Monday, 30 March 2015

The Future of HR: Human Relations not Human Resources

Those who know me know I have been saying for years that we have to get away from systems models of businesses and cooperatives and instead stress relationship building between the people that make up the cooperative.

In hierarchical society, systems make complete sense. businesses are machines (or biological or ICT equivalents) into which human resources are slotted and controlled by an elite of executives.  Who justify their privilege by the use of management practices that treat people like cogs or organs or algorithms.

Open any management textbook from Ansoff to Senge and you can see this model, sometimes naked as in Michael Porter's 'work' (Value Chain Analysis). Sometimes covered up by metaphysical  such as Pete Senge and his learning organisation ideas.  In all, the telling sign is that the organisation comes first and the people are slotted into preconceived roles. The boss is in total control (in theory).

Even the modern fad of 'engaged employees' assumes they should be engaged with their employer and not with each other. (as one cynical employee was quoted as saying "In the old days they only tried to control my body. Now they want my heart and soul as well!")

None of this works in a worker cooperative run as a flat hierarchy, equal status collective. Such as my coop Suma, Superbly successful as a business and pretty good as a democratic cooperative too. Without the authority of the hierarchy none of these systems based methods are suitable.

Having struggled to use them and gone looking for something else I discovered the alternative model of the firm. That organisations are merely the sum of all the communication relationships going on in them. This thinking goes by the cumbersome name of Complex Responsive Processes of Relating.

I sometimes simplify this to say that an organisation is merely a big conversation. A complex ever changing web of communications by speech, gesture, email, data, exchange, working arrangements etc.  It's a big intentional family in other words.

This model fits worker coops to a 'T'.  Because it says the better we communicate (relate) with each other the better our businesses will perform. Immediately all manner of improvements spring to mind, how to remove blocks to communication and how to improve our ability to communicate and relate to each other. One of the most powerful blocks is the ability of the powerful to block communication by the less powerful, of course.  An ability that is crumbling day by day as personal social media devices become more powerful and more discrete.

Blocking, restricting and controlling communication is exactly how the Coop Group executive elite operated.

So what does this Relationship model mean for HR? Simple - we replace the Resource with Relations. HRM becomes Human Relations Management. Because groups of people do need to be coordinated and facilitated to communicate otherwise a free for all ensues.  But this is not management leadership. It is facilitation of the wishes of the people who make up the group.

Interestingly some of the senior gurus of HR seem to be waking up to this revolution even if they don't necessarily understand the political significance of it.

Prof. Dave Ulrich has long been considered the foremost global HR theorist. He invented many of the concepts of modern HRM, all systems thinking. How to tinker to make the machine operate better. Recently he has been talking about Relations Management and referring to concepts from personal relationship studies particularly the work of John Gottman

1 Share a common purpose 
Partners in a relationship have different roles to play, but they succeed when they realise that they are stronger together than apart because they have binding goals such as raising children. In a business the challenge is to find a unifying purpose that brings together these different parts into a greater whole.
2 Respect differences
In couples therapy, each partner is encouraged to identify and appreciate the strengths of their partner. Couples succeed when they communicate more positively than negatively. Gottman found a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments in successful couples.  Couples succeed when they know and respond to what matters to their partner. 
3 Govern, accept, connect
A large part of relationship success comes from managing expectations. Researchers have found that 65-70 per cent of relationship problems are never “solved” but “managed”.  Most of the early problems in a relationship are worked around (for example, spending habits, raising children, doing household chores). It is important to solve the solvable problems and not obsess about those that seem to persist. 
Care for the other
In relationship therapy, the most important questions that solidify a relationship are: Can I rely on you? Are you safe? Will you be there for me when I need you? Without positive answers to these questions, relationships will crumble under pressure. With positive answers, partners build trust and celebrate others’ success. 
5 Share experiences together
In any relationship, things go wrong. Personal or professional disappointments or stresses that pull them apart. To build stronger personal relationships, partners are encouraged to turn to each other in times of difficulty, to yield to the influence of their partner, and to be emotionally vulnerable to share deeper feelings with each other. Spending time together and investing emotionally in each other strengthens relationships.
6 Grow together
Anyone in a successful relationship over five or 10 years can look back to see progress.   Relationships morph and each partner learns and grows. Some of this growth comes from constantly learning, from focusing on the future and what can be, from letting go of grievances, recognising vicious cycles and breaking them. Couples with positive relationships recognise growth and change.
1 Share a common purpose
2 Respect differences
3 Govern, accept, connect
4 Care for the other
5 Share experiences together
6 Grow together
These sound like pretty good guidelines for Human Relations Management to me!