I remember being trained as a manager all those years ago and reflecting that much of what was provided as leadership were things we do to people rather than with people.

I explored this at some length in my first book, Managing Whole People, and since then it seems like our awareness if not our practices have changed as we have begun to recognize the billions in opportunity costs we are spending every year as the number of disengaged continues to grow.

In the almost eight years since I published my book the data continues to roll in and awareness seems to be growing. That gives me continued optimism, as does the unwillingness of the next generations to settle for compliance like many of my colleagues and I did.

It has been conversations with brilliant colleagues like Marty Lucas at 2020Thinkology and the Roceteers that continue to get me excited that there are others out there who share my vision of a different model, and it is way better and more exciting!

I have long believed that one of the fundamental problems we have in our society is our reluctance to embrace and implement the concept of working with and managing whole people. 

As I have mentioned on multiple prior occasions I think the Industrial Revolution did a lot of harm to the notion of whole people and Frederick W. Taylor and his theory of scientific management and the creation of the concept of white collar and blue collar didn’t do anything to enhance the relationship.

When I was trained as a manager in the seventies the model was planning, controlling, budgeting, etc. Those are all things you do to people and things – not with them. That model never “fit” for me.

Technology has its place, but like scientific management too often it has been imposed rather than integrated as part of a broader systemic solution.

A number of events have transpired over the intervening years  that causes me to revisit this topic again. One was a lively discussion I had with two colleagues about an upcoming round-table we are going to do about why the current models aren’t working and the importance of esoteric concepts like culture, change, and other relationship type behaviors have on enterprises of all kinds.

We are experiencing what I would call a relationship crisis. In the United States things like employee engagement, trust in management, and job satisfaction are at all time lows. We also have huge issues with productivity, turnover, and the cost of managing and delivering health and health care. Health care is devouring a huge part of our GDP with most of the solutions I see being proposed still over- looking the relationship dimension, disappointingly I would include Obamacare in that observation.

The other events that I encountered were in the course of responding to some questions about the role of human resources in organizations and the importance of fit in hiring and selection.

The first question dealt with whether or not HR as a function should align themselves with management or employees in an enterprise. I indicated my response as neither, HR should focus on helping management and leadership with what I see as the three key elements of healthy, functioning relationships-

  • Clarity- what is the mission or value proposition of the organization. Why does it exist?
  • Context- how does the role of the individual employee fit into the larger mission and how do they know they are performing appropriately.
  • Alignment- creating systems so that line of sight is both very clear and reinforced by other organizational systems. I believe a big part of the role of “new” HR is to train and reinforce those elements as being essential to everyone in management not just leadership and human resources.

This approach requires some re-calibration and new skills. Alignment is about execution. Organizations don’t exist to “fulfill” individuals they exist to meet the expectations of their stakeholders; that is how I define effective execution. Everything else is secondary.

One colleague indicated that if we were to ask CEO’s they would tell us the primary value of human resources is compliance- I shared my belief that that is precisely why we have the engagement, productivity, and trust issues we are “enjoying”.

The other colleague took us to the proverbial woodshed over our obsession with fit. She even went so far as to indicate that focusing on fit was likely discriminatory and creating an environment of adverse impact. Fit in her mind is way too nebulous and subjective. Recruitment and selection is all about skills and tasks. When I indicated I had successfully hired for fit for years without ever having my methods or outcomes questioned relative to compliance or impact she indicated I represented an attorney’s wet dream- I simply had not  been sued yet. My reaction was a combination of being slightly annoyed by her condescension, but mostly amused.

I have in fact encountered the legal profession a number times ranging from government agencies to plaintiff’s attorneys. In addition, I have been retained as a plaintiff’s expert witness on best practices. To date my track record of prevailing without settling is in the high 90th percentile.

If your fit model leaves out people of color, ethnicity, differing sexual orientation, and all the other things that are discriminatory on their face you have a shitty profile and will likely struggle hiring the talent you need.

At the risk of generalizing I suspect that like my other colleague she has a compliance bias. When I commented that most new managers who fail (40% in their first 18 months), she indicated that she had never had to replace a candidate she placed.

That is a great track record. I rather suspect that somewhere on an intuitive level her process includes some consideration for fit.

Some months ago I had a chance to read an exceptionally good blog post from Thomas Stewart about the difference between brand and branding. He describes branding as the marketing, sales and other strategies we use to try to position ourselves in a certain way with our customers, communities, and shareholders. Brand on the other hand is how they see us. That is what I describe as alignment or true engagement.  I believe strongly that building that into the fabric of your organization is much better strategy than trying to bolt it on.

I think organizations like Starbucks, Zappo’s, Google, Virgin Airlines, and a few others have real definable brands. I also believe that fit is an important component of their hiring process and that their human resources professionals look beyond skills and attributes in their hiring and selection processes. I will go even further out on the limb and say that compliance is not their primary mandate or value proposition.

People aren’t assets per se.  Let's eliminate the concept of human capital from our vocabulary. Their efforts and contributions when they are aligned with the interests of the enterprise become powerful assets, but the ownership of that contribution always rests with them. I don’t think we can extract those efforts and contributions; we can only create an environment where they share them.

In his cult book Why This Horse Won’t Drink, Ken Matejka describes commitment as being when

“Employees feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled. They voluntarily give up other options.”

Perhaps I don’t have a full appreciation for capital or technology, but I have yet to encounter a situation where I saw either become physically, psychologically, or emotionally impelled. Come to think of it I don’t think I ever saw a brand or an organization become impelled either- only people.

Contrast that definition to the current statistics showing less than 30% of employees defining themselves as engaged with the number at the other pole disengagement being at 17% and rising costing the U.S. economy alone an estimated $200 billion annually.

I know the recession is theoretically over, but are we really in the position of leaving $200 billion a year on the cutting room floor?

So I guess until I see a better model I will continue to try to work with whole people and to try to create environments and relationships where they feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled toward the goals of the organization because as leaders we have provided them with clarity, context, and alignment and I can't tell you how excited I am to be in the company of others like Marty Lucas, Mark Rowland, Heather Wilde and others who are out there building lighthouses...

For me that defines effective execution, and that is what impels me. What do you find impelling….?


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