4.0 out of 5 stars
HR Practices: Debatable Assumptions, Questionable Effectiveness!
Reviewed in India 🇮🇳 on August 16, 2019
The book critiques the operating assumptions behind popular HR practices and how these flawed assumptions, affects the quality of outcomes that most organizations seek- be it greater productivity, service excellence, leadership bench-strength or engaged workforce. Let us consider the assertions made in the book, on the basis of experiments done at CISCO and also taking inputs from research elsewhere:
1: People care for the Mission of the company and its Future…..The talk about company culture is good to convey some of the beliefs to outside world and helps attract the right fit among the potential employees. Once in, the most employee cares about is the team he works with- its shared values, practices and mutual trust. Author suggests taking team as unit of analysis for diagnosis, and interventions more often than is prevalent today. This would allow for greater insights and more nuanced intervention designs- which would off-course involve team leader at its core.
2. Best crafted plan rarely wins, as it is based on fleeting reality and general assumptions- and expects adherence by team members who know that realities are continually changing. Plans often dictate sequencing of activities and timings, resources allocation, and member roles, which bring in certain structure and predictability in the execution. To keep plans relevant, companies do undertake periodic revisions at regular intervals. Alternately, author talks about broad plans that are detailed on weekly basis and primarily driven by sharing of intelligence and data among all and relying on users’ ability to make sense of the data or new intelligence. Weekly check by team leader leads to 13% increase in team engagement while monthly check in decreases engagement!
3 Basic assumption behind emphasis on top-down cascading of goals, is that the deficit in performance is on account of misaligned efforts and actions by the team. Is it really so? Goals are seldom able to influence performance, although they help predict performance at aggregate level! Associated with the goal exercise is the calendar based tracking and evaluation system- which has some obvious limitations. Author professes the need to align meaning, purpose, mission across the organization hierarchy and teams instead of only goals for enhancing the engagement level among teams.
4 While competencies framework aims to create well-rounded managers and templated leaders, the excellence comes from people who have spiked personalities with clearly supreme abilities and associated idiosyncrasies. High performers understand their unique and distinct skills and cultivate these skills intelligently. If leaders are in outcome providing business, should find ways to exploit team members’ uniqueness and not make each to focus on personal deficits. Competencies profiling at team levels may be a better option.
5. Ability to provide negative feedback is an important skill and that employees finally gain from such candid feedback- goes the prevailing corporate wisdom. Neurologically speaking, we are more comfortable in learning in areas, where we are already good. People gain lot more, if they are interrupted when they deliver their best, help them analyze their own flow and push them to extend that state in other new and adjacent areas. Do not confuse social media behavior of the millennium as need for feedback for improvement, it is for attention and positive reinforcement.
6 Rating others objectively on abstract parameters like business acumen, suffers from various limitations including raters own bias, limited data availability and often lack of shared meeting of the term being evaluated. Decisions based on such flawed assessments about someones’ potential are questionable. And if the errors are more systemic, then averaging assessments of multiple raters won’t help. Author suggest that to make the data about people more reliable, valid and variable, questions needs to be reframed in a way that managers respond basis their experience and intend then overall raring the person. Instead of asking how collaborative person is, ask how comfortable team feels when he is the part of the team! How often you ask a team member for suggestion instead of rating member on his innovation competency!
7 Is potential a trait in a person with which one is born or a state, which is an outcome of what he has learnt and experienced before? And if potential is linked to learning and performing, then each has its own areas where he can be better at and none of us can rewire our brain to be excel at everything. As value maximization machines, organizations need to extract maximum potential from all then only from those in labeled Hi-Po. Authors suggest that instead of potential, we should look at individual momentum, which included his inherent strength as mass, and learnt skills and experiences as velocity (with defined direction) which allows individual to herald with certain momentum in one directions than another. This allows for constructive dialogue around selecting appropriate career paths that capitalizes on the current momentum of an individual.
8 Work is inherently bad and you get compensated for indulging in work and that compensation help you live life…is the prevailing assumption behind the work-life balance dialogue. Not all work is boring and not everyone finds excitement in the work in a particular way. Everyone may love some dimension of his work, that component needs to be consciously enhanced and interspersed, so that everyone can get to spend time in love with work. Instead of get work done through people, get people discover self through work!
9 Leadership is best described in terms of felt experience of followers on their ability to be collective and individual best, when associated with a particular leader. Leading isn’t a set of characteristics but a series of experiences seen through the eyes of followers.. Leaders are not followed for they have no faults or gaps but they have something unique and deep that we value. And as followers, we are fairly forgiving to the flaws of a leader, so long as he brings confidence and certainty to us on the dent of unique and personal mastery.
Authors, through this provocative book tried to bring forth the flaws in our ways of thinking and managing people growth and performance challenges at workplace, by labelling them a lies. They have also provided alternate truism against each lie, and to some extent also shared ways to manage basis the alternate trues.
At the core, author wants organizations to: give more recognition to individual uniqueness then template-driven predefined clustering of employees; use teams as unit of analysis and intervention more often than individuals and organization; introduce life in work; and stop developing perfect leaders.
Sane advice, worth remembering, always!
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