Change Management Needs Leadership
Ban the Rule Books and Performance Management

HR: The New Frontier

Young explorer iStock_000010208873SmallIt’s been 10 years since I set out on a new career path with the mantra “HR is the new IT.” For me it was as plain as the nose on my face. The returns on investment were shrinking.

For decades business had been pursuing the benefits of new technology and optimising that technology through what came to be called Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) – and with unprecedented success. It delivered enormous change and radical new ways of doing things that are now so much a part of everyday life we take them for granted. Inevitably, however, the pace has to slow. When the new becomes the norm and is no longer new, then the returns have to diminish too. Increased or extraordinary profits only result from doing the extraordinary; when the extraordinary becomes ordinary the profits do too. It’s economics 101!

But for me there is more to it than that.

All organisations have 3 key elements: purpose, process and people. Purpose defines the reason the organisation exists in the first place, and is supported by strategy to identify how best to go about fulfilling that purpose. Process pertains to the implementation of strategy and includes the resources, technology and systems that are used to deliver the strategy. People are the glue that hold everything together and enable things to happen. Naturally these vary, but all three elements are essential components of any organisation. Consequently you need to consider all three when introducing change.  

If you do not simultaneously consider all three when introducing change, you will never realise the full potential return on investment of that change is capable of delivering. Any one thing in excess can be detrimental, and – in the long-term – perhaps even fatal. It is like a human body: give it only protein and it won’t operate effectively: it also needs carbohydrates and sugars. So with the information revolution: technology dominated and drove the change, justified primarily by headcount reductions. And the price for that has been loss of trust and the declining employee engagement that dominates so much of the management airwaves today. Thus while the returns were pretty amazing, they were never all they could/should have been.

Any imbalance has to be corrected and that is what we are now facing. Your concern has to be whether the foregone returns have been lost forever or whether they can be realised by now switching your focus to your people.  

This still does not seem to have been widely recognised. Thus it was with considerable interest that I read this article from MIT/Sloan. As part of their sustainability series it certainly fits with my belief that sustainability – effectively addressing the purpose aspect of your organisation – is an integral part of management, and paying greater attention to your people is part and parcel of that. I am not convinced they have adequately covered the internal aspect of human rights – i.e. those of your own employee needs – but I am encouraged.

Change is always disruptive, but it is less so when you involve the people affected. Consequently I have renewed hope that my employee ownership solutions will be seen as providing the means to minimise the disruption of change. Hopefully this article prefaces a change whereby HR comes to stand for human rights rather than human resources and we can move ahead with the idea of employees as people rather than resources. This will prevent such imbalance recurring in future and improve the return on investment. It will make life so much easier for all, embed the ideal of human rights more effectively, and safeguard sustainability better.


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