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Human Resources Practices

Human Resource Practices – Another Pillar of Sustainable Wealth Creation

“I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.” – Woodrow WilsonBrain

As we have discussed in this thread, the two Pillars of Sustainable Wealth Creation for the manufacturing enterprise are Business Practices and Human Resource Practices. The Human Resource Practices of the enterprise are those that leverage the contributions of all the enterprise’s associates toward its goals (including sustainable wealth creation). Simply put, a key differentiating factor in enterprise performance is the effectiveness by which it harnesses its human resources for competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I suspect many readers can relate to my experience with both good and bad Human Resource Practices. Although the tone of how employees are treated is set from the top of the organization, the practices of individual managers also come into play so it is common to find both excellent and horrific human resource practices within the same enterprise. Therefore, a key enabler to Sustainable Wealth Creation is the continual dedication to upgrading the skills of managers in this area.

A key element of human resource management is the position of the leader on the autocracy / meritocracy scale. In an autocracy, the “boss” feels he or she is always right and it is the job of their subordinates to bend to their will in all matters. Such a boss will enforce their ideas by fear and intimidation, with repercussions ranging from verbal attacks to career sabotage to outright firing of those subordinates who dare to possess an opinion that differs from theirs. In contrast, the manager in a meritocracy listens to and thoroughly considers all viewpoints on their merits, regardless of whether they agree with the leaders’ own preconceived notions.

The consequence of an autocratic boss is the organization becomes incapable of rising beyond the capacity of the leader. As they cannot accept any ideas except their own, the collective intelligence of the organization is stunted, and their staff spend their effort trying to figure out how the boss thinks every problem should be solved so they can align with that, rather than contribute to the collective intelligence and growth of the organization. In the World Class organization, the meritocracy has the capacity to grow up to the sum of all the brains that are “borrowed,” or in this case “hired,” by the enterprise.

Is the following actual situation familiar? At a staff meeting, the boss asked for ideas how our department could decrease our workshop’s RI (recordable incident rate) to the target level. Everyone in the room (except the boss) knew the key barrier to decreasing our RI was leadership from (you guessed it) the boss. When he was on the shop floor, he acted like he was above the rules and did not have to follow them. The workforce saw this behavior and (predictably) responded by disregarding the rules themselves and challenging their supervisors’ desire to enforce those rules. The example of the leader always trumps the rule, and in this case even overweighed the workers’ reasonable desire to not get hurt on the job.

The revealing element of the culture of the organization in such a situation is how the associates respond to such a situation in the staff meeting. Had that leader created a safe environment where everyone’s input was appreciated and considered, someone would have delicately exposed the elephant in the room and our workshop would have been well on the way to decreasing the number of people who were going home to their families at the end of the shift in the same condition they arrived at the beginning of their shift.

Unfortunately, in this case, the boss had created an environment of intimidation and none of the staff were stupid enough to incur the consequences of an honest observation. Everyone looked around for a savior, who finally came in the form of one production supervisor who had overheard the boss complain to her recently about how he did not believe the workers were properly motivated to be safe (as if going home to their families with all body parts intact was not motivation enough). She suggested a safety promotion to give each member of the crew with the best RI metrics a small gift card at the end of the year. Our boss of course loved this (it required change in neither his mind nor his behavior), so he enthusiastically endorsed it and everyone else around the room heartily agreed.

Perhaps some RI improvement was achieved as a result. Unfortunately, the workers’ trust in management was further decreased because they saw clearly that no one in supervision is willing to confront the boss – “apparently safety is not really as important as my supervisor says it is around here.” Even more unfortunately, I am sure some well meaning people needlessly suffered preventable injuries because of the culture created by the boss.

In summary, the 1st Human Resources Practice is to listen – it is simply a more effective and sustainable model to have a team of borrowed brains working on a problem than a single copy, however well developed it might be.

What about you, are you using all the brains you can borrow, or limiting yourself to those between your ears?

As you ponder this question, I invite you to contact me for a discussion of the performance pain points in your organization..

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