Paul Hebert joins us as a founding member of the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. As the Managing Director and lead consultant for I2I, an influence consultancy, he guides companies in their alignment of the behavior of their employees with the goals and objectives of the company through incentives and rewards. Full bio…
When I was a newly minted marketing professional in the late 80’s I worked at a company that jumped on the Quality Service bandwagon in the pursuit of the Malcolm Baldridge Award. The late 80’s were all about processes, procedures, documentation and control. Technology and competition were forcing companies to reevaluate the way they did business in order to reduce costs, implement best-practices and reduce unwanted variability. The mantra was control.
Fishbone charts dotted the walls. Conversations were all about creating flow charts of how the “best” process would look. Unfortunately, I think we had it so wrong.
Human Resources is All About Control
As I review what is going on the HR space today – I’m seeing some of the same discussions I was privileged (punished by) to participate in during the late 80’s. HR is looking for ways to establish systems and procedures to “manage” the work force. Some examples I see:
- Establishing specific job descriptions with little “white space” – only specific goals, objectives, tasks
- Performance review procedures and timelines
- Compensation systems that limit and reduce variability in the name of fairness
- Technology solutions with pre-set modules and workflows based on best-practices gleaned from the experience of the solution provider across many industries and companies
Can so much control work though when the resources we’re talking about after all… are human?
Henry Ford and the Future
Henry Ford is arguably the father of the industrial age – mass production and limited variability designed to bring the automobile to the masses. Famous for saying he only wanted the employee’s hands and feet but had to put up with their brains. The goal of the early 20th century organization was to limit the variability in a process in order to squeeze the maximum profit via efficiency.
We’re way past that now. Today’s workforce as predicted by Drucker is almost totally brain-based. To compete today our employees must be creative, autonomous, engaged, team-focused and diverse.
The antithesis of predictable, manageable and controllable.
Focus on Variability
When a software developer is writing code or a plant manager is planning a production line variability is the enemy of success. Variability brings error. Variability brings inefficiency. Variability brings unwanted costs.
When working with people however, variability is precisely what brings creativity, engagement, innovation, quality customer service, unexpected success.
Managing variability, it would seem, is the new must-have skill. But managing variability isn’t something that can be accomplished from an office in the HR department on the 3rd floor – or at the home office. Variability can only be managed at the point of contact – where the employee and the manager interact.
With managers as the critical factor to leading, leveraging and in some cases deliberately creating variability, what does that leave HR to do?
What if you were to spend more time training managers to be less controlling – and more focused on guiding? Could you let loose the reins of control and grab the rheostat of guidance and teach managers to accept their new role of mentor instead of controller? Imagine what would happen if you could embrace the very messy fact that humans are contradiction-prone, unpredictable, soap operas of a resource.
If your managers are hamstrung by processes and procedures – because you don’t trust them, because they haven’t received the necessary development to be a manager, whatever the reason – they won’t be able to encourage or manage the variability that will ultimately bring your organization new ideas, new processes and new successes. And it’s precisely the latitude your managers have to truly manage that is critical to allowing for variability.
Instead, create guidelines for managers that can be used to INCREASE the variability of thinking needed in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.