The Four Turnings – Why HRs time to lead is written in the cycles of change

28 June 2022

by Perry Timms

Founder & Chief Energy Officer, PTHR

Humanitarian HR 2022 conference opening keynote speaker Perry Timms shares his reality check of the big changes facing HR workers in 2022 and beyond. Aid organisations must support their staff in the new world of work, so that they can provide the accountable and effective aid that people affected by crisis deserve.

There are SO many things currently challenging any sense of normal in the world that we may either shut down trying to comprehend them or be overwhelmed and feel a little hopeless in facing wars, climate disaster, economic fragility, cost of living crises, Governmental misdemeanours and societal inequality and unrest.

Reality check

Looking at this long list of (pretty) catastrophic instances in the world can set a dour tone. However, it is also showing us that such broken systems, present us with an incredible opportunity.

Cycles of change

Research from the USA by William Strauss and Neil Howe into huge waves of change had produced an interesting phenomenon and pattern. 20-year blocks of shifts in society, science, technology and life that had a striking cyclical nature. Now, generational theorists will jump on this immediately as proof that Gen X, Y etc are real. It’s another phenomenon but not as simplistic as some would have you believe in the media stereotypes that have become overly-cliched labels for age groups. Yet these Four Turnings do starkly show us that human beings (seemingly making the same mistakes as previous generations) are part of 4 cycles of change:

  • Highs (new discoveries);
  • Awakenings (equalising, campaigning);
  • Unravelling (crashes, societal shifts);
  • Crisis (war, collapse, revolution).

No guesses for where we are now!

Against these four cycles of change (in 20-year blocks) we can even see how work has changed over similar blocks.

  • State-controlled; Free markets; Tech/Unicorns; Conscious Businesses.
  • Men exclusively; Men dominantly; Women more inclusively; Anyone.
  • Factory; Office; Internet/Digitised; Automated & Anywhere

And in HR:

  • Welfare and Industrial Relations
  • Personnel and People Administration
  • Business Partner and Centres of Excellence[Text Wrapping Break]
  • Activist, Analyst, Meaning-Maker; Developer


So our journey is still one of an uncertain future. What IS next as the calling for HR and People Professionals?

In the HRZone published State of HR Report signs were there:

  1. HR as the Prophet and Sage (Enlightenment, Wisdom and Relativity)
  2. HR as the Hero and Merchant (Value, Virtue and Venerability)
  3. HR as the Nomad and Networker (Transience, Versatility, Connectivity)
  4. HR as the Artist and Warrior (Imagination, Pioneering, Protection)

Now we won’t see these in any Job Board or Description anytime soon, but they do talk to “sensibilities” more than competencies. We need to have a sense of all of these things in our work in HR and increasingly – and thankfully not all at once usually – they are in play because of the organisations we work with and the people we support and enable to do the work of that organisation.

Value creation

Mapping this into something of tangible value is possibly the hardest part. How do we show a value of imagination and versatility when they’re so amorphous and difficult to define let alone measure?

The answer comes in a more sophisticated lens on value – or rather 6 lenses:

  • Human
  • Social
  • Intellectual
  • Material
  • Natural and
  • Financial

From Oxford Said Business School Professor Colin Meyer’s Prosperity work.

And all of this combines into the need to Reinvent HR. But how do we do that?

Reimagine meaning – helping people answer the existential question “What matters about the work I do?”

Revitalise leadership – how do leaders focus not just on results but show compelling clarity in their vision, help people make choices that add value and show compassion that they care about the planet, people, communities and economic fragility

Revise modelling for HR – more versatility with enhanced focus; more agility with strong stability and a range of paradoxes to manage.

Revolutionise impact – Identified organisational-level capabilities (which are then aligned to individual skills and competencies) needed to deliver a business strategy in line with its technology, intellectual property and material assets mapped to Prosperity measures.

Revampe operating – Agile, Inclusive, Capacity-creating systems

Rev-up teams – Five Crucial Factors for teams are: a compelling direction; a strong structure; a supportive context; competent coaching and being a truly united team of people.

And finally,

Refresh your gameplan:

  • Build your collective intelligence: Business, People, Performance, Culture = Value
  • Create that compelling direction, together: from your intelligence
  • Craft that supercharged strategy for People, Culture and Performance
  • Enlist leaders, players and participants to design, develop and deliver the strategy.
  • Maximise your Agile capabilities to optimise your capacity, inclusion & choices for the team.
  • Align, assess and accentuate the value creation, outcomes and impact of the strategy.
  • Review, adjust and go again…

Closing with a new turning

What happened in my HHR2022 session may dissipate with time, or it may tip the balance towards another turning. A fresh block. A new dawn and era.

The revered technologist from Canada, Don Tapscott once said “This is not an information age, it’s an age of networked intelligence”.

And the sense for HR is that this profession as a networked, intelligent people profession is our next turning.

To watch Timm’s keynote session, or the other thought disrupting speakers on the future of HR in aid, it’s not too late to sign up for the HHR2022 conference that took place 7-9 June. While the live conference is over, all the sessions recordings and are available via Hopin, even to new registrations.