Shifting the People Management Worldview

Gary Hamel recently wrote about a

survey that found that only 20% of employees are truly engaged in their work — heart and soul

and yet he goes on to say that

I talk to a lot of CEOs, and every one professes a commitment to building a “high performance” organization

So why this huge, 80% discrepancy? I think Dan McCarthy get's pretty close when he talks about helping leaders to 'connect the dots', writing that

the biggest reason why we can’t seem to see what’s right in front of us is that our own “worldviews”, or “paradigms” obstruct our vision.

Other people have suggested similar things, Julian Birkinshaw at London Business School, Richard Donkin, Umair Haque and Lynda Gratton have all talked about new perspectives on management.

Why the 80% Discrepancy?

In my mind, the 80% discrepancy between what CEO's say they want and what their employees report is due to the methods and means (i.e. the paradigm) available to help manage people. The methods and approaches that are used to bring out the best in people are very different to those which are used to run everything else in a business.

What do I mean by this? If you look at the history of organisations (Managing Value Based Organsiations by Dr. Bruce Hoag is one very thorough view), you tend to find the following themes emerging;

  • The methods and technologies to do things define people's day job
  • These approaches are more useful if they are objective and can scale
  • Subjective approaches are rarely as valuable or important
  • New approaches only endure if they have advantages over the old ones
  • People with P&L responsibility have the greatest power to decide things
  • They also gain the greatest recognition from their decisions (if they go well)!

If we look at current examples of new methods and technologies, many suggest improvements for the organisations which choose to apply them. Improving knowledge management, green strategies, engineering influencing design, full body scanners, more powerful computers and improvements in transportation all correspond to the themes above.

How is this Different to how People are Managed and Empowered?

The biggest difference between the examples above and how people are managed and empowered is between;

  • Approaches that are objective or subjective
  • Approaches that are perceived to be valuable or not
  • Approaches that improve P&L or not

If one looks at the myriad of methods and approaches that contribute to the management of people, it is hard to find any that fulfil the three criteria above completely. This is why there is no shortage of information along the lines of;

While there are many good things happening in people management and HR, I ultimately believe that right now, practitioner's own world views remain unchanged. Hence the status quo endures, depsite calls for something different.

While practical, micro-level details may well be expanded upon later, I think the recognition of the different paradigms above might be a starting point, or perhaps a stepping stone on a bigger journey...

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