Why are we struggling so much to keep our bright young things? Why do all our efforts aimed at coaching and mentoring programmes just not seem to produce the benefits we hoped for? Why is our BEE programme failing? Where are the supposed results that our team building sessions would have delivered? We have the latest state-of-the-art performance management, job evaluation and incentive systems but still it feels as if motivation is lacking! Why pay so much for all these HR stuff when it doesn’t really work??
In last month’s e-zine Keith Coates touched on a very hot topic: Why, in a world where harnessing people’s full potential has become more crucial for business success than ever before, have HR Departments become more irrelevant than ever? Keith explored the fact that we are rapidly moving into a business environment that increasingly puts emphasis on who we are, rather than what we sell � meaning that the business that can most effectively attract, develop, nurture and retain talent, will have a definite edge. But why, then, is it still so difficult for us to manage our ‘human resources’?
Perhaps it’s all in the name: Human Resource Management‌Perhaps our interventions don’t work because somewhere in the industrial age we have started to view (and name) people only in economical terms (Rhodes & Garrick 2002). Are we only human ‘resources’? Like financial or natural resources � meant to be applied and managed in order to produce more and make more money? Human resources, human capital or human assets � how did it happen that the industrial era could only speak of us in economical terms? And it gets worse if you look at what the information era has been calling us: intellectual capital, knowledge resources, knowledge workers, and the list goes on. Does this mean that business really nowadays only value one aspect of our being � the intellectual?
I am convinced that we struggle to get the most out of our people mainly because we don’t see them as people: people with (valid) dreams and hopes and fears; people with ambitions and passions that totally transcend the boundaries of business; people with creative potential and power way beyond our imagination; people who are more aptly described through poetry than through job analyses‌
We have become so conversant in the language of financial and management models that we have started to reduce everything to this language � including people. The irony is that, as long as you view people as economic resources that need to be managed optimally, you will never get the best out of them. Yes, as long as you, in your heart of hearts, view your employees only as means to an end, you will only get the time you buy from them and nothing more (Chewning et al 1990): you can put systems in place to manage outputs or inputs, you can provide job-related training or you can embark on expensive team buildings but these will never produce optimal results.
So what am I saying? I am saying that no HR intervention or system or theory or process will ever create a blossoming workforce if that is not what it was focusing on in the first place. In short, if you want to harness the full creativity, loyalty, passion, energy and beauty of your people, you have to REALLY view them as creative, loyal, passionate, energetic and beautiful beings (McGregor 1960). And this mindset should reign from right at the top of your organisation, through every manager and staff member into the very fabric of your business – it should be in the air that you breathe!
What does this mean, practically? Let me use an example. Imagine you are the IT Manager in your firm. You have a mentoring session with one of your bright young staff members to discuss the training sessions that you want to schedule for her for the new year. If you view her as an IT-support resource in your division, it makes sense that you will book her only for IT- and network support type training. Perhaps you’ll include some management component to it as well, especially time- or project management. This makes perfect sense � if you are enhancing an IT-support MACHINE. She will do the training. She will up-skill herself. She will stick around to suck out the learning she can get, and she will leave. Now, let’s take a different approach. Suddenly your mentoring session isn’t only with the bright young IT-resource � it is with Sarah Ndlovu and it is not in your office but at a coffee bar up the street (in working hours!). Imagine you don’t even show her the list of accredited modules that HR e-mailed to you � you just let her talk. About herself. About how she got to study IT. About her dreams for her future. About what she would like to learn. But now comes the challenge: are you going to let her be and encourage her or are you going to try to skillfully talk her into the same IT-stuff you wanted her to learn in the first place? Because she might ask for Parenting training. Or guitar. She might even tell you that she does IT now for the money but her actual dream is more towards teaching. What do you do? Take the leap of faith! Take a risk on her. Help her to arrange the parenting course and even the guitar as well. Also throw in the essential IT module that she cannot go without, but let her overall training programme be her programme that fits into her agenda. Yes, she might leave your team anyway, but she’ll be a raving fan about you and your business wherever she goes. And if she stays you’ll have a much better chance of tapping into the fullness of her potential as a person � because you showed respect and commitment towards her whole person.
I know that this is a very simplistic example and that it becomes a lot more complex when dealing with two hundred employees with four hundred different dreams and ambitions. Still, the business that is willing to step into the unknown world of being passionate about letting its people blossom, will have the inside track in the economy of tomorrow. But what about the risks involved? Sure, it is risky. You will perhaps have to sacrifice short term goals or profits. You might help someone get the training that will enable her to leave your team. But guess what: if all the managers in your firm take the same approach, their might be a data analyst somewhere whose dream it is to provide IT support. Or their might be an IT support friend of Sarah’s somewhere out there, working for the competition, who would love to rather work for a place that will allow her to attend her 14:00 French class on Thursdays. Once word gets out that you really care for your people’s best interests, the best will come knocking at your door. Why? Because the best and brightest of them all know that they can choose where to work anyway. They know that they are in demand and they will seek out the employer that is willing to partner them in their own journey to professional and personal success.
OK, OK, but how should we go about instilling this new mindset? And a mindset change it is indeed � a deep mindset change that should start no-where else than right at the top! How do you change the way someone views other people? How do you change the ideas and beliefs and values that have been governing a manager’s gut-level approach to her/his employees for years? How do you transform a CEO into a leader that is first passionate about her/his people and second about the bottom line? Is it possible at all? Because if it is possible, surely this is where we have to start if we want to develop and transform organisations for success in tomorrow’s world of business. I believe it can be done. Over the past two weeks I’ve been discussing this with the Industrial and Clinical Psychologists in the TomorrowToday.biz network, and we are convinced that this is not only possible, but also highly achievable and inspirational. But there are one or two pre-requisites of which I’m only going to touch on one: the person should want to change. If someone joins our transformational leadership programme, it should be out of her/his own free conviction, commitment and motivation to change. Such a person, no matter on what level or from what background, can be transformed to see people (and life!) through the lenses of compassion and empathy. A transformation that might not only catapult her/his business into new realms of possibility (when followed through properly), but will also have a deep impact on other spheres of her/his life.
So let’s change our businesses into places where people can prosper and grow. Let’s stand still and admire again the beauty, desires, possibilities and hopes situated in each individual. And let’s use the power and influence that has been borrowed to us for the benefit of others. And then, only then, after we have totally relinquished our focus on personal gain, will we achieve and gain more than we have ever dreamt possible.
Chewning, R C; Eby, J W & Roels, S J 1990. Business through the eyes of faith, San Francisco: Harper.
McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. McGraw-Hill: New York, 1960.
Rhodes, C. and Garrick, J. (2002). Economic metaphors and working knowledge: enter the ‘cogito-economic’ subject. Human Resource Development International 5:1 (2002) pp 87-97

Jean Cooper is an associate of TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Jean is an Industrial Psychologist Intern with a passion for helping companies get the best out of their bright young things.

TomorrowToday Global