea: I have already had great experiences with coaching, and I was convinced I need external support right from the beginning to be able to sort all this out. My biggest hope was that I will get help in maneuvering in this complex situation, supported by someone who can expand my horizon about what is possible, and who can understand the needs of a growing company. Someone I can trust and share my dilemmas with. It is well known the higher you arrive in a hierarchy, the lonelier you get in the organisation. I needed someone who could support me and challenge me in my new role and help me develop, all at the same time. Not just the industry, the company size, but the head of HR position were all new to me. I wanted someone with whom my values and approaches are similar, and the solution focused approach was closest to me.
What does it require to get a coach or mentor during the trial period?
Elvira: Newly appointed executive leaders usually want to prove themselves so much during their probationary period, that it doesn't even occur to them to ask for coaching or mentoring support. I was most impressed by Andrea’s dedication and commitment to have it approved within the first weeks that we could contract and start our work. Since then Andrea is not my only newly appointed Head of HR client where I could accompany them on their journey in creating a new HR strategy, operating model and creating a committed HR team step-by-step on the way.
Andrea: Of course the CEO asked me why my knowledge is not enough, but as I have already understood from my interviews, that the business needs better, and I could form the case for the specialist organization development and design knowledge we needed.
Elvira’s professional and industrial background was a guarantee on one hand, and on the other hand, having mentoring instead of traditional OD consulting is a very cost effective way of bringing in OD knowledge into the company: tailor made knowledge transfer- we get only what we need, but in a very practical form. When I had dilemmas I have got good questions from my mentor or stories she or her clients experienced in a similar situation. As the company wanted fast solutions, I’ve got the green light.
Mentoring as an OD tool
Looking back to our process we can clearly differentiate 4 phases of the mentoring process:
The probation period: the first 3 months
The settling time: when the team members and structure changed until it became clear who will be staying and be part of the implementation of the strategic goals.
The fine tuning of the team: a continuous development of the operations on a team level. How can we do this better?
Supporting the company in its transformation
Phase I. - The Probationary period (September 1 - December 1, 2020. )
Elvira: At first we contracted only for the 3 months of the probationary period. Being a solution focused practitioner I always contract for the preferred outcome or preferred future: what would Andrea like to conclude by the end of the 3 months?
The CEO had a very clear expectation of preparing the new HR strategy by then, but there were other focuses as well. Andrea summed them up like this:
Arriving and integrating well into the management team where most of them are having a long history behind them: not to compete with the 20 years of friendships, but create a feeling of belonging based on my professional contribution
Building a good connection with my team, supporting their professional competency development so we have the basis to move to a more self-organised way of working
Understanding the aims, goals, strategy and operation of the organization to create an HR strategy that enables the organisation to grow
Andrea: Already at this point, it became very clear that I might not even have had dreamt this big for the first three months. In the beginning, I felt I had to choose between these goals, and not in a million years would I have thought to tackle all 3 of them in parallel. Looking back from a year's time, I see this was a key moment: not to choose between them or create a priority list, but to give equal importance was key.
We also have identified my long term success criterias as building a #flexible, #experimental #partnering HR, where HR understands the business, it is a creative HUB, where we experiment with new things to become #trendsetters within the organisation and on the market too by creating an engaged organisation with the #experiencefocused approach.
Elvira: During the mentoring, we have followed all three tracks in parallel, however every time we worked with the topic Andrea had questions and dilemmas with.
The first three months brought lots of ad hoc tasks, firefighting situations, conflicts. Staying flexible, adaptive, building a close connection to the HR team turned out to be crucial while the HR strategy got finalized parallel with the business Strategy.
The 4 pillars of the HR strategy were:
Creating stable foundations: for the exponential growth by laying down the foundation processes on HR
Securing Human Resources: in the paste of the business growth
Strengthening Employee Engagement and building a compelling Employer Brand and Experience
Building the agile foundations: of the HR operation
The mentoring sessions took place weekly, which lasted for an hour, and Andrea met with her team members for 1:1 weekly also.
The solution focused mentoring tools we used in this phase:
Defining the Preferred Future: What would you like to be proud of at the end of your probationary period? We have contracted for achieving this.
Monitoring progress: What has become better since the last meeting? In what way did you step closer to the preferred future? This was the standard beginning of every mentoring session.
Scaling: where are you now on a scale from 1-10? What is already there? What will be different when you move a step closer to 10? Raising continuous awareness was one of the most important tools about the preferred future and the progress made towards.
Contracting for every session: What would you like to do/see differently by the end of this session? How can I help you best in it, coaching or mentoring? Shall I ask questions, or tell you stories from my experience?
Organisation design tools used in this phase:
Withholding: not overtaking the business strategy with the creation of the HR Strategy: it is a sub-strategy that has to support the business strategy.
Form follows function: withholding the operation model creation until the HR strategy is approved.
Reinforcement of the HR team members and building confidence and connections to support in the future self-organisation
By the end of the probationary time, Andrea has achieved all her best hopes, and even maybe a little more: all this during the COVID restrictions and mainly working from home.
Phase II. - The Unsettling to Settling Time (January - May 2021.)
The focus of this period:
Creating the operating model of HR that will enable them to achieve the ambitious strategic goals
Now that the HR strategy was clear and approved, the implementation could start. Although, it was not a unique case, it created many tensions and conflicts that the overworked team felt the tasks coming from the strategy are an extra layer of work on top of their daily workload.
Andrea: I made sure that the team was involved in the creation process of the HR strategy, so they could shape it and therefore I was not prepared for the low morale that emerged the moment we tried to find who will be responsible for which strategic projects. My expectations and the company's needs were not met at all with the level of tasks the team could imagine to complete. This escalated to the level of personal conflicts and back-stabbing using old relationships to the executive team members questioning even the relevance of the HR strategy and my leadership and professional competencies.
As a result of this turbulent time, the team has changed significantly in this period and only 2 colleagues stayed from the original 7. At the time, I felt everything was moving, nothing went as planned, every situation needed special attention. I had people joining the HR team from within the company, others were new recruits, some left the team and stayed in the company, and others left for good.
It also became very clear in this period, that the structure I have inherited with HR will not be willing to enable us to fulfill our vision, and with every step, it has become clear that we need to connect to the business directly and with a dedicated person with the recruitment team and with the engagement team as well. This way, we could be closer to them, sense and understand their needs better, and also collect information and feedback on our strategic projects that will enable the organization in the long term to grow.
I have brought new competency into the team as well, that fits into the ‘𝝅 and m’ shape models. My team members had generic, wide scale HR competencies, and in 1-2 topics expert level knowledge. The new colleagues created a partnership with the business fast, and we could provide a wider range of support to the satisfaction of the business leaders with agility, flexibility towards them, and also within the team.
In the end, this was a great opportunity for me to rethink the profiles of the people I need, and to build my own team with people who represent the same professional ideas, so that we could create the new HR function where we are all connected and led by the vision and the strategy.
In this phase the mentorings were happening biweekly for an hour.
The mentoring tools used in this phase:
Working with the topics the client brings to the session and supporting him/her to build confidence to take a step forward. As there were many tensions, conflicts in this period, this was even more important.
However, turbulent the period was keeping the attention on the signs of progress, steps made forward and on the opportunities arising amidst the difficulties.
Keeping the focus on staying in a leadership role focusing on finding who is responsible for what and what support they need to be able to complete the work and avoiding doing it instead of them.
Offering stories in similar situations in my leadership roles and showing the parallel how often with the arrival of a new leader is completely normal, that not everybody can feel aligned with the new values, goals, new ways of operation and this does not mean the new leader is not doing a good job but more that this direction is not for everyone. Often people can not see it like this and take the conflicts to a personal level, where simply a recontracting phase is happening, and it is not a must for everyone to recontract. We have faced a few of these situations in this period.
Organization design tools used in this phase:
Clarifying ‘What is the work we need to complete’? With the clarification of the strategic goals for HR it has become clear what is the work that needs to be done. This work was not on top of the task they did so far, but the work itself had to change. Realising these goals is the new work and how we do it will be also different than before. This took some time for some team members to understand- and has been the root cause of the conflicts that arose.
Defining the new operating model: how can we stay close to our customers and be reactive to their needs so we are not just working on implementing our strategic topics (waterfall approach), but have a good connection and relationship with our clients to understand their current challenges and react to them in our strategic projects too (agile approach).
Defining the structure: How are we going to group the task so that we create meaningful, challenging roles that creates collaboration within the team and keeps us connected to our client’s real needs?
Phase III. - The fine tuning of the team (June-July 2021.)
The focus of this phase:
Fine tuning the operations of the HR team
Besides clarifying the roles fine tuning the collaboration between the roles
Experimenting with an agile, self-organising way of working
Andrea: After the many changes, finally the team was complete by June. We started holding retrospectives, and continuously improving how we are working together. By this time, the role and tool boxes of the business partners have been expanded. We have dedicated plenty of time to reflect and discuss issues that were challenging us. We made sure we improved and we have learnt from these. We used positive feedback and celebrating successes: we could cry and celebrate together.
The diversity of the team had many advantages and also meant we had different working habits we needed to harmonise.
We embarked on our agile journey: working in 3 months planning phases and 2 weeks sprints using the planner, one of our team members fulfills the scrum master role besides her other roles. We hold demo events, regular retrospectives, and we continuously redefine who is doing what depending on the deliverables of the quarter.
Mentorings were happening on-demand in this period: once a month on average.
Organisation design tools in this phase:
Fine tuning the team work: how can we do this better is a continuous question and a constant quest of the team
Agile tools on demand: offering only tools what were needed for the team to do their work better
Facilitating a retrospective (to demonstrate) and preparation for the planning meeting together with the scrum master (mentoring)
Phase IV.- Supporting the company in its transformation (10 months after the arrival of the Head of HR - from august 2021.)
Andrea: The transformation of the organization started before my arrival. In fact, my role was created as a result of the early steps of this transformation. It was aiming to shift the management of the company to a new level. My previous experiences in agile transformations and change management were some of the competencies the company was looking for in the new HR leader. It became very clear that until my team, the HR team, is not sorted out, we can not efficiently support the changes in the company either. By the time we got to this phase the strong collaboration and connection between the business and HR was visible, the trust towards us and towards what we represented was tangible. So, it was time to start the process on a company level.
Org. Design tools used in this phase:
Mentoring the CEO and Andrea together to prepare them for their first leadership offsite: using the star model focusing on the first steps of realigning the Purpose and the strategic intent and plans, reviewing and redefining the Operating Model and the Design Principles of the organization so that it will be able to carry out the intentions/plans. The event was facilitated by the CEO.
Joint reflection where this workshop is in the process of their transformation process and what should and can happen on a 2 day offsite of the new management team. What would be the impact of these 2 days in their best hopes? Supporting them with workshop ideas I have used with other similar situations, but leaving the choices to them to define what suits them best: at the end of the day they can lead a 300 people company, surely they can facilitate an offsite.
Elvira: It is one of the most motivating things for me to work with leaders who do not want to ‘delegate the responsibility’ of a workshop or a transformation process to an outsider, but rather invest time and money to equip themselves with the tools and knowledge they need to use to achieve their best hopes. With 2 times 1 hour investment they have prepared for the workshop and concluded it with success.
In this whole one year process both Andrea and the CEO did not want to ‘outsource the responsibility’ of redesigning their team or organisation, but having a mentor helped them to expand their horizon and toolbox in the moments they felt they needed it.
In the meantime Andrea invested into completing our Go Beyond Project: Native in change course, so she is fully equipped to support the growth of United Consult in a new HR role, where HR is there at every level of the company to support its growth and redesign. She has not only learnt solution focused organization development and design, but also sharpened her mentoring skills, so she can support the business leaders in a similar way she got supported on her redesign journey by her mentor, Elvira.
Here you can read more about the international accredited course where we teach you all these tools and the mentoring skills: