Okay, I admit it. I give a shit about people. And so do you. Sometimes you think you really only care about outcomes like stock prices and liquidity moves, and exit strategies and all that.
But you also know that if you engage people early, you’ll get that elusive thing of “buy-in” in such a way that your ideas become real and momentum for the next idea/product/direction starts to happen that much easier. Startups know this intuitively because their very existence is tied to this immediate goal. But bigger companies start to forget this truth very easily as part of their “scale” and “maturity” where people stuff becomes its own department.
Doesn’t it strike you as really, incredibly weird that we have HR as separate functional roles? In fact in some companies, it is its own division. Isn’t it weird when you hear leaders talk about “that people stuff” belonging to HR. Yet everyone knows that it’s April, 2010. We know our world and economic factors means we have to innovate faster, be more agile in response to market moves, and our business model must evolve every few (5-10?) years, not in decades. We need our people to think, not just do. We need our people strategy to match and coexist with our business strategy. We know this, as we are smart people, but our HOW doesn’t match this deep understanding.
Our people aren’t engaged, we hear, so we think it’s a people problem. Like we need new people or we need to “fix” our people. Actually, it’s a systemic problem that is core to how we believe. We think of people as the thing that owns doing not the central beings that create the thing. We’re still working with models and approaches that focused on when we built things (like cars or chips) rather than when we create experiences (like search or microblogging platforms). When we think this way, we are thinking about parts rather than the whole.
And it has been striking me that this compartmentalized view of people as resources to be massaged is like the old-school understanding of Quality. Quality was once viewed as a problem belonging to the QA department.
Then this really bright guy, Deming, came along and said something really obvious but really profound at the same time. (In fact, he got poo-poohed a bit when he first talked about cause people said “we already know that” and all he did was say “but are you doing it”). He said, he quality isn’t a department — it ‘s a way of being. And by evangelizing that and creating some systemic rules (14 points, etc) ( http://www.mftrou.com/edwards-deming.html ) made quality integral to any organization’s output, and QA was only assigned with confirming it.
I think he helped make quality a company-wide notion back in the manufacturing worker age.
Similarly, it seems like making the most of our people is not some isolated function separate from all the other company’s work. The New How makes that fairly clear and shows how to do this elusive engagement in the very way we work. We need human engagement as integrated functions to the whole business. What Deming did to manufacturing in an age where we made things as a country, we need done for innovation, as our creative age we exist in. We need human engagement to be a way of being inside our firms. Then one day, we’ll look back at the behavior we’re still doing today like we the days of quality as an isolated step — and we’ll laugh.
At least, I hope we do. What I fear some days is that shit is never going to change. And entrepreneurs who get it will be the form of growth and goodness and scaled up companies won’t exist anymore because they can never invent their way to the future… I could argue that this is fine but I see perfectly fine people trapped inside big institutions right now and it seems a shame to leave ‘em there while the building is kinda-on-fire and we need all the capabilities at hand to get out of the economic cycle we’re in.