first_imgAnotherOn 1 May 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. What has people management got in common with the study of natural livingsystems? How does the Internet affect the valuation of “humancapital?” In a world of freelance brains that contract themselves to themost rewarding outlet, how will big corporations manage their global pool oftalent? What have the Rule of St. Benedict, the workings of the brain and theconcept of non-authority leadership got to say to those responsible formanaging the company’s human assets? New ideas on management are emerging from unexpected sources, many of themoutside business, such as the research being carried out at the Santa FeInstitute in New Mexico on the complex adaptive systems found everywhere innature – from the cosmos to the garden pond. The eminent management thinkerRichard Pascale devotes his most recent book to this subject, analysing casestudies of global companies such as Shell and Hewlett-Packard that have adaptedliving systems principles to their organisations. (Surfing the Edge of Chaos,Texere, 2000) Ultimately, what living systems are all about in HR terms isself-organisation; independent agents acting on each other under simple lawsthat end up creating a large, constantly adaptive structure. This, as Pascalepoints out, is particularly suited to the way the digital economy works –computer networks behave in similar ways – and he predicts it will be the bigidea of the 21st century, a theory that will last “at least 30 years andmaybe a hundred”. On a wider horizon, living systems are also about destroying equilibriumevery so often in order to renew species and advance evolution. “For anybig company, equilibrium is death,” says Pascale, pointing out that JackWelch, recently retired chairman of GE, is a master of deliberatedisequilibrium. “He knows on a very large scale how to cause anorganisation to question itself.” Pascale is an admirer of Professor Ronald Heifetz of the John F KennedySchool of Government at Harvard University, whose theory of adaptive or”non-authority” leadership also rests on managing disequilibrium sothat intelligence is released and distributed throughout the organisation. Society cannot entirely do without authority, Heifetz concedes, butleadership can emerge without it, and it is a model that he believes fits thenew, volatile e-enterprise age. He points out that history is studded withexamples of individuals without formal authority who went on to change theworld, including Jesus Christ and Mohammed, and in the 20th century Gandhi,Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Has the Big Idea – or, more cynically, management fad – had its day? Themost recent example, re-engineering, was so counter-productive – failing toreach its targets in up to 70 per cent of companies – as to devalue the magicbullet approach to performance improvement. Re-engineering, process-driven atthe expense of people, was often used as a cloak for savage downsizing;companies “let go” key knowledge workers, demotivated thousands ofsurvivors and fatally damaged trust. The big ideas in HR have not been hyped as magic bullets. They have beenmuch slower to work through into practice – many would say far too slow. Mostoriginated in the 1960s with industrial psychologists and motivational researcherslike Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg and Douglas McGregor; later on theformidable Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard-pioneered empowerment. Yet thenumber of big companies where empowerment is truly practised remains pitifullysmall: as Robert Waterman, co-author of In Search of Excellence and a respectedguru in his own right, says sadly, most managers remain Taylorists at heart,seeing people as units of production, hands rather than brains, not to beentrusted with responsibility or initiative. What is new today, in many cases reinforcing the old arguments for Theory Y,the hierarchy of needs and the rest, is the emphasis on the development andpotential of the individual. Here is a sampling of some of the ideas that mayhelp shape future HR thinking: n Human capital. “The way we think of human capital and the way wemanage people is changing,” says Don Tapscott, the Canadian cyber-guru whohas identified a fundamental shift caused by the Internet – that companies nowhave global access to skills and talents without having to own them on thepayroll. Corporate human capital is now much more elastic., for instance,could include readers and reviewers in its human capital because they help itsmarketing by posting opinions on its website. Individuals can also controltheir own human capital, even putting themselves up for auction to the highestbidder on websites such as eBay, and talentmarket n A new moral contract. This is a theory proposed by Sumantra Ghoshal,professor of strategic and international management at London Business Schoolwho is now involved in setting up a new institute of management in his nativeIndia. He thinks that the most sustainably successful companies respect theirkey people as creators of value and believe in helping employees to developtheir best potential. Such a “contract,” he suggests, is the way to capture and retainthe footloose Net Generation in corporate work. Out of 148 students he taughton a management course in 1998, only six wanted corporate careers. n Fair process. Trust in decision-making. A key component of Ghoshal’s moralcontract, this has been the theme of research over 10-15 years by a pair ofrising gurus at INSEAD, the international management school in Fontainebleau,France. W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne studied 35 manufacturing companies inthe US in which a culture of trust had been built up and found it hadcontributed substantially to increased productivity and innovative ideas. Kim and Mauborgne label this a “fair process” and claim it reachesinto areas of human psychology that are little explored in conventionaltheories of people management. They discovered that people in an organisationrelease their fullest creative abilities only when they completely trust theprocesses by which corporate decisions are made and carried out. Unlike theJapanese belief in consensus, this does not necessarily mean agreeing withdecisions, but understanding how they were reached. One of their case studies is Gerhard Schulmeyer’s management of change atSiemens Nixdorf Informations system AG. Schulmeyer, a former ABB manager underthe remarkable Percy Barnevik, chose culture change ahead of process change atthe German software company when he arrived as CEO. From the start he involvedthousands of staff in explanation and consultation about what the company wasdoing and the tough decisions that would have to be faced. The dynamic of thechange programme came entirely from the employees and it was accomplished inmonths. n Empathy and self-awareness. Emotional intelligence or EQ, a conceptmeaning the ability to empathise with others, and popularised by thepsychologist Daniel Goleman, is now established as a key quality of leadership.Hard on its heels came the idea of “spiritual intelligence” or SQ, inwhich the psychiatrist Danah Zohar argued that part of the human brain isnaturally wired to be receptive to vision and values. Other right-brain attributes are competing for attention in the ideasmarket. Intuitive skills are being taught in business-school courses, some ofthem on the verge of self-parody, such as UMIST’s executive course inhorse-whispering and Cranfield’s Praxis Centre retaining a couple ofprofessional psychics. The Praxis course also features a former catering manager and MBA turnedBenedictine monk, Father Dermot Tredget, who is attracting a growing number ofmanagers and change management consultants to his own weekend retreat-seminarson spirituality at work, heldat Douai Abbey near Reading, UK. The courses are based on the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict, whichteaches that work should be an extension of spiritual values and sets out how acommunity of monks should be led; a system that Tredget says can be applied tobusiness organisations. Tredget’s aim is to encourage more “soul-friendly” workingenvironments, not so much through faith-based spirituality – the courses do notrequire religious belief – as through a greater understanding of people’slonging for deeper meaning in their work. It is one of several strands of innerdevelopment training, not all spiritually based, currently on offer toexecutives in search of themselves, from the Findhorn community in northernScotland to something called “Inner Leadership,” which teaches itsstudents how they perceive themselves and are perceived by others. As theveteran leadership guru Warren Bennis has been saying for years, to be aneffective leader of others – or an HR manager, for that matter – you first haveto know yourself. John Seely Brown, the charismatic chief scientist of Xerox PARC andphilosopher-king of Silicon Valley, has a simpler prescription, but one that headmits is rarely followed. “I would argue that one of the greatest skillstoday is listening. That is why the learning organisation doesn’t work becausemanagement is very bad at listening. We expect to talk, we expect to lead, butwe don’t understand that the essence of the thing is to listen, learn andlead.” last_img