Let's Start with Human Resources
In about a month, I will have the privilege of delivering the keynote address at Impact99, a small conference for human resources professionals taking place in Toronto. I’ll be speaking about (you guessed it) Humanize, and I’m excited to be bringing the humanize content to the HR world. Well, excited and a little nervous.
I’m excited because I have some really good friends in the HR community–people who are inspirational and ridiculously smart and care very deeply about our organizations and making them more effective. In that sense, these are “my people,” so I’m happy to be keynoting at a conference of my peers.
But I’m nervous because in Humanize, we do get up in the face of Human Resources a bit. In chapter three, we make the case that organizations today are too deeply rooted in the machine way of thinking, and that’s holding us back. In our quest for the efficiency of mechanical “best practices,” we fall short in the more dynamic (and more powerful) capacity for innovation. Specifically, we point to three practices, widespread among today’s organizations, that are expressly NOT effective because they have machine DNA–and human resource management is one of them. Much of what is done in HR has not seen real innovation in decades. From our hiring process to assumptions about organizational structure, HR seems much better at the “we’ve always done it that way” approach than real management innovation. So in the end, I’m nervous about what kind of reaction I’ll get to Humanize in that community. Will they embrace my challenge to innovate?
And that’s really what Humanize is. It is a challenge for all of us to innovate more, and specifically to innovate management. That’s why I singled out HR in my suggested “hack” to the McKinsey and Harvard Business Review “M-Prize” for Management Innovation put on by the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX). They give awards annually to companies that are actually doing management innovation. Each year they write up specific challenges, and companies submit their innovations based on the challenge.
This year, they asked the community to propose challenges (rather than just rely on what the MIX staff comes up with). So I submitted one. Here’s what I wrote in the challenge:
Of all the components of our industrially oriented management regime that need changing, Human Resources tops the list.
- Even in the current system, HR is left out, fighting for a seat at the table, unable to convince either itself or others that it is a strategic function, rather than an administrative one.
- HR is deeply embedded in the machine approach to management–the name human resources is a simple distinction from other resources (financial, equipment) that are “deployed” in service of the organization. When people are treated like inanimate objects their potential is wasted.
- The way we hire, monitor performance, promote, etc. is an area of management that is perhaps least supported by science. We have many studies that show these processes not to work, but we keep doing it that way anyway. (See Pfeffer and Sutton’s Hard Facts or Dan Pink’s Drive)
- Yet amidst this disarray, there is almost universal agreement on the importance of having talented, engaged employees who take ownership of their jobs, spark innovation, help the organization learn, and lead from every level of the hierarchy.
So how are we responding? By asking HR to try harder or by tweaking our current systems. That’s not good enough. We’re not going to shuffle our way out of this; we need to leap. If we really want to hack management, we cannot only focus on sexy topics like leadership, strategy, or radical changes to organizational structure. We need management innovation that (a) works in the trenches and (b) gets at the core issue of unlocking human potential. We need to innovate HR.
How can we break through the constraints of our current approach to HR and innovate our “people operations” (as Google now calls it) in ways that are more human, less mechanical, and better integrated into our ongoing attention to the organization’s health and well-being?
What do you think? I’d love some comments over on my challenge on the MIX site (I think you have to register to add a comment, but it’s free and it’s a great community to be a part of).