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Fill it, shut it, forget it: Why the very idea of ‘Management’ is all wrong

“Human Resource Management”

“Talent Management”

“Learning Management”

“Performance Management”

Meet the corner-stone of how people are dealt with in organizations, i.e. management. Even the top business schools around the world are dedicated to this one cause. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I went to one of them. But here’s what I want to say today, without qualms, and from the bottom of my heart:

If we care for how businesses can create value using their human capital, we should scrap every trace of this thing called “management” from organizations, and drown it in the deepest ocean known to man.

Now if that seems a little extreme, bear with me for a while. I hope you will soon see the point.

Take for instance performance management. Every working professional has suffered it. What is the yardstick “successful” performance management system? That it is “standard”. We have all heard the cliché, “don’t measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. Yet, we implement this cliché with religious zeal through performance management systems, every year, around the world.

You see, management is nothing but a “set of transactions”. We need to pay employees, so let’s define a philosophy, process and policy, i.e. set of transactions – whether or not they suit the context or employee need. Similarly, we need to hire people, so let’s have a fixed selection process irrespective of the fact that different candidates may need to be assessed differently.

Problem is, our idea of “management” assumes that “one size fits all”.

But if we look around, the employees have changed. People might choose to work with start-ups at 1/4th the salary. A decade or so ago, people focused on career, money and a stable job. Today they are seeking learning and a meaningful experience. Job is just a by-product. There is no way we can create experiences that make sense to each individual with the current idea of management – which prioritizes efficiency and standardization above personalized experiences.

I was in a conversation with a senior leader in one of blue-chip companies. We were talking about the kind of people who are joining start-ups like ours (@Dockabl). He said,

“Sanjeev, I want talent like you have, but we don’t know how to attract them”.

This is someone from a blue-chip company telling the founder of a start-up. No, I don’t feel smug. I feel sad.

Sad because the answer is not all that difficult. And there are companies who are already practicing it. In Asian Paints, when they find an employee not doing well – they don’t simply discard him/her in the bell curve. They ask 3 fundamental questions:

·      Have we put him in the right place?

·      Have we enabled him?

·      Have we created the right experience for him?

The company practices “putting the fish back into the water”, not judging it for climbing a tree.

Another example is that of Sapient. That is one company I have almost never heard any employee crib about their HR. I happened to meet someone from their HR team at a conference and asked her what they were doing differently. The answer was simple. “We are focusing on individual aspirations”, she said.

Now we might ask, how do we enable individual aspirations, without a standardized management system, while dealing with large numbers?

Fair question.

Let me give the example of a Google screen. How does it look? Is it loaded with features? Or, is it plain and simple? It is the latter. Yet, Google offers a world of tools to you. But it does so, without over-whelming you – and it gives you, what you need, by understanding you. So, your Google screen over time, will work differently for you, than it will, for me.

In my interactions with business and HR leaders over years, my sense is that many do realize that the traditional management methods have failed. However, they are still stuck with the inertia of using tools and systems, designed for the erstwhile management style. While the philosophy has changed, the systems have not.

I was speaking on a panel, at a conference, recently. I asked (rather poked) the audience:

Don’t you think the technology we use for people, within organizations, are like glorified excel sheets?

There were about 150 HR professionals in that auditorium and everyone got laughing, nodding their heads vigorously. We know the problem. We also know the solution. In an age where user-experience is the king, organizations cannot afford to turn a blind eye to it, when it comes to the tools used for their own employees.

There used to be this Hero Honda ad when I was young.

Fill it. Shut it. Forget it.

For far too long, we have dealt with employees like that; i.e. creating a management system once, and forgetting about it, even after the context and employee expectations have changed.

Employees are taking cognizance of the changes in the world. And they are taking charge of the situation. It’s high time, organizations wake up, and do the same.

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