Fixing people issues: Five fallacies

Monday, 17 September 2012 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Managing people is not as easy as it appears to be. It, in fact, has been one of the key managerial challenges. Even though many leaders proclaim that people are their biggest asset, the level of enthusiasm they show when it comes to managing people is questionable.

People development initiatives get suppressed because of several fallacies prevailing in the society. Today’s column attempts to identify five such key fallacies and to discuss the ways and means of fixing them.

Fixing focus

I have seen many technically qualified managers are not so confident with regard to getting the best out of their employees. The art and science of Managing people, particularly in being firm and fair, requires to have focus and to fix issues in overcoming fallaciesmanaging people is sadly lacking in some of the so called technical experts. The simple reason is that one can acquire technical capabilities through a formal program but to gain the knowledge and skills with the right attitude towards people is to be learnt the hard way.

“Whether they are corporate professionals, budding entrepreneurs, or they own a home business, most people are looking to achieve more in less time, while earning enough money to live comfortably.” That’s what Jack Canfield, one of the authors of the popular book titled ‘Power of Focus’ says. This book reveals the proven techniques thousands of people have used to attain all of the money they wanted while living healthy, happy and balanced lives.

Managing people, particularly in being firm and fair, requires to have focus and to fix issues in overcoming fallacies. These fallacies have been in the minds of corporate executives for some time, as difficult to fathom. I would like to call these five Rs referring to results, rationale, resource, reach and range.

1. Results fallacy

People management initiatives may take time to yield results. Expecting quick results is a fallacy.

It reminds me what Lao Tsu, a Chinese philosopher, 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.

The way forward has to be convincing the leaders on the nature of people development that require long term commitment with possible investments.

2. Rationale fallacy

Why should an organisation need to invest in people? Is it less important compared to investing in machinery, infrastructure and equipment? The need to justify people development investments on a comparative basis is a fallacy.

As we know, there are 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. If this emphasis is not found in decisions made at the top, there is a fundamental issue on rationale.

There is an interesting link here. People management and people development go hand in hand. When you start managing people, you will identify their developmental needs. Without properly satisfying them, subjected to organisational constraints, fixing people issues will not be a reality.

3. Resource fallacy

Who should be the resource involved in developing people? Thinking that HR Department has to do it is a fallacy.

To understand this clearly, let’s look at the nature of HRM, which 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.

Therefore the sure cure way of developing people is to get functional managers involved in developing their respective employees, aptly guided by a centralised HR initiative.

4. Reach fallacy

Does everyone in an organisation need same level of development? Thinking that development should reach all employees all times is a fallacy.

It is the right person who needs the right type of training in order to do his/her job in the right manner producing right results. Based on the typical performance measures, high performers, medium performers and low performers can be segregated. The nature of development needed by these three categories is different. Low performers require performance coaching for them to improve. They might get a second chance if they are loyal as advocated by Jack Welch, who earned a reputation as a sensible people developer. Medium performers need o be training on identified gaps with regards to their knowledge, skills and attitudes. High performers need leadership training as a matter of priority, as they are the potential successors for higher position holders.

Hence, the reach has to be carefully dealt with in order to cater for the deserving employees in their development matters.

5. Range fallacy

Training is not the panacea for all people illnesses. People development should go beyond mere training. Just offering training and expect people to develop is a fallacy.

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.

Training should be coupled with coaching, mentoring and counselling where necessary as a comprehensive range of interventions for people development. Creating a leadership pipeline is one such novel approach. This is a concept (based on a model by Walt Mahler) made popular by leadership consultants Steve Drotter, Jim Noel and Ram Charan. Embarking on such initiatives will fell down the range fallacy.

From fallacies to facts

In fixing people issues, felling down the five fallacies discussed above should have a central focus on one big R, which is the ‘renaissance’. It essentially refers to a new beginning. Such a new beginning is only possible through an attitudinal change.

Fixing people issues demands the respective manager to have a reawakening. Such a revival involves appealing to the hearts and minds of people alike. Proper people management practices essentially including training and development aspects should lead to sustainable results in making organisation profitably growing with satisfied well-developed employees.

The challenge is to act promptly. As Benjamin Franklyn, one of the former US Presidents, insisted, “Well done is better than well said.” Fixing people issues in felling down the fallacies needs a committed approach with clarity from all involved.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on [email protected])

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