Whole Brain HCM: Knocking Down Software Silos and Solving for Industries

Before discussing human capital management, let’s discuss the C-suite.

There’s a domain of the C-suite fixated on orderliness, efficiencies, productivity, and mathematical measurement, and there’s a domain galvanized by people, creativity, inspiration, and emotionality. The first is the C-suite’s left brain, and the other is its right brain. For organizational success, the economics of our day demand all these preoccupations. Someone on the spectrum of autism may bring much indispensable, focused, unique value to a mission-critical project, yes. An artist may also. But an organization’s leadership singularly focused in just one of these or other ways falters. The C-suite that concentrates an inordinate portion of its energy in the proclivities of the left brain or the right will fail to function as a brain should—as an integrated, balanced organism paying attention to the totality of reality, which brains perceive as a consequence of their design. And don’t fool yourself. The C-suite is your organization’s brain.

The Anthropomorphizing of HCM Silos

Just two years ago, Accenture decided to give this idea a name, whole brain leadership, and these companies perform better financially. “C-suite teams that proactively embrace and promote whole-brain approaches in their companies yield better financial outcomes than those that don’t,” Accenture notes.

We’ll blog here another time on the relevance of this to concrete and abstract HCM. In the meantime, here’s a big question that I have. Why would the concept of whole brain leadership not be applicable to the conventional structure of HCM suites?

Let’s look at the parts of HCM as opposed to the whole thing first. Think of the HCM suite as akin, metaphorically, to the C-suite in that it comprises several areas of focus concentrated in various roles. In this analogy, every conventional silo of HCM functionality is an anthropomorphized, different role in that C-suite. Going with this concept, you’d have the chief of payroll, chief of scheduling, chief of performance management, chief of talent acquisition, and so on, for every conventional silo there is. The CHRO would be overseeing all this under the discipline of HCM — and, indeed, does.

Do you see the similitude now?

HCM Silos as Hammers, Employers as Nails

Do you have solutions finding a problem to solve? Or do you figure out what the problem is first, and then solve for it? May I suggest, ever so humbly, that it’s a good idea to refrain from assuming the solution until we know precisely what the problem is?

As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, then every problem will look like a nail. Replace “have” with “know.” When your HCM solution comprises modules, and those modules are core HR, time and attendance, scheduling, benefits administration, a suite of talent management (e.g., performance management, compensation management, succession planning, onboarding), talent acquisition, and — possibly — a learning management system, your customers and prospects will be nails. Your reflex will be to figure out how one or more of these modules can solve their problems.

Vendors may think these modules make sense for today—as if there’s a sound rationale to design and divide the software’s abilities into these longstanding predefined areas of functionality. But they’re just predefined by a bygone time when our circumstances meant we needed these definitions.

Take talent management, for example. It exists, but nowhere close to its original vision. The talent management of today merges, mixes, matches, stacks, and collocates the conventional silos of onboarding, talent acquisition, learning, performance management, succession planning, and compensation management in ways the original creators of these artificial domains of HCM and the enterprise ecosystem would never have fathomed. It’s not their fault, but why are we still applying old silo definitions to these new ways of influencing the employee experience? Emancipate the employee experience from the concept of talent management and its components. Make a new taxonomy of the human experience at work. Make it flexible enough to reflect our modern understanding of the spectral expression of people’s work experience. Label corresponding, modern software in ways that support the new thinking.

Whole Brain HCM: Solving for Industries, Not for Silos

We need whole brain HCM. When we fixate on conventional areas of focus, we unnecessarily compartmentalize HCM. Modern technologies have revealed dynamic possibilities to leaders, and the evolution of thinking (and labeling) is following. Just as an organization would want its various C-level leaders to act as one, as one C-suite brain, so too should the various silos of HCM work together, as a whole HCM brain. Set aside for the moment the idea of getting rid of conventional silos and the names for them. We should get rid of them. Before we do, however, we can still look at them as constituting a single organism to be marshaled as one. And, once we do this, we can begin solving for the idiosyncrasies of any individual business and respond effectively with Whole Brain HCM.

Beyond the inflexibility of viewing HCM as silo-premised, there’s further inflexibility in viewing HCM as being essentially the same for all industries. It’s not. The differences are pronounced, and solving for them is a great way to begin practicing Whole Brain HCM.

Consider any organization employing mostly salaried staff versus a business in manufacturing or retailing. The calculus guiding the approach to managing the employment of their people is vastly different from one of these kinds of organizations to the next. Or, consider healthcare, where determining and coordinating shifts for nursing staff and fir doctors is so complex that there are best-of-breed vendors of software for this exclusively, just for health care organizations. Now, consider further that these solutions themselves are a silo-centric application of solutions for HCM, where HCM can be whole-brained. That point solutions will persist is true, yes, and it’s incumbent on leaders in HCM to practice Whole Brain HCM even as they look to solve for their needs from multiple sources.

Keeping it Real

When it comes to approaching HCM through this lens, with an industry-focused mindset, several vendors are moving in this general direction. Two come immediately to mind. Their teams recently spoke with us and delved into this a bit. Plus, it’s right there in the web search results, as the screenshots show.

One is Paycor. The vendor goes as far as to employ staff with experience and expertise specifically in the industries that comprise the majority of its customer base — manufacturing, healthcare, retail and restaurants — and assigns these people to account management and customer success accordingly.

Another is Infor, an enterprise-wide software provider. Infor is especially throwing its energy behind solving for the healthcare industry‘s very particular needs. What’s additionally notable about Infor’s potential here is the vendor’s full enterprise suite. Enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning, among other domains, can work in concert with HCM in highly beneficial ways specifically for healthcare deployments.


I’ve read that, in some industries, most entrepreneurs are almost entirely right-brained and become CEOs to the benefit or detriment of their creations. And I’ve read that overly left-brained CEOs are a similar mixed bag. It depends on an organization’s circumstances, sure. Most of the time, however, a CEO must be adept at appreciating and integrating everything he or she hears from the many corners of the C-suite, the business disciplines they represent, and the people downstream working in those various disciplines, throughout the organization. The most brilliant will exhibit an uncommon level of this proficiency in several domains sufficiently spanning left-brain and right-brain interests. The point is that there’s always a place to start, and origins can be exciting and necessary, but they don’t always get us to a successful future. An agile organization’s leaders adjust to become whole-brained as it matures, and, similarly, we should adjust to think of HCM as whole-brained, not a mere collection of silos, so it can meet modern expectations for the employee experience.

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