It's All About The People

“Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.” -- Admiral Hyman Rickover

Back to our story….

We’ve been working up the hierarchical pyramid of the Management System and we’re close to the top… right where people belong. Everything at the lower, foundational levels is meant to create the conditions of success. For whom? For your people, of course. When they succeed, all other stakeholders – customers, investors, the community, … and you – will benefit from that success.

To begin the process, consider what is needed in terms of the capabilities people must have. Be sure to take into account at what level the skills are needed (need all experts or will some novices suffice?). Also distinguish capacity: how much of those skills, at those levels, are needed? With every business desperate to become more digital, be sure to include digital roles and capabilities to create success. 

Demographic trends suggest that building and sustaining an effective workforce will only get tougher. Given the demographics, make workforce management a core competency throughout the organization. Integrate the steps of recruiting (best with a magnet, and referrals), hiring (making diversity not a compliance matter but a strategic advantage), onboarding (getting things started off right), and ongoing training and coaching. If that total route seems burdensome or bureaucratic, take into account the price you pay when people are ineffective or at best unproductive in their roles.

The pace of change continues to accelerate, so be sure you have made change management another core competency of the entire workforce. The key motivator should be the quote from Gen. Eric Shinseki, former US Army Chief of Staff:  “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” A pause to re-energize is essential after every period of big, bold change. Burnout is more likely the result of it seeming that the treadmill you’re on never gets you anywhere than it is of just plain working hard. Frequent wins sustain the energy.

Setting expectations is a leadership responsibility – at all levels. One CEO we knew contended that without expectations, people can’t take responsibility, but with having expectations set, people can’t help but take responsibility. This is especially relevant with respect to maintaining a customer focus, with customer delight being a key metric in determining the health of the organization. Since we’re already into multiple quotes in a single post, here is a great one from John DiJulius: “Your customers will never be any happier than your employees.” Results in the marketplace are a reflection of what you built in the workplace.

The physical workspace may not be the most important element of managing people, but it counts. There is no one-size-fits-all design but consider what you’re trying to achieve in the work and whether the physical layout fosters or inhibits those objectives. If your people don’t feel great in that space, getting top results will be challenged. The same can be said of employee benefits and policies, which have become table stakes for the workforce: having them may not appear to be important, but not having competitive plans is incredibly important.

You have probably seen the studies that (at best) 30% of workers feel engaged at work. In the next post, we’ll talk about what to do about that. For now, design the framework by articulating what the drivers of engagement are for your business. You can use the usual metrics of employee engagement for a start: employee satisfaction, attrition, absenteeism, complaints, safety-related events. The key metrics are those that directly relate to your organization.

Performance needs to be measured to be assessed. We never believe in forced rankings (eg, quartiles, 10% high/10% low/80% average, etc.). They doom a percentage of your workforce to ‘loser’ status, a message no one should receive. Weight the factors relevant to your organization, but the elements should include achieving committed results, customer focus, and innovation. Many organizations are foregoing annual appraisals and instead committing to frequent feedback… we like that a lot.

With the pace of change accelerating, learning and development must be integral to your management system. Emphasize to your workforce members that they have to own their life-long learning. It is essential that you foster that in tangible ways, with direct contributions of time and money to keep pace with external trends and internal innovation. Let every person make some individual preferences… while these may not be accommodated immediately, if they are never met you’re creating a flight risk.

Formal training, delivered in any number of ways, is important but it needs on-the-job reinforcement or the new knowledge and skill will be lost almost as quickly as it is acquired. Measure the effectiveness of training by following up and make improvements indicated.

Finally, work with every person to define a career path. It may change over time, but people need a direction and experience progress to continue to drive them forward. Absent that, they will find organizations where they are better treated.