People as Cogs: perception drives performance
by Nilofer Merchant |
With peers in a few CEO roundtables, I've heard things like: "I plan on hiring 3 biz dev people to get $345K per headcount in revenues." After publishing a book about closing the execution gap by focusing on the "peopley" stuff, CEOs of major companies took me aside (in a friendly way) to suggest I had made a major faux pas, and would be seen as having gone "soft." In spite of a forest's worth of academic papers and rafts of best practices published by the likes of HBR on the importance of the "soft" stuff, most companies continue to treat people as inputs in a production line. I've had leaders ask me if this "people engagement thing" is something that can be added on, after the core business stuff is done, sort of like adding frosting to a cupcake.
For the rest of this article visit ( http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/people_are_not_cogs.html ) Harvard Business School Online
This interesting short article pointed out the obvious persistence by the use of terminology in many executive suites and board rooms. However, even more engaging were the associated comments to the article. I believe the use of Web 2.0 has been the addition of comments to every article or news story. Further, that these comments can in turn be commented on by other readers creates a "just-in-time" community around that topic that embellishes, expands and enlivens the original far beyond the intention of the author. One detraction was the author's penchant to slang as in "gotta" when responding to comments.
Two reader comments caught my attention. One placed the blame of the impersonal and objectifying language used such as "headcount" at the doorstep of business schools and their cirriculum. Given that most faculty had actual real world experience in the bowels of a company, I have to concur. One solution someone suggested was to put them on merit pay and remove tenure to see how quickly they start referring to themselves as "talent".
But the other comment really was interesting and I take issue with it:
I love the idea of the two camps being one - but the 'existence proof' you cite is, sadly, very flawed.
Google and Apple are successful because they sell Market Leading - nay - World Leading products. The fact that they have different people-engagement approaches is, sadly, coincidental.
By contrast, Henry Ford, also at a time when he was producing the World Leading Model T Ford, was treating his people like dogs.
There is an enormous difference in perceived value between assembly line workers of Henry Ford's day and today's information/knowledge worker. Factory workers were treated as interchangeable parts and perhaps rightly so but, of course that doesn't justify the behavior. When someone leaves Apple or Google, part of the company's intellectual property just walked out the door. There is a reason that in tech companies in particular the term for Human Resources has been replaced by Talent Management.
It seems fair to extrapolate that as work becomes more and more knowledge based, even manufacturing with AI, then regard for the talent that provides the intellectual horsepower will have to improve as well. And, yes, it will have to migrate to business school as well.
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