How many times have you had an employee come to you with a complaint about how a process works, or how an IT system is broken, or how they aren’t getting along with another department, and you’ve basically counselled them. You’ve told them how they might get a better result if they approach the situation a different way. Maybe you’ve suggested that they escalate this to another person. Perhaps you’ve even brokered a meeting where the two groups just sit together to rebuild their relationship – just try and see it from each other’s point of view.
You take this approach because people management is important, right? You take this approach because “it’s all about people”. But don’t you think if the system wasn’t broken there would be less of these “people issues”? It’s the most respectful thing you can do for the people in your organisation to make the organisation itself work better?
That fact of the matter is that your people are not your most important asset. Your systems are your most important asset. Because when your systems work, and make it easy for your people to operate your organisation (i.e. what I call “organisational usability”) then your people will stay. Your “assets” support your customers first, and your people second. And that is all. To say your people are “assets” is actually pretty offensive.
The fast is you need good people if you want to change anything. People have ideas, people make stuff happen. But the more you are relying on people to do basic tasks, work arounds, and counselling sessions, the more you are destroying the competitiveness of your business by adding unnecessary costs to the cost structure.
The idea that you should focus on making your organisation a “great place to work” doesn’t contradict this in the slightest. Being a great place to work means the people in your organisation aren’t constantly trying to avoid being the ones who do the low value jobs. Being a “great place to work” means that management systems are in place that ensure that you don’t have to suck up to your line manager in order to be recognised for your contribution.
Constantly focusing on the people, at the exclusion of focusing on the systems, is completely counter-productive. Of course, I mean “systems” broadly, beyond IT systems. But more importantly, I mean the systems that create a set of unique capabilities controlled by your organisation and connect those capabilities to customers.
The only reason managers focus on people is that they want to manage them – read: control them. If you make everything into a people issue you don’t have to fix your partner eco-system, you don’t need to have a strategy, and you don’t need to manage risk. Or more importantly, you can focus on your own career progression rather than making the systems work for people who operate them (too cynical, perhaps?).
By focusing only on people you just get to wake up in the morning, see what’s failed and fire somebody, or ask everybody how they are adding value and let them take the effort to justify. This is the extreme but natural conclusion of how focusing on people plays out. By only focusing on people you’ll find yourself saying things like “Bob doesn’t get it” when there is no “it” to get. Like I’ve said before “management at it’s worst is the art of saying ‘you’re not seeing the big picture – even when there clearly isn’t one'”.
The more you focus on the people, and the less you focus on the systems, the more you’ll need to focus on the people. People in an untidy, unstructured, and ultimately political environment will undoubtably require more attention. People who need to end their day manually collating information and re-typing into systems that don’t work will require more attention. People who need to collaborate across teams where no agreed protocols exist will require more conflict management. People who need to suddenly “do more with less” will – by definition – actually do less with less until the systems change.
It’s time to respect people by managing systems.