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The Journey from the Age of the Tool to the Present (Part 5)

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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 4…

However, you must understand that even when employees are empowered, they may not use it.  In organisations with too much control – micromanagement or where there is a lack of trust, empowerment can never take root. Empowerment is one area where senior management often has to shift a major paradigm – namely that ‘if, management, empower our people, they will give away the farm!’  They couldn’t be more incorrect. In empowerment programmes Dr. Marra has run at Xerox for example, it was senior management that gave away the farm because when problems reached their desks, the response was ‘make it go away whatever you have to do!’ whereas frontline personnel, closest to the customer, took a much more logical and thoughtful approach and got it right!

Every employee has ideas. The problem is usually management not giving them the time or right environment in which to foster those ideas. Dr. Marra has uses successfully a technique called Creativity Labs where he has taken an organisation’s worst performing employees and turned them into superstars that blew the mind of senior management with their great ideas!

Before you can have innovations of commercial or practical value, you have to have the ideas. Focusing and inspiring employees collective creativity working in collaboration can accomplish almost anything which is truly worthwhile.

Lastly you need to reach ‘passion’. To me, passion is a measure of the level of engagement an employee has with an organisation – the degree of emotional attachment they have to the organisation. It’s that ‘feel good feeling’ – that feeling of ‘Boy am I glad I work here’. It that boost of energy that comes in the morning as you get ready for work looking forward to making a difference, doing meaningful work and doing it with people you really enjoy working with. having the right vision and purpose in your organisation is like adding frosting to the cake and gets that extra passion from everyone, ensuring that they are all the best they can be – first time, every time.

The above discussion has taken us on a long journey of nearly 5000 years to where we are today. Unfortunately, as you know, it seems that we haven’t learned as much as we should have about the vital importance of ‘people’ to an organisation – their incredible value to an organisation’s success – truly its most important strategic asset. What seems so obvious seems to elude so many members of an organisation’s leadership team placing even more responsibility on the HR Professionals and their function in trying to make a difference moving forward into an uncertain future often when they do not have the full support or understanding of the leadership team or CEO.

So in nearly 5000 years, the plight of the workforce changed little until the last 35 years and, indeed, when viewing the number of organisations in existence today it is highly likely that far less that 2.5% of organisations have gotten things right where the workforce is concerned. The challenge is obviating that old paradigm that ‘employees are tools’ to get a job done – a paradigm which even in this modern day still persists in the minds of far too many senior managers in organisations around the world. Sad but true that people, who are an organisation’s greatest strategic advantage, have, over thousands of years, been under-valued, underutilised, disengaged and disappointed. A breath of fresh air is long overdue.

An Uncertain Future for HR?

Allow me to offer a different perspective for a moment. As I read comments about art, listen to artists – whether they are painters, sculptors, those in the performing arts including music, theatre and more, the issues I believe begin to stand out and are a key to an understanding of the word ‘art’ can be summarized in the following:

  1. Art can be thought of as a form of focused and intense creative communication which results in stimulating the mind and emotions
    • In my reading it appears that artists themselves believe that art should engage (make an emotional and intellectual connection) and inspire (help stimulate the imagination about what ‘could be’ not just what ‘is’)
  1. From a business perspective, one could say that the Art of HR would be related to ‘the capability or talent of HR professionals to be able to design, develop and execute innovative approaches to encourage the sustained release of creativity, passion and energy from the workforce – to find ways to truly engage them and inspire them to willingly achieve more than they ever thought was possible while ensuring that they find the experience enjoyable (fun) and fulfilling.
    • In doing this, the HR professional can be a better strategic partner of the CEO/Leadership Team and their contribution to building the organisation’s competitive advantage while simultaneously being acknowledged and appreciated (see more below on this point) as a most valuable member of that leadership team – bringing insights, understandings and knowledge not possessed by any others on that team.

Issues facing HR Professionals

As discussed in an Economist article of 2015, the great ‘transformation of HR’ started around 1995 and the decade after as some CEO’s began to recognise the critical nature of human resources to the future competitiveness, growth and enduring nature of their organizations – through changes, threats and turbulence. Many HR professionals lost their jobs during this supposed transformation. Outsourcing was tried as was centralization of certain less value-adding or transactional activities with, at best, mixed results.

However, 20 years later, as reported by the Economist and observed from my extensive work around the globe during that same time, little has changed of a meaningful nature even though thought leaders such as Dave Ulrich have tried to create a path for increased effectiveness of HR as early as his 1997 book, ‘Human Resource Champions’.  Jon Ingham, in the U.K., well known and respected for his work with Strategic Human Capital Management continues to shift paradigms about HR.

The problems as now reported in a 2014 Deloitte study of executives as well as those by Gallup clearly show that CEO’s and leadership teams still have little confidence in HR professionals – in their opinions, they (HR) just don’t or can’t think strategically and therefore are not seen as full partners to the C-Suite of an organization.  In fact, some organizations have started to hire HR professionals from outside HR such as the areas of innovation, product or service development and more with surprisingly better results.

While the above basically ‘hits the target’, there are a number of issues that remain unresolved based upon my 42 years of experience.   Read part 6 here.

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The purpose of Human Resources (HR) is to ensure our organization achieves success through our people. Without the right people in place—at all levels of the organization—we will never be able to execute our Strategy effectively.

This begs the question: Does your organization view HR as a support function or a strategic one? Research shows leading organizations leverage HR as a strategic function, one that both supports and drives the organization's Strategy. In fact, having strong HRM capabilities is a source of Competitive Advantage.

This has never been more true than right now in the Digital Age, as organizations must compete for specialized talent to drive forward their Digital Transformation Strategies. Beyond just hiring and selection, HR also plays the critical role in retaining talent—by keeping people engaged, motivated, and happy.

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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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