Humane Results: A fresh look at managing human resources

Monday, 25 October 2010 03:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It is all about people. How they make a difference, not only in their lives, but in others’ lives as well. The setting is an organisation.

‘Humane Results’ will be a forum to discuss people matters from managerial, organisational and human resource perspectives. The term humane typically means caring, kind, gentle, compassionate, civilised and kind. These definitions all revolve around people. Results, on the other hand, are to do with achievement. It could be goals, objectives, targets and measures. When we combine the two terms, the emerging idea is the need to achieve results through people.

We have various resources in an organisation. Physical, financial and informational resources will be in no avail if we do not have the most precious resource. That is the Human Resource. It is the only resource that has life, with associated dynamism and vitality. In such a context, Humane Results (HR) can be the distinct dimension of Human Resource Management (HRM).

HRM is constantly evolving. Having started as personnel management, it has come a long way to occupy a prominent place in organisational top levels with strategic human resource management. Among numerous ways of describing HRM, Garry Dessler offers perhaps the simplest.

HRM is all about policies, practices and processes of performing the people aspect of a management position. It does not confine to a particular department, division, section or a unit. Every manager has a people-role to play.

Let’s take the case of an acclaimed accountant. He/she must be very good in the accounting related technical matters. But without managing the people reporting to him/her, the results cannot be achieved. It is a case of knowing the art and science of getting things done through the people, with the people and from the people. That leads to the golden rule in HRM: Every manager is a Human Resource Manager.

Managing people has its promises and pitfalls. Humans have potential and unleashing it has to happen in the organisational setting in order to obtain the desired results. That is the promise. The other side of the coin is the fact that humans are neither rational nor irrational; they are natural, or ‘a-rational,’ if I am to coin a term. There is a high degree of unpredictability in human behaviour. There can be swinging between emotional extremes, be it glad, sad or mad.

Managing people is an art and science in that respect. It needs an appeal to head, with structure, direction and control. That is being scientific. It also needs an appeal to the heart, with purpose, passion and positivity. That is being artistic. Hence, a carefully planned set of ‘head’ and ‘heart’ strategies should be on offer.

It reminds me what Lao Tsu said a long time ago: If you want to plan for one year, plant corn. If you want to plan for three years, plant a tree. If you want to plan for 10 years, plant people. People development is a long term affair. You cannot rush sunshine.

There was a European CEO whom I knew who used to yell at his senior colleagues, “Where is my EBITDA?” EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interests, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation. Surely, he should have been interested in that, but the issue was that he was ONLY interested in that. People development went down the drain.

We will look at multiple facets of humane results in the coming weeks. One to start with is the leadership. As Jim Collins puts it, in his bestselling book, ‘Good to Great,’ we need great leaders with “professional will” and “personal humility,” not only at top but at all levels of an organisation. They will inspire, influence and instruct with results in mind.

Why is such an approach not only necessary but also timely? South Asia is a “humanly rich” region, yet abundant with poverty. As Professor Bushan of India puts it, it is a region having the paradox of best brains and worst poverty. Sri Lanka is no better, but obviously with much potential. That is why humane results become such an important aspect of our path to progress.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has over two decades of both private and public sector working experience in diverse environments including Unilever and Nestlé. He has engaged in consultancies in more than 10 countries. He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa.  He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK.)

Recent columns