HRExaminer v3.32 August 10, 2012
Table of Contents
The Work Department: The New Architecture of Work Part II
Human Resources is the outdated code name for people who happen to be employees. Built on the idea that people are objects to be manipulated, motivated, evaluated, penetrated, insinuated and decorated, the Human Resources Department acts like an inventory system. In the same way that we track computers, software, automobiles and other capital investments, we track people and the ways that the relate to the company.
There is nothing inherently interesting about a list of assets, human or otherwise. While the latest rounds of HR Technology allow us to further grade, pigeonhole and score both the asset and its fit with the job, it’s still fundamental inventory tracking. Human Resource Departments are the keepers of the list of assets. It’s every bit as strategic as the tracking lists of capital equipment.
It wasn’t always so. (And in progressive manufacturing firms, it still isn’t.)
The name is part of the problem. If the department’s job is to manage, maintain, evaluate, improve and dispose of assets, that’s where it’s focus will be: on the assets themselves and not on the work. Owning and managing the list of assets is interesting and important, it is far from strategic.
The very name “Human Resources Department” creates its own ghetto. Every asset management function is inherently divorced from the utility of those assets. Capital asset managers don’t drive the cars, use the computers, make things with the tools or operate the equipment. Similarly, Human Resource Managers don’t actually do the work or select the teams.
In fact, Human Resource Managers don’t really do much of the actual work of the company. It’s not uncommon to hear an HR conference keynote say “If you want to be strategic, become familiar with the business.” As if it were perfectly normal for a company to employ an entire cadre of people who aren’t familiar with the company’s business.
Meanwhile, it’s raining new techniques for the design of work physically, intellectually, geographically and contractually. Technological disruption is burrowing through old ideas like the gopher in Caddyshack. New ways of working and new ways of thinking about work are everywhere.
And yet, no one in the organization is responsible for these tools and techniques. There are a ton of issues that will need to be sorted, sifted and clarified over the coming years. Here are just a few examples:
- Collaboration, applied judiciously, is a really smart idea. The technology to support it is proliferating faster than the sense with which to use it. Very few organizations will want everyone to collaborate on everything all the time. Defining usage guidelines and dispensing accumulated wisdom is an inherent part of getting it right.
- Always On Performance reviews are virtually here. The idea that every worker needs or wants real time feedback is a little odd. What will eventually come to be is job specific feedback cycles.
- Gamify the right thing and get a performance breakthrough. Gamify the wrong thing and wreck your company.
- Short Messaging for Status is another powerful tool for monitoring, controlling and understanding what’s going on. Current models, which reward technology usage over clear business results will obviously fail. Routinized observation of work through high leverage junctures will be transformative.
- Agile Methodology has broad application throughout the enterprise. It’s a way of installing automotive assembly line into intellectual work processes. The main drawback to Agile Methods is that they are rudderless and hard to control. Figuring out how to balance top down supervision and bottom-up project management will require case by case monitoring and analysis.
The core idea here is that the various elements of work are in serious flux and no one organization is charged with shepherding in the new era.
That’s why it makes sense to start thinking about the 21st Century replacement for HR as “The Work Department”. While it would continue to manage the various lists of Human Assets and their characteristics, the function would grow to include both organizational performance assessment and the design of work using the new technologies.
The Work Department is interested in optimizing the way that work gets done so that the enterprise is strengthened by the work it does. The Work Department recommends, advises, monitors, catalogs, develops, researches and deploys packages of work design that are focused on a specific task or mission.
The Work Department is a critical element in enterprise design because it unleashes the value of the Human Asset.
The New Architecture of Work Series
- I: Intro to The New Architecture of Work
- II: The Work Department
- III: Gamification
- IV: Agile Technology
- V: Learning
- VI: Learning Technology
- VII: Learning Tech: WealthHabits
The New Architecture of Work III: Gamification
The term ‘gamification’ is a five syllable mouthful that means simple visualizations of accomplishment. Whether it’s administrative paperwork, project plans or performance objectives, gamification will be used (many times subtly) to influence the way work gets done. Gamification is the key to measuring and understanding work pacing and flow in information work.
After the initial nauseating overuse of gamification at work, gamification will take its place as a part of the arsenal of work design tools. The most well known of this era’s successors to time-motion studies and enterprise assessment benchmarking, gamification is one of may work design methods that are emerging from the software design universe. While it’s easy to make fun of the idea, embedding game design principles in work processes will reshape the way we think about jobs.
Gamification works by making the job more enjoyable. It can
- Encourage employees to engage in desired behaviors
- Model the path to mastery and autonomy
- Focus problem solving activities
- Leverage our desire to engage in gaming.
- Motivating people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as filling out forms, consuming dry training content, gaining approvals, filling out forms, or reading web sites and procedural updates.
At its most primitive, gamification involves collecting and competing for points that are based on schedule, quality or consistency of task completion. Unfortunately, the tasks one would most like to gamify are the places where it will be least successful. For instance, trying to get expense report laggards to hurry up and submit acceptable stuff is unlikely to involve winning the badge for mayor of expense reportville.
In early attempts to gamify, some of the techniques are:
- achievement “badges”
- achievement levels
- leader boards
- virtual currency (this is currently the rage in incentive software)
- visual meters to indicate completion of a task a company is trying to encourage
- systems for awarding, redeeming, trading, gifting, and otherwise exchanging points
- challenges between users
To the extent that they can be used to promote competition between employees, they are better used in outward facing functions like sales and customer service. To the extent that they involve procedural productivity (better form filling) or personal development, they are more suited to internal tasks.
Gamification will be an important part of the goal visualization and completion process that dominates much of white collar work. This is as simple as embedding key progress visualizations in the midst of the employee interface to the job. It cam be as complex as tying an entire project to a narrative visualization. (“We are going to think about this project as an extended Wizard of Oz metaphor.”)
Gamification is the most disciplined study of human motivation since the late 19th Century. But, its use in the HR Department is only in the earliest stages. We will have to make some silly mistakes before it really takes root.
The New Architecture of Work Series
People die. Truth is, we’ll all die sooner than we think. Some live outrageously. Others pursue a more cautious path. No judgment… regrets are like hot M &M’s. They suck.
As we age, we all make decisions – subconsciously or consciously– about how we desire to be remembered, and how things should carry on. Two obvious approaches are: 1) the fuck you, I did it my way – learn it yourself (the bootstrapper), and (2) I care about you and how things happen when I’m gone (the stewards).
Whatever the approach, no one really likes to talk about it. Death. There’s a conversation killer. No one is really prepared for one generation to exit and another of take over. But we’ve seen all this shit happen before, right? What legacy persona is right?
Bootstrappers approach legacy from the perspective that they created their own path with little or no help from anyone. They don’t fancy investing in others. In fact, they think legacy is a waste of time. And while they might thank a few people secretly, they generally believe that legacy is for suckers. They believe that once dead, people will be sad for 10 minutes and then get back to their reality TV lives.
Which begs the question… is thinking about legacy important?
Stewards believe that investing in people that will come behind them is a worthy pursuit. They believe that the reason they are successful is because others invested in them. Makes logical sense, right? Something about “do unto others” and some such. You can tell when you’re interacting with a Steward because half the time you spend talking about the past and half the time they ask you about you. Very little time spent with a Steward is about them. These folks invest a ton of time in others. Stewards believe that legacy management is critical.
Well, both of these approaches are arrogant.
Bootstrappers miss the point because with their guidance we could avoid some of the same dumb ass mistakes that they made. Now, some will say that making mistakes can be useful. I agree, but I’m really thinking about the avoidable stuff- like pretzel M&M’s. They suck. Without passing on of that knowledge, we’ll just waste time and resources having to learn it all over again.
Stewards miss the point because the real value in talking with the next generation is giving them insight in to how to make their own decisions. It’s not about doing the same thing forever. Things change. Fast. And history lessons are weak without understanding the context of the situation. Also, stewards waste time telling stories to folks that aren’t really ready, willing or able to really do anything with the knowledge. Worse than that, a lot of what passes for legacy is really ego propping. Stewards aren’t looking for someone to carry on and make strong decisions. They’re really looking for the “chosen one” who will make them look good when they’re gone– the memorial purple M &M.
Here’s the thing… thinking about legacy is important… maybe even critical… whether or not you take action in regards to your legacy… well, that decision has to fit you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does… your legacy (or anti-legacy) is yours. I’m a firm believer that I can’t make other people happy… I can try and often do but I can’t “will” someone else to happiness. Sucks but true, happiness is a personal pursuit.
If you care about your legacy, great… do it the right way… go deep with people that you love AND that love you. Don’t just share the successes, the wins… open yourself up and be vulnerable with those that will carry forth your legacy. In some ways, the people that come after you should want to carry on your legacy NOT feel like that have to. Legacy lifting should never be a burden.
And, if you don’t care about legacy, great… we’ve already forgotten you. That’s what you wanted, right?
HR words that are overused and mean whatever you want –talent, brand, social, community, leadership, innovate, engagement.
HR word that is hardly ever used - work.
Work is not the place you go to be entertained and to socialize. Employers are not responsible for making employees happy. Everyone is there to do the work of the company.
If HR is focused on making employees happy and engaged, they have lost their way. It’s not about awards, team building, lunches, parties, games, attaboys (and girls), incentives, or some new software that nobody has time or interest to learn. These things don’t make people want to show up at the office. They just waste a lot of time and money.
HR’s job is to help get the work done by people who are trained and skilled at doing it. It’s about making a great product or providing the best service to the client.
If your employees are not engaged, you don’t have a happiness problem. You have a management problem.
Promoting happiness in a screwed up workplace is putting lipstick on the pig. You’ll just end up with a red snouted pig (when we would all much rather have bacon).
You’re also not paying attention to the issues that really need to be fixed.
These are the main things that make work suck and how to fix them.
- The Boss is an Asshole. Really. This is the number one problem with most workplaces. No amounts of meetings, interventions, therapy, or vacations will fix this.
If you can’t get rid of the boss, then leave.
- Responsibility Without Authority. When someone must both complete work and get multiple approvals for every increment, it’s impossible to ever get anything finished. Or the “Don’t bother me with this shit! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” supervisor who refuses to help or pay attention, but then blames everyone else when it goes sideways.
If you give people responsibility, give them the resources and authority to actually do the work.
- Words and Actions Don’t Match. Exaggeration, lies, unmet promises, and constantly changing stories, requirements, demands and expectations make people insane. Remember the rats from psych class who never knew if they were going to get cocaine or get shocked? If management’s words and actions don’t match, then nobody knows what to do or how to do it.
Be clear. Be real. Be honest.
- No Trust. Secret meetings, closed door conferences, constantly looking over people’s shoulders, excessive monitoring of every little thing, and pettiness do not promote better work. It makes people feel like they are being set up to fail- because they are.
Treat people like grown ups. Trust them to get the work done. If they aren’t, then send them on their way. If you can’t handle it, then you have control issues. Seek outside help.
If you want employees who like their work and want to show up on Monday, then pay them well and give them the resources and autonomy they need to do their best. Then, when they do, say thank you.