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March 2011

Shaping the Future - Agility

We are now ready to move on to the penultimate of the 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisation Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." This week we will look at: "Agility." 

Agility The report defines this as, "The ability to stay open to new directions and be continually proactive, helping to assess the limits or indeed risks of existing approaches and ensuring that leaders and followers have an agile and change-ready mindset to enable them and ultimately the organisation to keep moving, changing, adapting."

Once again this seems obvious. So it is really frightening, given the pace of change and the nature of competition, to realise that this theme was only identified in Phase 2 of the research and not from the start. Let us have a look at what the report says agility entails to see just how surprising this is.

  • An appreciation of the current organisational challenges enables an agile mindset; 
  • People at all levels need to be 'change-ready' in both good as well as changing times if lasting organisational agility is to be achieved;
  • It is important to also consider an organisation's history when embedding agility; 
  • A silo mentality between different parts of the organisation can undermine agility; 
  • Organisations need to balance the rigorous management of resources with organisational agility;
  • A focus on continuous improvement is good for the long-term but you have to get the balance right.

I don't know about you, but my immediate reaction to this is a rather sarcastic, "No! Really?" It is all so obvious and once again the report is good at telling you what is required, but completely fails to give you any real insight as to how. So once again you can challenge it by asking how it helps you shape the future.  

Certainly the report gives you little idea as to how create such organisational agility. Once again the case studies and stories tell you what the organisations involved did without telling you how they did it. Short of describing the need for improved communication there is nothing that tells you how you create the agility you are seeking. And there is nothing here that makes the connection to the first theme - alignment.

Yes I am biased and would love to see more of the ideas I am promoting. So naturally I find it extremely disappointing that there is nothing here that:-

  • Encourages an understanding of your organisational challenges through greater employee ownership. 
  • Makes people more change-ready because there is nothing to make it worth their while. After all, your frontline people probably have a better understanding of the issues because of their proximity to the customer and their dealings with day-to-day operations. 
  • Does not build the future from the past. Thus it fails to introduce new approaches that inspire agility. 
  • Breaks down the silo mentality in the way universal employee ownership and the shared sense of the organisation as a super-team would. 
  • Builds-in continuous improvement through the universal desire to optimise results.

But surely you would expect to find more ideas like that if you are looking to shape the future. Wouldn't you? Especially if you are looking to shape a better future with greater employee engagement! 

Shaping the Future: Balancing Short-term & Long-term Horizons

Goals Let's continue our review of the 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisation Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." This week we will look at the 6th theme: "Balancing Short-term and Long-term Horizons." 

This theme is encouraging. Although it is once again stating the obvious, it at least suggests that the HR profession is coming to the party and starting to think about issues that concern their executive colleagues.

The report once again defines what this means. However, I think it is sufficiently obvious for us to forego it here. Instead let's go straight to the underlying points. The report identifies these as:- 

  • Context determines the length of the 'short' and the 'long term'; 
  • Organisations must anticipate and plan for future external and internal changes;
  • They (organisations) need to be comfortable with uncertainty; 
  • The ongoing communication of the organisation's vision and aims is important; 
  • Sometimes the short-term has to take priority, but short-term pressures can act as derailers.

Do you find it hard not to chuckle? This reads like a primer for people just starting out on a career in management. Talk about stating the obvious!  The issues here are the timeless challenges that business people have faced for centuries. Even if they are new for HR managers, there is little here to suggest how they will help you shape the future.

So the question here has to be; "How do you balance your short-term and long-term people needs?" I don't think the report really begins to answer that. Certainly that last point about the short-term having to take precedence has to be a cop-out. It is an appalling piece of appeasement that bows to all that is wrong with the present and makes no contribution whatsoever to shaping the future - let alone a better one.

For starters giving precedence to the short-term justifies and perpetuates the type of exploitation that has contributed to the environmental problems the world is facing. Such attitudes certainly contributed to the recent collapse of the banking industry. It is precisely the kind of thinking that has to be changed.

You could also see it as saying that redundancy and compulsory lay-offs are also an unavoidable necessity. Surely that is something that proper planning and a serious focus on employee engagement should aim to end? Redundancy should be a last resort only when all else fails. Yet there is nothing in this report to say that.

The report says nothing about how you might:-

  • Recognise the value of your people;
  • Optimise your employee numbers to minimise such eventualities;
  • Build the shared purpose of employee ownership and so reduce the risk of surprises and optimise the chance of innovative solutions for moving forward;
  • Increase your capability to spread the pain rather than isolate victims when times get tough. 

Thus the report falls woefully short of its stated goal of helping you shape the future and in fact is actually a mechanism for perpetuating the past. What do you think? 

Shaping the Future: Assessment & Evaluation

Over the past 4 weeks we have looked at the "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisation Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." This week we will look at the 5th of the 8 themes: is "Assessment and Evaluation."

Rating Although perhaps self-explanatory the report defines this as "The processes that occur at different organisational levels to gather qualitative and quantitative information, to assess the impact of actions and inform decision making." People can be engaged at different levels and with various aspects of the organisation or the work and their engagement can be transactional or emotional in nature." So how does this shape the future?

Perhaps this is obvious if you consider William James' statement that "The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."  Yet the report expands its meaning by more mundane issues like:- 

  • Context affects how organisations assess their performance; 
  • It is important to strike appropriate balance between collecting qualitative and quantitative data;
  • Too much, or the wrong emphasis on metrics, can impede productivity; 
  • Capturing and analysing information is the first step in assessing and evaluating performance, but acting on the data collected is critical;
  • Making data readily available to managers ensures more informed decision-making; 
  • Managers need to have the right skills to make sense of and interpret the data; 
  • As well as using the data to evaluate past performance, it is important to draw insight from it to inform future activity. In other words predictive capabilities are also needed.

Once again there is an awful lot of the "what" and very little of the "how". And much of that seems to be obvious or should be to any half-decent manager. When you look at it from an HR or people perspective it seems there is little to suggest any radical shift away from the idea of people being a resource that needs to be managed. Once again it seems to be rooted in the discredited philosophy of command-and-control management, and to perpetuate the ideal of a manager who is responsible for his subordinates' output. Given that employee engagement is an increasing problem this certainly does not seem to be shaping a future that is likely to be any better.

By accounting for people as assets instead of costs and enabling a new model of employee ownership the Zealise solution genuinely offers a new paradigm for assessing and evaluating people. It will do more to shape a different future than anything spelled out here. Even if it is not the complete answer it provides a catalyst that will engender a different way of thinking and thus, ultimately, different behaviour.

Shaping the Future: Locus of Engagement

Locus of engagement 2 The fourth of 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference" is something they call "Locus of Engagement."

This is not a phrase that you use commonly so let us take a moment to see what it means. The report explains it by saying, "People can be engaged at different levels and with various aspects of the organisation or the work and their engagement can be transactional or emotional in nature." It thus continues, "For sustainable performance it is important to understand how, and with what, employees are engaged."

This appears to be a useful insight. However, you can judge better from the examples they give:-

  • Employees can be engaged with more than one locus at a time; 
  • Employees locus of engagement is not static;
  • Employees' locus of engagement may not translate to engagement with the organisation; 
  • The line manager has a critical role, affecting engagement at different levels;
  • Leader behaviour also affects employee engagement; 
  • Too much engagement with a particular locus can be a blocker to change;
  • Perceptions of organisational injustice can be a performance blocker;
  • The nature of engagement can be transactional or emotional. 

Oh dear! There are some useful points there but once again there are some glaringly obvious statements that dilute the impact. I mean how obvious is the fact that "perceptions of injustice can affect performance?" It is perhaps worth emphasising, however, that it is perceptions. The injustice does not have to be real; it just has to be perceived. So perception is everything if you are trying to create employee engagement.

Certainly an increased awareness that employee engagement is multi-faceted is useful; not least because it tells you that there can be no pat answers or single solutions. And of course it helps you to remember this. But even so, there is little here to really help you actually shape the future.

It is increasingly apparent that the problem with this report is that it is rooted in the traditional management practices of the past. As such it perpetuates the idea of a top-down solution to creating employee engagement. Consequently, it actually suggests little that will help you shape the future.

It is certainly unlikely that there is any single solution to this employee engagement issue, but a pre-requisite is to look for a structure that moves you away from the traditional command-and-control approaches to management. And one of the best places you can start looking is the principles of organisational democracy as identified by Worldblu.

The biggest challenge to employee engagement is creating a mechanism to embed it that is independent of personality and this gives you a good basis, especially if you reinforce it with the Zealise method of accounting for people and creating employee ownership. This at least gives you a platform for addressing all the loci. (And just for the record, loci is the plural of locus and not a term to describe insane people!)