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The Journey from the Age of the Tool to the Present (Part 3)

Editor’s Note:  The Journey from the Age of the Tool to the Present is a 7-part series, tracing the journey humanity has taken from 2500 BC to modern times on the progress of Human Resources.  This is a very comprehensive narrative that touches upon numerous management philosophies and concepts.  To read the full series, take a look at the author’s profile page found here.

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Continued from part 2…

By 1994, Dr. Marra was conducting workshops for The Conference Board in New York City and ‘personnel’ was becoming known now as ‘Human Resources (HR)’ although few knew exactly what that meant as it seemed that except for a change in name, most of the same stuff was being done.   He recalls that in one of his seminars which was filled with Vice President of Human Resources and others of equivalent stature he made the statement that in his opinion, ‘the only group that senior management including the CEO knew less about than their organisation’s customers were their organisations employees’. He gained total agreement from the delegates!

Also in 1994, Dr. Marra had the opportunity to talk with the total Human Resource Staff of Allstate Insurance in Chicago, Illinois. They, at the time were one of the larger insurers in America at the time. During the session, one of the Vice President of Human Resources at Allstate Insurance asked, ‘Dr. Marra, in your opinion, what is that employees really want?’ In a matter of minutes the answer was given as follows:

  • Be engaged in meaningful work – doing something that they firmly believe is “making a difference” for something, for someone (the customer maybe?), for the organisation; and
  • Keeping the learning curve going up – continually learning, growing, understanding more – the bigger picture, becoming more marketable, gaining education and experience (lateral and well as upward movement?) about how things really work in the business/organisation and its operating environment

There was a recent YouTube presentation based on work by Bob Proctor, HR Guru, just a year ago (2015) that simply reinforced what Dr. Marra had said more than 21 years before.  And no, the story has not changed despite a lot of other things changing.  We are talking about “foundations” here – the cake so to speak and not the frosting on the cake – a future “Simple Truths” Blog will get into more “frosting” issues.

You can explore the two items above in a little more detail to be sure. When you do, there is a realisation that the following MUST also occur to even come close to declaring “success”.  What are they? They would all I suppose fit under the banner of “support” as follows:

  • Management engaging, listening and learning from employees regularly – then taking action to eliminate barriers that keep employees from contributing to the fullest extent possible or reaching their full potential! In a sense this ties to William Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership – a concept which senior managers most often ignore, despise or see as a “fairy tale”. What does Servant Leadership say?  In a “nut shell”, it says that senior management exists for one thing and one thing only, namely, to ensure the success of their employees and if they aren’t doing that they should be fired! Part of the story also is making sure that senior management is a good mentor and role model – making sure that guidance is given, that exemplary behaviours exhibited which clearly show all employees what the right things are to be done for the business, for the customer – NOT just a focus on doing things right and then beating people up for making mistakes!
  • Show appreciation – the proverbial “pat on the back” – sure, formal recognition will also be a plus if done right – if developed by employees, not management and the focus is predominantly on “non-monetary” recognition.
  • Trust employees – empower them.  Empowerment WILL NOT WORK in an environment where there is no trust between management and employees, full stop. If done right, empowerment will act as a “turbo thruster” for your organisation – letting you literally “break the sound barrier.”
  • Understanding what motivates people – by asking them (engaging them?) and then doing it! You want people to look forward to coming in each morning – “chomping at the bit” to be with their co-workers and make a meaningful contribution. You see, doing what you like to do and doing it with people you like doing it with is one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs. This goes hand-in-hand with being ‘all one team”  – stomp out tribalism, fiefdoms, splinter groups – get everyone moving forward together and being supportive of one another because they know that by doing so their success and the organisation’s success will be better ensured.
  • Ensure the right performance feedback – timely and oriented toward employee development.  Always allow the employee to rate themselves – assuming you have made their key job elements clear and you have not given any mixed signals – saying one thing, but grading them on something else entirely.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of organisations I have gone into where I have asked the following question and had employees NOT be able to answer me: “If your boss came along one day and patted you on the back and said you had done a great job, would you know what you had done and would you be able to do it again?” Also make sure that the performance evaluation links to the organisational values and the behaviours related to them.  For example, if “teamwork” is a value in your organisation, what behaviours would you have to see employees (and management) engage in regularly to be able to call them role models?

In 1995, so we have heard, the great and first revolution in HR started. However in the ensuing years while many HR professionals lost their jobs, organisations went to centralised management of this and other ‘common’ business unit or divisional functions or even worse, outsourced them little progress toward even the faintest concept of an employee centric organisation emerged. In fact, if anything, the situation seemed to regress instead of progress. You, the HR Professional reading this can be the judge.

During the 1994-1995 time period, Dr. Marra participated in the one and only one cultural change process in his 43 year experience in 39 countries around the globe which was actually driven from the ‘people side’. The change effort was called, ‘People Make the Difference’ and it was the idea of Electrolux Corporation based in Stockholm, Sweden. It was powerful and unique almost to this very day in 2016.

In 1996, Heskett et al from Harvard, wrote their first book called, The Service-Profit Chain’ which had an extraordinary amount of research such as with Sears, the large American retailer, that starting with employees  – making your organisation the employer of choice and improving employee satisfaction led directly to your organisation becoming the supplier of choice and increases in customer satisfaction and then, unbelievably, they made the giant leap to financial results showing that profitability per business unit, division, retail location increased significantly as employee satisfaction – their attitudes, motivation and behaviours increased. Proof positive at last and a book which remains timeless and should be required reading for every senior executive (by the way there is a shorter journal article in the HBR for those with shorter attention span such as senior management!).


In 1996 also, Dave Ulrich, the Oracle of the HR world, wrote his book, ‘HR Champions’ in an effort to boost the HR movement and Professionals – to try shift some management paradigms.  Read part 4 here.

About Dr. Ted Marra

Dr. Ted Marra is a strategic facilitator, organizational mentor and writer. He has lectured in MBA/EMBA programmes at universities in Boston, Detroit, the UK, Switzerland and Croatia. He is now a Member of the Board of MAX/Knowledge Now, a global learning organisation. He is also Sr. Partner for Insights Paradigm, a strategic advisory organization in Dubai, UAE. You can find Ted on LinkedIn here.

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