Dispensable People Context
In the context of the eternal triangle of People-Process-Technology, I have always been a pro-process person. I have been writing and saying all along that Process is what drives the other two, and that is how it should be. But today, in the context of large and small organizations letting go of people lately for reasons ranging from cost cuts, performance issues, A&Ms, investor exit strategy, and what not, I am trying to assess whether this is true, and if not what can be done to set that right?
Processes are activities that deliver desired outcomes. Firstly, no company should have “letting go of people” as a desired outcome. If so, are they fit to be in the people business? Secondly, if they have good management processes for people, they should hire just enough people for meeting their basic desired outcomes and not in anticipation of future outcomes. They should set suitable expectations with the people hired.
But people are still being laid off in organizations that have invested ridiculously high in process and technology and sometimes in people as well. This could mean three things. One, the people processes are not defined at all. Two, they are defined, but not defined well. Three, they are well defined, but not followed. They should believe that, just as in hiring even employee retention is a desired outcome and have a process for that. But having a good retention process is useless unless supported by an organizational vision wherein every individual in the organization becomes indispensable upon successful onboarding.
And I am not talking about HR processes here – HR departments in most organizations act like they are god-sent. There are organizations which depended solely on their HR departments for their employees’ well-being and eventually got into big trouble due to poor employee morale and a bad hiring reputation.
Some would argue that it is not possible to look at organizational behavior from a process perspective because organization psychology often changes with the structure, that individual behavior is not consistent with organizational behavior, and also that there are different structures and perspectives of organizations.
One approach to ensuring that people never have to leave is by having organic growth as a primary metric, giving responsibility of identifying and nurturing the growing parts to the more experienced people, and gradual transfer of accountability and empowerment of the grown parts to those people. All growth cannot possibly sustain, so there should be Plan B and Plan C for every growth plan. Some of the alternatives could themselves become primary growth plans which then would be capable of supporting excess or deficit resources as required.
This comes back to who is responsible for the definition and adherence of people processes. It has to be the people themselves – some people that is. In recent examples of downsizing, a considerable number of sufficiently senior executives have been asked to leave. Some of them worked 20+ years in the company and may have been owners of a few processes themselves. It is not that these people did something wrong. They did not do something right either – they did not recognize the fact that they were also dispensable to the organization.
Having read about a handful of companies that never laid off employees ever – companies like Victorinox, Lincoln Electric and South West Airlines, the first two have been in existence for more than a century and all of them make good profits year on year – I wonder what kind of processes would these companies have in place to ensure this. I would have loved to work with these companies to know their processes better. I believe it is more than just processes, it is a type of organization-wide culture that has made them put their people ahead of shareholders and end-customers. In the end everyone gets to win though.