Glass Houses

My conversation with Michael Cook continues (Organizational Development Talks: OrgDevTalk), this time with no specific question, but some very good insight and commentary:

Harold: I just read your response to my latest couple of questions. In my view your response is profound. I especially like the reference to the address delivered to people in the HR field.  I am a former HR professional so what I’ll say next is grounded in direct experience.

In my opinion, the HR profession is badly in need of a new identity, one that demonstrates clearly to all members of senior management that HR has a strategic imperative which is to be accountable for shaping the management models and practices for the future of any organization.

As you have pointed out, and no doubt what was recognized by your HR audience, much of what is currently contributed by HR staffs falls in the category of “complicated work” which is increasingly a candidate for outsourcing. Where the largest opportunity lies, in my opinion, is to transform the current conversation around “employee engagement” from being held as a complicated matter to one that is viewed as complex. We have arrived at a point where increasingly an employee’s time in the workplace is merely an intersection in their lives, not necessarily a destination, one where their personal vision, talents and skills come together with a “place” or occasion to meet some but certainly not all of their personal needs.

To the degree that employee engagement, supported by HR practices, continues to be thought of as a “thing” to be tweaked, like the temperature of a room, companies will continue to either lose their best people or fail to attract the talent they truly need. The likelihood in these scenarios is that those same companies and their HR department staffs will be left scratching their heads and speaking in low tones about work ethic and attitudes of entitlement as the root of their problems.

Two of the slides from your presentation struck me as particularly poignant, numbers 20 and 29. The first points out that the “cheese” for many people currently working as employees has actually moved. Waaay back in the early 2000′s Ken Thomas provided very grounded insight that could serve as a guiding light for the necessary transformation with the publication of ‘Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement’. Thomas uses a somewhat different vocabulary than yours yet to my ears and eyes it conveys much the same meaning. You say Autonomy, Mastery and Sense of Purpose. He says Meaningfulness, Choice, Competence and Progress. Samo/Samo to me. Then you point out (slide 29) that 90% of the learning that matters today in the workplace is the outcome of an experiential process, either personal or with the assistance of others. Yikes, suddenly it is no longer a question of if social media but which and how soon. Clearly the technology and the times have collided much like the chicken and the egg.

I realize there is not a question here but I have been wrestling with one for some time and it is; how can we break up the mythology around engagement, starting with the recognition that engagement cannot be controlled, it can be offered. Leadership appropriate to the reality now is supportive/offering and inquisitive/asking. HR Leadership can lead this transformation and as Peter Block might say, it is not a matter of how as much as are they willing to say YES!

“We have arrived at a point where increasingly an employee’s time in the workplace is merely an intersection in their lives, not necessarily a destination, one where their personal vision, talents and skills come together with a “place” or occasion to meet some but certainly not all of their personal needs.”

For too long we’ve had simplistic models of what motivates people. This is where the whole “incentivise” BS comes from [no, it's not a word]. People are complex beings. They have multiple, overlapping valences. Good leaders have always understood that.

I agree with Mike. It’s a question of which social media and how soon. This conversation about social media will be dead in a few years. Nobody discusses email any more, other than how many unread messages they have in their inbox. Social media will be there in less than five years. I give it 24 months. But that’s not the important point.

Control is the killer. It’s the basis of our industrial-rooted work systems. Many HR policies imply that people cannot be trusted. Almost all IT policies say that. But it’s a new world. Everything is transparent, whether you want it to be or not. Just ask Julian or Anonymous.

Image by Dave Makes

Once you realize you live in a glass house, you start thinking differently.

 

 

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One Response to “Glass Houses”

  1. Jon Husband

    much of what is currently contributed by HR staffs falls in the category of “complicated work” which is increasingly a candidate for outsourcing

    Not only outsourcing, but increasingly rules-based (counter to a ‘flow’ environment of talent) which can lead to automation or DIY.

    HR in internal coaching and development roles has a long and I think patchy history; outsiders often have more influence exactly because they are outside the often-more-formal internal environment of the organization. And so .. between providers of policy-based support services and strategic coaches / change agents with real influence, what space is left for HR to provide tangible value (beyond basic rules and hygiene) in the internally-and-externally connected workspaces of today ?

    Thorny question ..

    Reply

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