A recent HBR post on LinkedIn Millennials Are Pushing Organizations To Fully Reinvent How They Lead And Manage, by Mark C. Crowley led to an exchange (between us and Crowley) on the need to push organizations to rethink how they support their people. Crowley’s article outlines “a comprehensive redefinition of what all 21st Century workers seek from work today. Millennials are simply the first generation to insist upon them.”
We think HR Strategy is a place where that thought leadership should begin.
What organization doesn’t claim that, “People are our most important asset” (PaoMIA)? Why wouldn’t they? However, our consulting experience suggests that the truth of this statement is often not supported by the organization’s policies, procedures and behaviors. Is yours?
We think that the following two questions are appropriately applied to any core organizational claim, but for now let’s consider PaoMIA:
- What does this really mean?
- How do we actually make this happen if it isn’t, or sustain it if it is?
What does this really mean? In the context of the Complexity Space™ Framework (CSF), we feel it means exhibiting patterns of thought (often codifed as values, policies, and procedures) and behavior that are embedded in the system-wide patterns (Ecosystems) of the organization.
We define Patterns as “combinations of qualities, acts, tendencies, etc., that form a consistent or characteristic arrangement and persist over space and time.” While we (still) can’t predict future weather with certainty, we can be confident that the set of weather characteristics during the summer will be different than the characteristics in the winter.
An organization’s Ecosystem Dimensions focus on a particular set of organizational patterns that are present in all parts of an organization.
They encompass an organization’s history, context, culture, and motivation and display the following properties:
- Always present
- Operate at multiple layers simultaneously
- Not immediately visible
- Not predictably influenced
- Inputs/outputs not proportional
- Exist in the context of a particular place and point in time
- Influence, and are influenced by external systems
Therefore, if people (really) are an organization’s most important asset, the company would implement:
- A series of behaviors (not just a slogan on a wall) that are
- Consistent over time (not just on “Employee Appreciation Day”),
- Open to continuous feedback, and
- Aligned with its mission, vision, and values.
- Individually and collectively, these behaviors would be flexible and adaptive – changing and evolving as the organization’s internal and external context evolves.
How do we actually make this happen if it isn’t, or sustain it if it is?
Catalysts are a proactive element of the Complexity Space™ Framework. It is the function of Catalysts to be the primary change stimulant for direct and intentional action. Catalysts’ unique attributes contribute to their effectiveness:
- Function across all elements of the CSF
- Operate at multiple layers simultaneously
- Offer alternatives for creating intentional shifts in patterns
- Can be modified directly, quickly and repeatedly
- Easily measured
- Generate shorter feedback cycles
As we were developing the CSF, we described Catalysts as “levers” that people interested in influencing complex systems could push, pull and pivot to perturb the system’s current patterns. Although “levers” is a familiar mechanical term, we believe that the concept of a chess piece, specifically the queen, more accurately represents the act of making moves that create intentional shifts in patterns. The Queen, the icon we selected, is arguably the most powerful piece because it has the largest number of possible moves available to it.
There are seven Catalysts for Pattern-Based Change:
- Connections: In a “PaoMIA” organization, people would be encouraged to create formal and informal networks – both inside and outside the organization. This is where synergy is created.
- Leadership: Leaders who live PaoMIA would lead situationally, based on the specific needs and desires of each person they support. They would likely practice the “Platinum Rule,” leading others as they would prefer to be led.
- Stories: In both formal and informal channels, accomplishments of the organization’s employees would be highlighted. The stories would not stop at results, though. Stories of employees helping other employees; of being coached and coaching others; of learning new skills in new ways; of experiments that worked and those that didn’t (see #4 below) – all serve to reinforce the pattern of employees as valued and valuable resources of the organization.
- Risk Taking: For an organization that truly values its employees, they would provide opportunities for engagement and growth. This sometimes means pushing or pulling them “out of their comfort zone” to rotate positions, collaborate in new ways, or experiment in other ways to take full advantage of each person’s strengths and passions.The scary part of risk taking – not every risk will be successful! (If 100% of the risks are successful, they may not be risks at all.) How the organization responds to intelligent risks that fail is a critical indicator of whether PaoMIA is real or just a slogan.
- Organizational Structures: Overlapping with the ideas in #1 above, a PoaMIA organization creates both formal and informal organizational structures that enable and invite collaboration. Permanent and short-term teaming is prevalent. Organizational structures are designed to minimize hierarchy and barriers to the free flow of communication and information.
- Systems: HRIS (HR information systems) would be evaluated to be sure that desired employee patterns of thought and behavior are easily captured, synthesized, and communicated throughout the organization. Knowledge management and best practices sharing systems would be created, publicized, and their use recognized and rewarded.
- Processes: “You get what you reward.” The words and behaviors of a PaoMIA organizations would be supported by its parallel compensation, performance management, development and succession processes.
A reminder: There are no “guaranteed” solutions when trying to achieve change in complex systems like organizations. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! The act of intentionally trying to influence patterns will create new possibilities for thought and action. Do your valued employees deserve any less?
This post is one of several we’ll be creating in the first quarter of 2017 about the applications of the CSF within an organization’s Human Resources and Professional Development strategies. We hope you will share your stories, questions and even disagreements with our articles because that is the only way we can continue to make sure Complexity Works!