After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, there must have been a powerful sense of co-operation, because it was only 2 months before the factory was turning out product again.
It has long puzzled me that the ‘USA is #1 in the world’. And yet it does not have the best roads, it does not have the best education, it does not have the highest purchasing power per person, it does not have the longest life expectancy and it does not have happiest people. And yet I find myself better able to ‘do well’ in the US than anywhere else.
Why do we have so much difficulty believing in a huggable people person running Human Resources?
Scott Adams’ Dilbert character Catbert is totally believable as the ‘Evil HR Director’. Robert Townsend wrote in his book ‘Up The Organization’ that you should fire the Personnel Department and at worst have a 1 person People department. Instead, since 1970, the Personnel Department has morphed into Human Resources. Not only that, but the boss of that department is seen as evil. The world has gone backwards.
Let’s try some ‘whys’.
Why do you need an HR director? To make sure you have the quality and quantity of employees you need, plus to administer all the regulations around employment.
Why are there regulations around employment? Because employers can’t be trusted to treat their employees fairly.
Why can’t the employer be trusted? Because their job is to maximize profits for the shareholders, not for the employees. So they will tend to cut corners if they can get away with it.
Why does management think of shareholders first and employees second? Because that is their main responsibility.
Why do shareholders think they should have priority? Because that is the way the system is set up.
…and you can go on.
Let’s stop there with the thought that the ‘system’ is the problem. Not Catbert.
The system needs to change.
It’s tough changing systems. Nonetheless, some enlightened bosses take a different view. Richard Branson famously said that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. Since your revenue depends on customers, taking care of your employees will take care of revenues and hence the shareholders.
But this is only a part solution.
We are talking about a change to the system. So, we must talk about the ‘system’ that the corporation exists within.
Part of that system is the community around the corporation’s physical presence.
Henry Mintzberg goes deeper. We should put the corporation in the context of the society in which it exists. This is because it draws ‘resource’ from that environment and has an ‘impact’ on the community around them. It is not ‘fair’ to consider the corporation in isolation. In particular, he advocates for rebalancing in favor of the ‘Plural Society’: the part that is not Private and not Public. Meanwhile, the world seems to be going backwards when it comes to the way corporations are run.
Isn’t time to turn the tide?
Sometimes you have to read a book for just one insight.
The critics might be divided on whether it is a good book, but that one insight makes it gold in your eyes. I wouldn’t have read ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, but for a good friend who recommended it. Then a few weeks later my brother gave me his copy and so I read it.
This was the insight.
Harari says that Homo Sapiens lived for many millennia alongside Neanderthals without immediately dominating them. So why did Sapiens become dominant? There seemed to be a number of environmental reasons. But what finally did it, he says, was Sapiens’ ability to co-operate with groups of people they did not know personally. If your influence is only with those you know, you are limited to about 150 people. When you co-operate with more, then your influence is far greater and your impact is far greater.
Sapiens succeeded over the Neanderthals because of their ability to spread common thinking beyond the immediate group. When you think the same, you act the same and so behave as a much larger cohesive and more powerful force. Who is more likely to prevail: 10 groups of 150 people who look superior but don’t have much in common with each other, or…1500 people who look inferior but think, talk and act in unison? We all know that power.
So how is this relevant to corporate life?
Well, how about ‘Standards’? There are formal ones, like ISO 9001. Or unspoken conventions, like cars having a steering wheel, the right hand pedal being for the fuel, the left hand pedal being for the brake. Imagine a world, where Fords had tiller steering, GM had a side joystick and the accelerator was on the dashboard? There is no question that the market in cars would not be as healthy as it is. Transport those standards to other countries, then you can sell your cars there. Plus you can find suppliers who can make components that will work for you better and cheaper. Everyone involved wins.
Co-operation with people you don’t know makes everyone’s life better. The impact of your ideas is far greater. In the case of Home Sapiens, it has led to dominance over the World.