This is in continuation of my earlier blog on the 3 key process areas in an organisation.
The general definition of an organisation is “an entity comprising of multiple people that has a particular purpose”. The focus is the terms people and purpose here. In an organisation, two or more people get together to achieve collectively what they cannot separately. It is clear that the sense of achievement and the purpose take prominence overall other matter. Because it is the people who will drive the entity collectively and for a long time (hopefully), the processes around people has to be clearly defined.
This does not refer to the HR as a department or the employee onboarding processes that all organisations do have. The processes referred here are those that define how the people align with the organisational vision and objectives from the point where people associate with an organisation till the time they leave it voluntarily or prompted by the organisation. It is about the sense of belonging at all levels and a set of core values that drives the organisation towards its purpose on an ongoing basis.
Before talking about the people process, it makes sense to explain the two terms ‘Purpose’ and ‘Core Values’ in brief here:
a. The Purpose
From the founding members to the feet-on-factory-floor or feet-on-street, people should really feel that they own what they do, and what they do will be clear if they are clear about what the organisation does. In many entities, whether large or small, there are many people who even after working for years there do not know the real reason why their organisation exists.
The top-management and possibly the senior and mid-level management also do, but not all. Everyone will definitely know the industry and the markets they are in, and the products they sell; probably know a little about the organisation’s history and its current strategy, and more possibly about their pay levels in comparison with other companies in that segment. But they do not know why the organisation started out, why it is doing what it is doing now, and what it will continue to do in future. And in many cases, the organisations themselves do not know this, and these include for-profit entities as well.
Now, many would think that at least the commercial organisation knows why it is there – to make money; and everyone should know about it. Wrong. Money and profits are enablers to continue the running of the organisations and not the purpose itself. They are the not the end, they are the means. That does not mean that profits should not be the goal – they definitely should be one of their key objectives to achieving their overall purpose.
The main objectives of the company also could be different at different times. But the reason why the organisation exists, its very purpose would be the most important aspect – in fact, if it is not there, there is no meaning to its existence. Itis like an ideology or belief system that every person in the organisation would stand for. The purpose is one of the very first things the people process defines in an organisation.
The purpose would be different for different organisations. There is not one single set of ideologies that has a recipe for success, for if there was one, every company would have been following that. The ideologies could be very specific, or quite generic. They could be entirely different or be exactly the same as what some other organisation would have. One could have just a slogan, another a whole paragraph to explain it, and another with all associated actions to meet that purpose. The key thing is having a belief system that could be easily understood and followed by one and all.
b. The values
The values are an extension of the belief system that an organisation has. The people process ensures that the right values are associated to uphold the ideology portrayed by the entity. In earlier days, the concept of values was ingrained in the minds of the people. Nowadays, there are websites that provide a bucket-list of values (sorted in alphabetical order) that leaders can choose from to associate with their company and display in their vision statements.
The people process however does not worry about the language or the wording of the values. Instead, it focuses on the essence of the values that are to be inculcated among its people. Again, a different set of values could be required in different situations and at different times, or the same set of values could hold together the common faith. It all depends on the scale and complexity of the products / services delivered by the organisation.
The People Process
The people process brings together the ideology and the core values and ensure their alignment with people at all levels of the organisation. This process exists by default in successful organisations that have stood the test of time. But in relatively younger entities and in those organisations that have not seen the best of seasons, the way to implement this process is by defining an Ideological Framework, applying the framework to its core leadership teams, and then embedding the framework in the entire organisation. These are like the sub-processes of the people process.
i. Defining the Ideological Framework:
This involves defining the purpose of the organisation. Why it was founded, and what it stands for, and what it will achieve during its continued existence. This is followed by the set of core values that will help the organisation move towards achieving its purpose. The core values can be anything – customer satisfaction, employee engagement, benefitting society, patriotism, honesty, regulatory compliance, product/ service quality, etc. However, it is good to have a set of 3 – 6 values that reflect the organisation’s purpose. The purpose and core values are defined in such a way, that they will almost always remain unchanged.
The framework also describe show the strategy and operations of the organisation should align with the purpose and core values, and how the top leaders should align with the framework. The framework will include aspects related to communication of the purpose, the envisioned leadership structure, core organisational structures, responsibilities of leaders, guidelines for identifying people at board or leadership levels, succession planning, guidelines for mergers and acquisitions, etc. – all these would be in alignment with the purpose and core values of the organisation. It also incorporates the understanding that the position of leaders and followers are interchangeable – i.e. leaders are required to be followers in some situations and vice versa.
The process also helps chunk down the purpose into manageable objectives, essentially the end-to-end strategy and operational processes – such as idea-to-offering, hire-to-retire, procure-to-pay, market-to-order, etc. This is where the overlap of the people process happens with the strategy and operations processes.
The leadership framework itself can either be documented or undocumented. But with so many communication channels being available, a documented leadership framework would help bring together all the necessary people aspects and build a stronger system of management.
ii. Identifying and nurturing leaders
This process implements the elements of the leadership framework upon the senior leadership in the organisation. This is the actual process of looking out for people who fit in with the organisational culture and philosophy on a longer term. This process will initially be used by the founder and the core leadership group to self-validate their alignment with the framework. People are generally not ‘recruited’ into these roles but are observed over time across business industries and academic institutions. Most of the people would be already connected to each other in some way.
Of course, there are instances where ‘recommended’ people are brought on board with ‘due-diligence’ and may have been a great fit with the company, but those are just flukes that worked for the leadership. In reality, the chances of a core leadership team becoming a cohesive group increases with the proximity of the individual members over a prolonged time frame.
The recruitment of senior leadership should vest in the hands of the core members who are loyal to the ideological framework beyond doubt. This includes even allowing investors in leadership position or as board members who would be responsible for further identification of leaders. Irrespective of the differences in their leadership styles, their primary focus would be on the organisational purpose and values. Ideally, the process at this level creates a clear association between the person and the ideology.
This process can be used for identifying leaders up to any level, but the intent of this is to focus it at such a level where minimum alignment or re-alignment efforts is required to create an organisation-wide impact. This is especially useful when a particular department or a geographical location is found to be out of sync with the ideologies; and re-aligning the leadership at that level can bring a positive and quick change in that entire underlying system.
Another key application for this is during mergers and acquisitions – the process overlays the strategy with the alignment of the merging or acquired entity (or in rare cases, the acquiring entity because very few organisations who have an ideological framework get acquired) and its leaders with the purpose and values of the organisation. Acquiring or merging with an organisation having a completely conflicting ideology will cause serious and long-lasting damage to the functioning of the joined-up organisation.
iii. Embedding the ideology across the organisation
This is in essence the institutionalisation of the previous sub-process. The whole doctrine of alignment with purpose and values is now communicated and implemented widely at all levels of the organisation. Every leader of a functional unit or an end-to-end process would identify the next level of leadership that aligns with the ideology framework. In large companies, this requires implementation on a huge scale and with a very robust governance. The liaison of senior leadership with Human Resource teams is very crucial for this large-scale implementation.
The recruitment of people should be questioned at every level, and questions asked against the ideology framework. Be it at the mid-leadership, managerial or at the members / workers level, the focus of the screening would be to check if their past work has been in a place with similar ideologies. In fact, this also helps to identify people who would have been misfits in their previous organisations because of conflicting philosophies but are now a right fit. Their achievements in meeting material targets would definitely be a plus, but the alignment of purpose and values are the minimum standard.
With advancement in technology, the people process can be made more robust. Artificial intelligence and Natural Language Processing capabilities can help bring people with ideological similarities closer to one another through social media or professional platforms. BPM and DM can help build robust systems to maintain and implement the ideology framework on a large scale quickly. Analytics and Machine Learning can help identify deviations from the purpose and values, and RPA for taking necessary corrective actions.
The people process has been in practice for centuries in successful organisations, be they commercial or non-profit / social. Unfortunately, it is also the reason for the success for many age-old criminal organisations and unethical practices in newer organisations. It is the same process but applied with negative ideologies and values. Most organisations are a mixture of both, and hence drag along till they meet their inevitable end – sooner than later. Organisations without a philosophy or ideology on one end create an imbalance of wealth among their people, where only a few individuals make money, while on the other end result in bankruptcy.
I wish to acknowledge the influence of the following books in particular, while writing this blog:
* Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done – by Lawrence Bossidy & Ram Charan
* Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – by James C.Collins and Jerry I. Porras
* Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – by Simon Sinek