Your People are Your Business

From http://www.hrfuture.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3258:your-people-are-your-business&catid=63:latest-opinions&Itemid=641

It is easy to forget that people are at the heart of organisations. Human capital is the bloodflow of any corporate strategy, and thereby draws on the motivations, expectations, creativity, skills and passion of each and every individual. As such, it is what each person brings to an organisation in terms of his or her own life experience and unique expression of talent that helps drive the strategic mandate of the company. Yet harnessing this amorphous capital is challenging.
Organisational culture has a significant impact on an organisation’s productivity, ability to meet targets, efficiency and of course, ability to relate to one another in the organisational context. It is these relations that drive talent development, recognition and retention.
Such is the nature of most organisations that structure runs in top-down silos with well-demarcated chains of command and line management. This works in terms of providing career progression, and establishing levels of responsibility as well as accountability. However, in terms of collaboration and furthering operational mandates, this hierarchical structure can be counter-productive. Such an organisational system encourages competition between individuals for career advancement, and between silos in terms of annual performance. Collaboration towards a common goal feels alien in an environment that encourages and rewards separatism.
In addition, the mechanics of communication are challenging. Within an organisation, there are numerous generational differences that can hamper communication. Baby Bboomers, Generations X and Y work side by side to forward the strategic mandate of an organisation. Across management and leadership layers, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers dominate, yet a Gen Y employee would approach a strategic decision quite differently from his colleagues, based on his or her experience of the wider environment. Needless to say, each generational rung has a specific set of skills that are both relevant and productive, when harnessed astutely. Each generation of worker can provide opportunities to consolidate the company offering, however, more often than not, it is these differences that create schisms in the communication landscape.
How then does an organisation go about maximising the talent inherent in its staff, whilst fostering unity in an otherwise divided workforce?
There are two approaches to managing people; top down and bottom up. Purpose is a strong motivator for a workforce challenged by downward economic turn. As organisations tighten their belts and cut costs to streamline overheads, there is a need for work to become more than just about increasing management bottom-line – it has to be about striving towards a unified, cohesive goal with shared benefits. In addition, for an organisation that specialises in content aggregation, the advent of technology is changing the way content specialists work. In an uncertain environment, colleagues have to feel that their skills are relevant and adaptable to the challenges they face. Management needs to address these issues, both strategically for the longevity and sustainability of the organisation, but also to communicate these issues with colleagues to assuage their fears, and include them into the organisation.
Communication is key: talking to each other, sharing knowledge, opening up the silo divisions, recognising the skills that are transferable. But what of skill sharing? Top employees, although no doubt proficient in one particular area, might well have transferable skill sets that can apply to other problems in other sectors of the business. An accountant in a division is as likely to come up with a creative marketing idea, as likely as an online strategist is to spot an area for business development. It’s about communicating with colleagues, top down, bottom up, and allowing two-way feedback.
So what doesn’t work? Change management processes that are textbook driven and scholarly and rely on theory and models that assume one-size-fits-all and foster exclusion when the model doesn’t fit don’t work. Wily colleagues can spot a ‘management intervention’ without colleague buy-in, exacerbating organisational fatigue. Line management ownership which reduces collaboration to the linear processing form of advancement which retains the silo structure is also not good for the organisation. It is better to create partnerships across divisions with HR to foster co-creativity, and a sense of support. It’s best to avoid anything that’s been seen before. The time is ripe for new approaches, new ways of looking at old problems, and getting Gen Ys on board to brainstorm!
Mawethu Cawe is Group Executive for HR and Transformation at Avusa Limited (www.avusa.co.za).

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