Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Reigniting the role of HR 19/10/2012
A whole new approach to the development of employees is required if we are to equip our organisations to thrive, even survive, in the turbulence of our globalised world, argues Kate Cowie.
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Dangers of preserving the workplace
The people processes of organisations are often designed, albeit unconsciously, to preserve the organisation ‘as it is’. Typically, appraisal and reward mechanisms recognise individual achievements which serve the organisation’s strategy for maintaining itself. The goal of a recruitment campaign is, frequently, to identify those who will fit in and make a contribution now. Learning is available to help employees meet their current task-related needs. Single-point decision-making is a norm. Team development is regarded as non-essential. Social responsibility programmes are undertaken as peripheral activities.
HR processes which preserve the organisation ‘as it is’ hold people at the organisational stage of their development. This stage of growth is the individualistic stage of our young adulthood, the culmination of our journey through childhood and adolescence. Now, at last, we can name ourselves, parent ourselves, sustain ourselves.
The structured and regularised setting of the enterprise we join to earn a living fosters us in the important exercises of self-discipline, personal achievement, pride in ourselves and ambition. In such an environment, we can find our own place, build networks of colleagues who can help us when we need them, demonstrate and define ourselves through our activities, and satisfy our desire for progression, status and financial reward. Here we can fully immerse ourselves because it is the place we are able to be the person we have become.
A Simplified Map of the Stages of the Human Development Journey. The journey begins in infancy at the sensorimotor stage. There follows the impulsive stage of early childhood, the imperial stage of late childhood, the relational stage of adolescence, and the organisational stage of young adulthood, all of which most of us achieve. Only a small percentage of us achieve the subsequent world-centric stage, and the highest position, the self-transcendent stage (the realm of the sages and mystics) is a very rare accomplishment indeed.
World-centric stage model
But if we remain at the organisational stage, the autonomous ways of thinking and being which characterise it necessarily limit us from making our fullest contribution, and this has implications for all; for us, for our organisation and for the wider community. Organisations today are operating in a globalised world of interconnectedness, and a world in which our political, economic, social, climatic and environmental systems are failing simultaneously. From complexity theory (the study of complex adaptive systems) we know that it is precisely at the edge of chaos where the greatest opportunity for change exists. But unleashing this opportunity requires a way of thinking (and therefore of being) which is not of the level of consciousness which gave rise to these multiple crises. This new way of thinking is the holistic, integral model of the world-centric stage.
The world-centric stage becomes available to us when we give up our individuality in order to embrace a truly global world-view. With this awareness, we are capable of the thoughtful interconnectedness which allows us to learn from others, work in relationship with others and find creative solutions to problems with others. Now we can challenge ‘business as usual’ (because we are no longer invested in preserving our organisation ‘as-it-is’ as the venue in which we affirm our sense of self). We can also evaluate the effect the enterprise is having on the wider system in which it operates, and envision a greater purpose and a more meaningful role for it to play in the world than to exist simply to maintain itself.
Developing people & organisations
However, without a development environment which fosters our growth, we will not achieve the world-centric stage, and studies indicate that, indeed, the majority of us do not do so. The organisation – the place where most of us spend most of our waking hours until we retire – is the primary venue for this support in adulthood. A whole new praxis for HR is therefore required if we are to create a context which enables employees and their organisation (the development of which are interdependent) to move forward. This new praxis involves supporting young adults who are rightfully at the organisational stage, while also formulating:
- Leadership development processes which foster an awareness of the organisation, not as a means-to-an-end but as an integral part of the larger system
- Recruitment processes which identity people who will ‘bring the outside in’
- Learning processes which enable the organisation to be in a relationship of discovery with its stakeholders
- Decision-making processes which provide all concerned with a voice and influence
- Team development processes which grow the whole organisation into the ‘team’
- Corporate social responsibility processes which expand the organisation’s boundaries so that the ‘outside’ becomes a greater resource for it
- Appraisal and reward processes that focus on the contribution individuals and teams make to the organisation and wider community, and which ensure that the organisation’s stakeholders determine the pay and bonuses of executives.
With a new understanding and commitment to the development of people and organisations, the HR profession may yet be able to play a role in preventing the tragedy of the commons and, in so doing, we might reignite the fire of our field of practice. The need is certainly real, the task is urgent, and the opportunity is great.
Kate Cowie, author & executive director of ODN Europe
Kate Cowie, author of Finding Merlin: a Handbook for the Human Development Journey in our New Organisational World (Marshall Cavendish, 2012), member of the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioural Science, and executive director of ODN Europe.