You are going to read a newspaper article about management. Choose the answer (A, B, C or D) which you think fits best according to the text.
I have been asked what I think about the idea of ‘Investing in People’. The best answer I can give is that I think that what it tries to achieve – basically making the link between business improvement and focusing on the needs of the people who work for an organisation – is great. My problem is with organisations who subscribe to it as a way to help them ‘get better’, when they don’t bother to understand where they went wrong in the first place. They need to ask what explicit and implicit policies and procedures they have in place that prevent their people from being able to do the right thing for the right reasons.
I am sure that there are managers out there who don’t know any better, and assume that to manage they simply need to put pressure on their people to perform. But people don’t demonstrate high performance because they are told to. They do it because they see the need to do it, and make the choice to do so. They do it because they are connected to the business goals and they see how their contributions can help achieve them. Such managers may tell themselves they can put a ‘tick’ in the ‘we care about people’ box. But simply putting ticks in boxes is no good if it doesn’t reflect reality.
I know of a company that was so concerned that its people were doing the ‘right thing’ that it put in place a series of metrics to measure their effectiveness. So far, so good. But one of the objectives – making successful sales calls – manifested itself in the metric ‘Number of potential customers seen in one day’. The sales people obviously focused their efforts on going from one customer’s office to another, and not on closing deals. Instead of the employees becoming more effective, they focused on getting the boxes ticked. Good intent; poor thinking.
Another company wanted to improve the speed with which it was able to introduce new products. Competition was beating it to the market place, and consequently the company was losing market share. Senior management sent out the message to reduce the time spent in getting products into customers’ hands, with the explanation that they couldn’t afford delays. This was a relatively easy task, especially since the time spent testing the products was cut in half to accomplish the time reduction. The result was new products were introduced in less time than those of the competition – but soon rejected by customers for poor quality. Good intent; reckless implementation.
A third company I know is trying hard to help employees see that they have some control over their future. The company instituted a programme with a title like ‘Creating our own future’ or something like that. A good idea; get the people involved in the future of the company. But instead of the employees becoming motivated to contribute, they saw it as a hollow exercise on the part of senior management who, in the past, had paid little attention to anything other than getting the job done so they could report great earnings. Yes, the programme was a big ‘tick the box’ effort, but that was all it was in the minds of the people that it was designed for.
A final example is of a company that brought in one of these ‘Investing in People’ programmes to change the way the company was run. Assessors were running around like crazy, helping managers examine how they managed. They told managers how they could manage better. And when the programme was over, the company was able to say they had done it – it had invested in its people and life was now good. But the managers simply went back to business as usual. After all, the assessors were gone, and they had targets to hit.
All these examples are representative of senior management who see the need to improve things in their organisation, but don’t see how to do it. For a start, a programme targeted at improving things is only as good as management’s ability to motivate their people. And when the employees simply see the programme as a box-ticking exercise, then it’s hopeless.