14 thoughts on “White Paper: People Management Post Financial Crash – doing the unthinkable with elephants in the drawing-room

  1. Key points in feedback email from a COO:
    Great paper and my comments are as follows:
    1. HR in my view should not exist as a director level position and should never be responsible for strategy, NEVER……
    2. …Managers need to sit with employees but they also need to have the skills to filter out the whiners and take on board the valid feedback of those who have less to say but know what is needed. I have found that if you give humans the opportunity to complain, they will then find a reason no matter how small.
    3. Cash and good quarterly results are what matter…
    4. Great point and this is where the CEO needs to manage his team so that they go after the organizations goals and not those of the individuals involved. Believe the old term for this is ‘politics.’

  2. Key points in feedback email from VP Supply Chain Sector
    Thanks for sharing this paper. I found it thought-provoking…Regardless of how many organizations may dare to try any of these unthinkable paths out, the simple fact of putting the debate on the table ensures much progress. Personally, I believe elephants one and two are close to my heart; in fact, it is very close to how I am making my own business operate. We already started seeing positive outcomes from active listening and adapting, and from focusing HR to the people dimension, outsourcing the admin and control dimensions.

  3. Key points from feedback email from CEO TMT sector

    I personally believe you’re absolutely correct, but might even go further in many cases.
    1. I’ve long held that companies are not well served by having HR departments. They are, in my experience, too focused on themselves, justifying their existence and looking for reasons to expand their influence and/or numbers. Leadership (and management) is about taking responsibility for the people in your company….
    2. Executives MUST engage with the people in their organisations, and do so personally…Spend time IN your company/ies, talk with people at all levels…..Ask them 4 key questions: What are we doing well that we should continue doing? What are we doing that we should stop doing? What are we not doing that we should start doing? How can we improve what were doing to make it even better? It’s the people at the proverbial coal-face that best understand their jobs and can generally point to areas for improvement (and, often, to the best way of improving them, too).
    3. As you say, Cash is King. Without it, all else fails… Yes the IP of the organisation is a key to its success which is why the leaders need to actively talk with their people, but the trite statements that one hears about how people are a company’s greatest asset (often immediately preceding an announcement of staff cuts) are viewed as risible by most staff. Rather than making these statements, show the importance of people by engagement.
    4. Perhaps the other Elephant in the room is the fact that leaders need to truly encourage a culture where people at all levels feel able to make decisions about a course of action. I think this ties in with your MicroBusiness point, but maybe goes further still. There’s far too much talk of empowerment – generally not backed by actions as the employees in these “empowered” companies are scared to take decisions in case they lose their jobs. Stagnation ensues, as all decisions are “kicked upstairs.” This results in bottlenecks and, often, bad decisions as those making them are too far removed from where the problem lies to understand it and act accordingly. To use a military analogy, no battle could ever be won if the generals had to make every decision about what was to happen on the battlefield. Those in the thick of things are empowered to decide the best course of action at the time and do so knowing the consequences of a bad decision can often be a lot more serious than losing their job…

  4. Key points in email from business and executive coach

    Yes, agree with the concept of micro businesses being co-ordinated to achieve the goal. The key thing is often to ensure that people share common values in the way they want to contribute. Then you really can have ‘similarity of spirit’ and ‘diversity of strengths’. Also makes it easier to follow the Global-Local model to ensure people act as adults in contributing to achieve the overall purpose.

  5. I think its a good paper, with a particularly thought provoking central idea of different way to view employees contained in Elephant 4. Having spent 2 years as CEO of a financial services firm, many people in the organisation see themselves as micro businesses and must be led and motivated as such. The business is simply the legal platform to practise on.

  6. Feedback from a senior Consultant in media and technology

    I’ve never felt qualified to comment about HR functions. I’ve worked at FTSE100 companies, start-ups and mid-cap companies. HR functions have always been a disaster in my experience. I just thought it was me, or the particular company or HR department. Now, reading your comments and some of the feedback on your site to the thoughts you have put out there, make me start to question this whole function. I’m not at all familiar with the Chief of Staff model at the White House, but the concept of a shake-up and re-thinking is exciting and desperately needed. This week I interviewed a high-flyer within an organisation looking to leave and join my company. My comment was “why didn’t you go see your HR people and talk about the new opportunities that might exist within that huge organisation?”. He said that was never an option because he viewed the route via HR as being tantamount to “telling on his boss” and he wanted to avoid “falling out” with those he worked for. Unbelievably tragic isn’t it. Where is the wider picture? Where is the internal comms that comes out and says: you need to be high performing and if you’re not happy, maybe you need another challenge, come talk to HR and we’ll optimise you. Maybe there are HR functions out there like that, but I’ve never seen any. Is it no wonder that I’ve set up my world as a perma-consultant who imbeds himself as a valued member of a team, but retains consultant status.

  7. 1. I think it’s obvious to say that the role of the CEO is to act as a general council and coordinator of all other roles, guiding each for the greater good and direction of the business. Therefore the role of HR is simply as a peer to all other technical roles, like Finance. In simple terms all organisations are built around people, process and systems, within and across functions. Take away anyone of these and you organisation no longer exists, its classic systems thinking. Failure to manage people results in failure to direct and drive the business. But it is everyones responsibility.
    A chief of staff is an interesting concept, but in my mind it should be a role which manages the interactions and integration across the other main board functions on a daily basis on behalf of the CEO. Managing the system and architecture of the business, how things pass between functions and changes to the business.

    2. Stakeholder management and listening is something all organisations should do. At all levels. An organisation has two core strategic aims, to run the business, to change the business. It’s the role of the employer to be able to manage its employees to achieve both. It’s not always the same people who will do both either, some people will focus of running the business, keeping the lights on. Some people will focus of changing the business, delivering the strategy. The methods for engagement are different for each. As the objectives of the business are different for each. But listening to the heart beat of the business, is important. Whether through ‘engegement’ or through ‘listening’, as long as the employee feels they are heard.

    3. At a fundamental level cash is king. However cash is an input and an output to the business. It’s required to build the business on one side and it’s the income from the sales of products, services or investments on the other which can generate cash. The challenge is the functions which go on in the middle to transfer materials into goods and services. People are important to the business, but so are systems and processes, but no one pays them much attention. I concur with the thought that people can be treated as a micro business, as each employee has a personal vision, mission, set of goals and drivers, which if directed effectively would be of more benefit to the organisation than if left.

    4. The challenge is that all organisations are more than just people (back to systems thinking). That we all make decisions in the environments we work, based upon the interactions we have on a daily basis. The engagement we have forms our perception of our environment and affects our decision making process. Good stakeholder management and business engagement should treat all contacts as if they are a customer, in effect a micro business, whereby the inputs and outputs of the engagement interface are known and understood. I agree with this approach, that better and more productive dialogue will take place if you are able to understand and frame an individual’s objectives.

    Hope this helps – Andy Watkin-Child

    • Thanks Andy

      I’m please the micro-business notion chimes. Regarding your comments on the Chief of Staff role, I still think that there are certain duties that cannot and should not be done on behalf of the CEO, but I do feel he/she would need support from best of class L&D people in a large organisation.


  8. Thanks Ciaran

    I really enjoyed the paper.

    Some observations;

    RE Elephant 1.

    I’d be interested in your take on the time demands and the implications on the CEO’s role which I would argue has traditionally been one characterized as a role with a strong external bias (more so than an internal one) i.e. raising finance, dealing with investors & other stake holders, industry level involvement, setting strategic direction, leading a team having assessed the wider external context etc

    Will they have the time for a much stronger people focus?

    Re Elephant 2

    This following (short) video is instructive http://bigthink.com/ideas/15979

    Collins talks about the importance of finding self motivated people but more appropriately he talks re leadership behaviours that de-motivate people (lack of dialogue, lack of argument & debate, not listening to people). Similar points to ones you make.

    Re Elephant 3

    I do not think this is a universal law – however I do think it applies to senior execs with a strong skill set who also have an extensive network. ‘Restraint of trade clauses’ were one means used in the past to prevent employees quitting and running away with key contacts and serving them directly. As you point out these changes were predicted by Charles Handy – time to get those handy books out of the cupboard again (if you pardon the pun).

    Re Elephant 4

    I do think we are definitely entering a new era when it comes to careers and career management. There is also a lot of uncertainty (not just in terms of the economy but also in career investment decisions). Many people are now deciding that degrees, Masters etc are simply not good investments – the ROI is simply not there and the debt burden is disproportionate to the income gains. This alone will have a profound change. Secondly, Governments are no longer prepared to fund many institutions like they used to (see the decline in Irish Universities in International rankings -largely correlated with cut backs) and student donations in Europe are far less than those to US colleges.

    I think we are also likely to see the growth in unemployed people amongst the highly educated which will again be a new phenomenon with significant implications for society.

    The times are indeed changing. As with all changes opportunities can also be significant for those best placed to take advantage.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      Re your time demand query : Some say a CEO has only three things to do: create an environment in which people can do their best work; grow the business and delight cutomers. I agree with this view and therefore my answer to your question is that the bias needs to be balanced internally and externally to achive these objectives. I disagee with the notion that someone neeeds to mind the shop whilst the CEO is “externally focussed”.


  9. Ciarran

    Thank you for a good paper. It bought me back to an amazing book that I only read a few years ago but which was first published in 1993. ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler is an inspiring read for any leader and provides ideas that overcome all four of your elephants.

    That wonderful sage Charles Handy wrote: “The way that Ricardo Semler runs his company is impossible; except that it works, and works splendidly for everyone. I relish this book. It revived my faith in human beings and my hope for business everywhere.”

    Here’s a quick rundown on Semco:

    Workers make the decisions previously made by their bosses
    Managerial staff set their own salaries and bonuses
    Everyone has access to the company books
    No formality, with a minimum of meetings, memos and approvals
    Internal walls torn down
    Shopfloor workers set their own productivity targets and schedules

    Semler’s philosophy has been in place at Semco since 1980; the company still flourishes. If you have a spare 14 minutes, view this too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG3HPX0D2mU

    There is another element that leaders need to develop, particularly where those being led are the MBs you refer to and that is trust. This is especially the case in service companies, where people are generally better educated, more capable and responsible, such as accountants, management consultants ot lawyers. Lastly, I never forget the parting words from the Commandant at Sandhurst when my intake was commissioned: “As a leader and an officer, always be humble”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s