If information is viewed as a commodity that is worked with in business, then the nature of information dictates that it be treated completely differently than how one would work with other commodities such as what would be found in your typical widget factory of the Industrial Age.
In today's Information Age, many companies struggle to adapt to the quickly changing business environment they face. And they are well aware that their people are a key resource to address this big issue.
Business tends to look at things as commodities and we can do the same for information. But the problem is that information is an entirely different animal compared to other commodity types.
In an Information Age setting, the main commodity type being worked with is information. If we look at the nature of information from that standpoint (as a commodity) and compare it with the commodity types of the Industrial Age, a distinction can clearly be seen when we place information at the end of a sequence of commodity types using physics terms, namely, solids, liquids, gases, plasma, energy, and information in that order. On close examination, we'll see that an interesting pattern emerges.
We have a property of volatility/agility that increases as we move through the types (solids -> information). The property of robustness/resilience also increases in the same direction although this appears counterintuitive. How could a piece of information be more robust than a “rock-solid” rock? Well, a rock can be blown up, but the information of 2+2=4 can never be destroyed. And energy is said to be neither created nor destroyed. H2O maintains its structure (robustness/resilience) much better as a liquid than as a solid (ice can crack but not water).
But also interesting is the fact that successful business models tend to share the same properties as the commodity types they trade in. For instance, the most successful Silicon Valley companies over the years have that dual characteristic of being both highly agile and highly robust at the same time. What is also intriguing is that the human resources associated with such business models also tend to have the same characteristics.
So the nature of the work and the type of people thriving in it are sharply contrasted when comparing assembly line factory workers in the mid-20th century with highly creative knowledge workers in the 21st century dealing strictly with information (as a commodity). So when information is the commodity being worked with, the HRM task at hand (read, HRM model) is to create an environment that is not just highly agile but also highly robust. This is a given and is understood by highly successful software companies.
But to enhance the productivity of creativity, we need to look closer at the nature of information so that we can more closely parallel its characteristics in our HRM model. To help do this, we can look at the parallel in the commodity type common in the Industrial Age, namely, solids (let's call them widgets). When a widget factory wanted to increase production, there would often be tools designed for the line worker to work with. Even today, a hardware manufacturer will develop such tools (e.g. robotics). And with such tool development, there would be three sequential steps, namely, purpose -> invention -> enhancement.
Applying that process to information, the sequence would be similar but in a more agile and robust setting: the need arises (purpose) for a "tool" to be designed (invention) and then later tweaked (enhancement). So in our HRM model, we have three roles, namely, tool purposer, tool inventor, and tool enhancer.
Since the HRM model must be highly agile, these three roles need to be interchangeable, both in human and machine context. So the actual human worker may be particularly strong in one role but can contribute to the other two roles, and machines can assist by playing a secondary part in each role. In essence, the worker's "job" or "position" here becomes somewhat blurred in definition.
The highly robust component needed in our HRM model is attained when the creative workers in the tool-building team are intrinsically motivated to the point where they view their job almost like a paid hobby. They have proven to have the mindset of enthusiastically "going with the flow" of information wherever it needs to go.
The use of time is based on that information flow, so if the need at the moment dictates that x number of minutes or hours on a problem grows to triple that time, so be it (agile). If the solution (tool invention) breaks after x number of iterations, it is immediately modified (tool enhancement) in the direction of greater modularity (robustness). If solution x doesn't work, solution y is tried. If problem x doesn't have a solution, it's revisited as problem y with solution y sought.
Such an HRM model does not need all the workers to be highly technical either. For instance, a lot of SME (subject matter expertise) resides in human brains and can get easily tossed (e.g. when someone leaves a company or a contractor's term is up). So to leverage such SME, the best contributions may be made when the worker is in the tool purposer role as well as being advisor to those playing the other two roles (tool inventor, tool enhancer).
So how does HRM track all this volatility? What about ROI and metrics? Valid questions but the answer is simple. The Industrial Age (very predictable) was very time-oriented (production on schedule). The Information Age (very unpredictable) is very results-oriented (production of results). So such creative workers simply go ahead and produce results (within that HRM model).
Since the ROI and metrics for such an approach become self-evident when tangible results are produced, this helps streamline the HRM model so that the main focus is on enhancing the productivity of creativity rather than on keeping the paperwork straight. The workers themselves, especially if they view their job as a sort of paid hobby don't feel like they are "at work" but rather pursuing their interests. It becomes a win-win situation whereby results earn autonomy, and autonomy/mastery/purpose are attained by the workers (within the HRM model) in line with Dan Pink's findings on worker motivation. Finally, such an approach is less encumbered by bureaucratic impasses that would tend to frustrate the attainment of results-oriented goals.
The challenges that would arise may be primarily due to that sticky dimension of time whereby results may not be as forthcoming as expected, especially if too schedule-bound. It would all depend upon management's view of time. Even with the clear separation of R&D and operations, there will be an overlap of innovation transfer where dealing with information (as a commodity) has to be proven to be practical and profitable. So time is key - how much time to invest in how much creativity.
Another stickler may be the point of a worker's "job" or "position" (within such an HRM model) being somewhat blurred in definition. But this is really a throwback to the Industrial Age where everything could be precisely defined because virtually everything was precisely predictable. But this is not true in the Information Age today, thus the disconnect. So rather than view a "position" as something to be precisely defined, it can be viewed as something to be described by giving working examples.
One approach is to start small, with a microcosm or two of organizational behavior based on the HRM model. Then those workers or groups of workers that produce the best (but not necessarily the fastest) results within that HRM model would be demonstrating that they are the closest in the organization to treating the nature of information as it truly is, a unique commodity type. And the smaller the group, the longer the time (for allowing results to germinate) that can be given within an assigned budget if the budget happens to be a fixed amount.
Once significantly measurable results are obtained, it could then be determined if the company would now have a better "mouse trap" model on their hands (compared to that of a conventional HRM approach to work that was perhaps used before), or better yet, have a unique "mouse trap" approach that is incomparable.