What is Your People Philosophy?

In an organization that is working to align its people with the overall strategy, senior management must articulate and understand their own specific attitudes and philosophy about their people and how they want to develop them. These attitudes and philosophy must consciously support the organizations strategic drivers.

I’ve written before about the importance of creating a learning organization, one in which all employees are encouraged to learn more. In the best companies, people receive lots of training, both about their products and services and about solving problems and improving processes. Lean efforts at eliminating waste and continuous improvement require an engaged, constantly learning workforce.

But what is the primary focus for learning for your firm?  Where do you want to be on a scale between Customer Focused learning and Non-Customer Focused learning — and why is it important anyway? Customer Focus learning is centered on better understanding how your products and services help your customers, how to improve your customers’ experience dealing with your organization, or how to continually improve your product or service to keep customers coming back and to attract new customers. That sounds like the way any organization should proceed, so why would learning NOT be Customer Focused?

Well, the needs of your particular organization may require learning focus to be on skill development or finding new, different, or better ways to do something. A “skunk works” of people who have totally detached themselves from traditional thinking might come up with a way to solve an unsolvable problem, such as how to get a man to the moon or add a camera to a pocket-sized telephone. You know what you are trying to accomplish so you get to decide what kind of Learning Focus you need.  Once you know that, recruiting new players becomes easier because you want to find people who thrive in which ever Learning environment you create.

The other way in which your people philosophy and strategy meet is in your strategic perspective on performance versus potential. As with everything we’ve discussed this year, there is no “correct” choice about where you decide to be on a continuum ranging from Potential to Performance, but you know better than anyone which position will help achieve your strategic imperatives. What is the blend you have chosen between finding people who can help right now and finding those with great potential who will take your organization into the future in the direction you want to go?

This is never a hypothetical question. The General Manager of your favorite sports team is thinking about this every time he or she makes choices on who to draft or who to trade away or who to trade for. These GM’s are trying to balance success in the immediate season with success in subsequent years, which is exactly what you do every time you fill an open position. They, and you, want to find a person who fills a need immediately and who will grow professionally to sufficiently full that position well for years to come.  The biggest difference between you and a successful sports GM is that your job is harder. Ideally, you are looking to fill twenty- or thirty-or forty-year openings, not merely someone for the five or eight year span of most professional athletes.

You must decide where you want your organization to be on this scale between Potential and Performance so that all your employees, especially those involved with recruiting, developing, and leading people, know how to best do their jobs to support your strategic people goals.

There is more, of course, relating to the impact of your workforce on your alignment, which we will examine next month.