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The Architect

The direct solution isn’t always the most effective. As Carina Konza CPHR found out,
sometimes the answer is to take a step back and reimagine.

Smart business ideas, even minor ones, are almost never obvious. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a flash of brilliance it’s difficult to plan out transformation. Even for a simple notion, like improving efficiency, where do you even start? It’s all too easy to mistake an effect for a cause. Are meetings too long because of the way they’re structured, or is there a more dire underlying issue with company communication? Even after you correctly identify a problem, it’s hard to figure out the best solution. While working at the Treasury, Carina Konza CPHR was facing a similar issue. She was in AHRI’s Practising Certification program and the final unit requires individuals to find an in-business project to prove their HR capabilities. They need to identify something to improve, understand it, develop a plan, and come up with a data-driven way to measure the plan’s success.


Basically, they need a smart business idea. For Konza, this was a chance to think big. “I saw the upcoming capstone project as a real opportunity to do something that was related to my role but wasn’t something I’d planned on. Something different that would have a real impact on the organisation that I might not otherwise have the chance to do.”

Konza found the germ of an idea in a series of indicators that suggested staff were seeking more engagement with their managers and leaders. Some of these indicators were from obvious places – such as survey results and feedback from senior leaders – but information was also coming from less obvious sources. Konza would be in an employee consultation session or in a talk on workforce strategy and, in side-conversations, employees would signal they wanted more visible and engaging management-led leadership. All these indications were effects but what was the cause? Konza had other information she was working on that told her she shouldn’t come at this from the normal perspective. The HR team were taking on a lot of management tasks, and senior leaders were feeling the need to defer back to HR for assistance because they weren't empowered to make decisions.

“A lot of people say that if you want to improve how leadership works, that’s a capability issue. Now, this project wasn’t saying that leadership doesn’t need capability development, that was part of the recommendation. But if you develop people’s capability and your system puts up barriers to them being able to perform, then all that development will never be successful. My project took a different approach. It was a systems perspective on a leadership problem.” Konza felt a new HR architecture was needed. To maximise long term impacts, she wanted to change how things were done at a structural level. “It was a cultural change around shifting the accountability and responsibility back to managers; getting managers to manage employees and getting HR to value-adding work – helping with strategic workforce issues. I think we were leaning a bit too far towards hand-holding and potentially doing the managers job.” 

So Konza had her idea, now she needed a business proposal. Her first step was to map the existing architecture, which she did by sticky taping every HR policy document the organisation had to a wall. Remembering the text-ridden wallpaper she ended up with, she laughs. Rather than also mapping the purpose of those policies by function, she tried to see how they fit in with the  employee lifestyle model. “It’s about asking, what is the lived experience of an employee or manager? You think about how you want a customer to receive services rather than how you want to deliver them, and are therefore better able to do a gap analysis.”

To complete that analysis, she worked with HR colleagues, asking them what they thought was missing and what could be improved. “It wasn’t a matter of asking what exists. It was figuring out how it exists. Do people feel it is enabling managers to better manage their staff or is it asking for a high level of engagement from HR, and is that required?” Because it might be required if a dismissal is being considered, but it won’t be for issues that don’t need employment  expertise.

Konza’s consultations served the ancillary purpose of getting buy-in. That was crucial as one of the challenges Konza faced was coworker concern. Some in HR felt the value they added – helping managers manage – was going to be taken away. “They were asking, ‘But what will my job be? What value am I going to add if I’m not doing that function?’” Konza had already read the research and was eager to take on a more strategic role, but needed to help people get on the same page. “It’s something I should have anticipated. I had to change my consultation approach to bring people on the journey. I had to say, ‘You know there are things we want to do to help the business, but everyone has scarce resources. You never have enough time, you never have enough money or people so we need to look at better ways to use our time and resources.” She would also explain that employees actually prefer to receive messages from their manager. By facilitating this, HR would be improving those relationships, which can lead to better performance over time. “So not only would we be free to do the work you really want to do, you’d be adding value to the whole organisation. So based on all that, what do you think about that policy? Do you think that manager should be doing more in that space, and how can we redesign things?”

With help from her very supportive HR director and other colleagues, Konza arrived at a detailed model of how the HR architecture should change. “It was a big graph which showed where everything would fit in. Projects were prioritised into two stages, stage one being things the gap analysis showed were urgent. And there was an implementation plan that gave examples of best practice in improving leader-led management and referred people on to tools they could use.” The role of certification in this, and why it proved a valuable investment in her career, was that it gave Konza the chance to do something great and reminded her to keep abreast of the wide range of resources HR can draw upon to change things for the better. More practically, the section on metrics was an eye opener. “Once you’ve gone through that module you realise the importance of having actual data. For my project there was so much – like what percentage of critical roles have successes identified, what percentage of our employees are in the top quartile of talent metrics, are we getting lower levels of unscheduled leave – there are so many things that track high levels of leader-led management.”

Konza got sign off and buy-in from all her stakeholders, but perhaps the most meaningful measure of success came in the project’s extended relevance. “I’ve pitched the idea at other organisations and it’s something people are interested in implementing. It's been a powerful way of giving people another perspective on leader-led management, and giving them another avenue of solutions.” 

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