Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

monique-jordan_1's picture

Working for the Customer not 'The Man'

By Monique Jordan on June 11, 2022

Bosses aka “the man” frequently blur the line of sight to the customer forcing people to choose between meeting the needs of the boss or the customer. The fact that the boss doles out reward [raises, good evaluation, promotion etc.] and punishment [poor assignments, no raise or even firing] based mostly on their ‘subjective’ evaluation sets up a power dynamic that all too often focuses on the boss’ needs. Shifting the power from the boss to the customer can be accomplished by changing the way roles are defined and work is evaluated.

Roles can be defined by the work-products or output and aligned to a specific customer set and set of requirements.  As an employee in a restaurant, my work-products could include Meal Service – all work associated with the customer’s meal experience (ordering, eating, etc.).  The employee’s goal would be to ensure the experience is enjoyable/ pleasant and evaluated by customer feedback. In this way, the employee is solely focused on the customer.  The boss is responsible for creating an environment where the employees can successfully accomplish their goals.  This relationship changes the power dynamic and ensures everyone on the team is working for the customer.  This type of environment is naturally adaptive as the customer’s needs are central to the design.

HR process being hacked:Performance Management

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heidi-de-wolf's picture

I think this can be changed by recognising that Strategy, Planning and Delivery sit side-by-side rather than top to bottom in an organisation, and should be working closely as peers. The style of leaders in a flat structure like this then becomes more 'serving'/coaching and provide the brain-space to focus on the 'helicopter view' of the systems and its obstacles.

The top-to-bottom thinking encourages employees to push decisions back up the ladder with lots of operational detail attached. This detail actually invites micro-management as managers understandably want to contribute their thoughts when given an opportunity to do so. The perception of the status of the position however add a massive weight to their contribution which tips the scale in favour of the manager's choice versus that of the customer.

A coaching-style Stakeholder Analysis Workshop may provide a useful tool to help teams reflect on the 'level of interest' versus the 'level of influence'. In cultures where the MAN is listened to over the customer, it is likely that you will find the managers sitting in the same quadrant than the customer, the former trumping the latter. Only reflection by a team with this culture will give that team the opportunity and ownership to make the necessary changes.

Monique this is well stated and a powerful hack. Having spent much of my career dealing with 'turnarounds' this is such a common theme of how companies get into trouble.
I have three thoughts that I would like to add.
1. I believe that this addresses talent acquisition even more than performance management. Thinking about how Four Seasons recruits people its clear where there focus is and do not bother interviewing if you don't buy in.
2. I also believe this addresses leadership. As the pace of change continue to increase its very hard for people to stay focused on the customer without leadership support. There is so much happening around people they will need the support of a servant leader to stay focused on the customer.
3. Has any heard of the Australian banking study that tied investments in people to customer service. I have not seen the study but been told that for one year capital investments focused on people. The result was improved serviced and profitability. I would love to see the study.

Thanks again for getting this started Monique.

monique-jordan_1's picture

Stephen, I agree with you and that is the point. I decided this year I was going on a mission of covert-disruption (which is the under-lying theme in all I do). My experience of making large scale changes like creating adaptive organizations (what was called in the past TQM and learning orgs -- same principles) when approached head-on i.e." we are going to become an adaptive org" generates significant resistance that doesn't look like resistance so it is ignored. The resistance is masked by the need people have to belong (no one wants to be left behind in a major movement -- again think back to the era of TQM) so they support the change by agreeing to and advocating for "training for everyone". The spend on these massive training efforts is outrageous, especially when you look at the ROI of that training investment. Everyone goes to training and we tick off the box, done! Why is it that we can train a whole organization on new ways of working that never really take hold and slowly over time everyone goes back to working the same way they did before, without embedding the principles and practices of what they have learned (outside of a few who are truly committed)? I think it is because the system doesn't allow it, it doesn't support it. This hack is an example of covert disruption because as you pointed out while it seems to be merely a new way of defining one's job, it has significant implications for talent acquisition, leadership, empowerment, experimentation etc. However these side-effects will emerge over time in a more natural and palatable manner with tangible and observable outcomes as you mentioned in the Australian banking system. The question I have is how do we get these types of seemly small changes to take hold which will give rise to the type of adaptive environments we would all thrive in??

andy-lippok's picture

The Purpose of the work and the team/organisation is defined from the CUSTOMER inwards. In my view HR and people practitioners should start to become the change it and they want the organisation to be, and I reckon the key area would be around the systems thinking as espoused and demonstrated both academically and eminently practically by Deming, John Seddon in Vanguard, Senge, Ackoff, Scholtes, and countless others.

All change beings at the thinking level and not the doing level, yet the result of the change in thinking then delivers change at the doing level. Great intentions, motivation and competencies underpinned by the wrong thinking changes little.

Managers need to recognise the organisation as a system, it’s their job to remove the obstacles within the organisation. They also need to understand human motivation (Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, etc.). Design of the work from the outside in, and focus on what is the real purpose what matters to the customer. Then, analyse the demand, design measures for what matters, then when you understand the systems thinking that determines the current way of doing things, you simply get the people who do the work to re-design the work in order to achieve purpose and what really matters, and what happens is almost magical! Service improves, costs reduce, morale increases, and the culture change happens for free. At no time do we do anything to the people, we simply get the people to work on the work. That's the systems thinking at the practical and yet quite profound level that I believe HR could help to make organisations more adaptable and adept.
If you want to work more on the Systems Thinking hack, please join the team on page 2!

fiona-savage's picture

Andy I would totally agree! Systems Think encompasses so many of these hacks which are in essence just parts of a whole ie Stems Thinking. We all know that each activity or hack exists to serve the GOALS of a larger system the purpose of the organisation .

Over the last 50 + years organisation that have used Deming, Ackoff, Scholtes, Seddon and Peter Senge Systems Thinking have demonstrated that it as proven method. Reducing failure demand, decreasing cost, creating value for the customer, engaging employees and increasing performance. You no longer hear that’s not in my job description” or “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Phenomenal outcomes, for public services waiting times, reduced from months to next day provision. Employees love the method and become actively engaged.

See Forget your people – real leaders act on the system, posted here on the MIX.http://www.managementexchange.com/story/forget-your-people-%E2%80%93-rea...

Aviva insurance in the private sector has been very transparent in their uses of systems thinking and these two videos below show the repose, I will let the story of Aviva speak for its self.

How do we change thinking?

Aviva Systems Thinking

I think its been slow to catch on as its counter-intuitive and requires challenging our basic thinking about how we work, which is possible what is need now?

Systems think may be a great way to pull all these hacks towered?

heidi-de-wolf's picture

Monique, Would you consider leading a hack on this? Heidi

monique-jordan_1's picture

Yes most definitely and you interested in helping us out

This one caught my eye. I've been doing some mini hacking of my own with my friends by asking what they thought of HR at their organizations, and overwhelmingly i got the back that not only that they don't trust HR, but that trust had been compromised because they felt HR represented the best interests of their bosses, not theirs.

The struggle I'm having, is why are the interests of the bosses and different than that of the employee? Why do we have companies that have disconnects? If we are taking a balanced six box approach and everyone understands why performance is important, HR represents and can articulate the needs of the business in the context of the needs of the employee, there should be no sides.

monique-jordan_1's picture

Harrison, Apologies for the delayed response, somehow I missed your comment and would like to provide my thoughts on the dilemma you presented. The way I see HR and employees is similar to the referee and players in a football game. Both want to have a good, fair game where the best team wins and there are no major injuries. And they each have a different perspective and role to play in making that happen and both roles are needed. Not because players will purposely cheat (although we know that some will be incentivised to do so). For the most part players will try hard to do their best and play by the rules and in the heat of the game it is easy to misjudge and inadvertently break the rules and the referee is there to call it to the player attention and keep the game honest. The same is true for HR, I know that in an organization I once worked for, HR was needed to resolve sexual harassment problems because the bad actions of a few (unchecked) could have serious negative consequences on the entire company.

I think that generally speaking we all what the same things and if we (mankind) were truly 'reasonable' beings as defined in capitalism (reason man) then it may be possible to play a game without referees, but money changes the game and we need only look back a few years for evidence of how far some people will go (if left unchecked) and end up destroying the very thing they claim to be committed to creating [CEO's bankrupted the very companies they were supposed to be building/growing). Therefore, it seem natural that there are two sides (or many sides) each with an important role to play to maintain balance and sustain the organizations long-term health. And while the two sides may play different roles, they are striving for the same goal.

It is when the goals of the boss and the employee are not aligned that a disconnect occurs between meeting the needs of the boss and the customer and why I believe aligning these (boss, employee) goals (similar to a coach and player) sets up a better dynamic and focus on the customer. This in turn (given that customers drive market changes) sets up an organization to naturally be more responsive to changing needs and therefore adaptive.

bruce-lewin's picture

Agreed, the right conditions are part of the issue, there's no question about that, but creating them is always tricky. It's like knowing the theory but struggling to apply it...

monique-jordan_1's picture

Bruce, thank you for the point of reference. I am familiar with the book (started reading it) and the company (we outsource IT services to them) and agree that the concept is similar. I am just not familiar enough with how HCL is executing their employee-first strategy with respect to job descriptions to say for sure. I can say that I agree with Vineet's work in putting the employee first because when employees can be successful, they deliver amazing results. And from that aspect you are right that this idea is designed to create the ideal conditions for employees to thrive which in turn results in delighted customers -- same concept as Vineet and HCL.

I have actually implemented this a few times and it is very empowering. Teams quickly understand the concept and can easily follow the framework but struggle and need coaching to execute it. They tend to find the process enlightening because they have been working for so long without true clarity or the ability to measure their work and empowering because once they have clarity they are able to make sound decisions with confidence -- given they know the goal and how it is measured.

I strongly believe that if we create the right conditions all we have to do is get out of the way and let the magic happen -- engaged employees and satisfied customers!

bruce-lewin's picture

Check out Vineet Nayar's work at HCL - your hack reminds me of his book - Employees First, Customers Second. Although the title's a little counter-intuitive, I think you're both talking about a similar concept. This is broadly what he's been practising, albeit in an IT Outsourcing/Systems Integration business, rather than food retail, but I think the point still stands.