Most organizations begin their resource management process by focusing on availability. In IT, where spreadsheet-based resource management goes back to the 80s, the goal has always been to answer the question, “who can work on this project”? A desire to be “of service” has driven IT to create a culture of “starting” projects as a way of showing the “business” that they are attempting to support everyone equally.
There is only one problem with this approach. It’s terrible for delivering value, and it isn’t very good for the people working on the projects either. Some organizations have responded to this dual failure by attempting to move away from the concept of a project. For repeatable support work and the development of incremental value on an existing “product,” we agree that fixed teams make sense, but not all work is single-threaded. For new work and unique work (i.e., problem-solving), fixed teams are impossible.
People as resources
To build something new, or to finally change the way we are currently doing things, we need access to the best people our company can offer. That requires knowing who they are, what they are experts in, and wherein our company or extended network we can find them. This has been a persistent problem in every company, and there have been many attempts to solve it. Knowledge Management was big back in the 90s, but KM failed because of a mistaken belief that we needed what people know more than we needed the person who knew what we needed to know.
It turns out there is an easy solution to the problems we discussed above. It’s called resource management (RM), with a fully integrated skills capability that employees have the primary responsibility for maintaining. Since this capability has existed in some form or another since at least the mid-90s, what’s so different about now? The value proposition has changed. In the past, it was only consulting companies who cared about RM. Today every company needs it for the following reasons:
- Organizations are embracing greater agility, which is shifting the culture from command and control toward self-organization.
- Neurocognitive research has given us a much clearer idea of what motivates people.
- Employees want to work for a purposeful organization, and they want to see that what they do is making a difference.
- Easy to use technology is now available.
Self-organization works better, but command and control provides security
Agility is the buzz word for almost every company these days, and smart, enterprising consulting companies are offering bureaucratic, command, and control solutions that claim to provide agility. Oxymoronic, it’s true, but bureaucracies have a wonderful benefit. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do in a bureaucracy. Why are we highlighting this fact? Because human beings desire certainty (more on this when we discuss neurocognitive).
To realize the goal of agility and provide sufficient certainty, we need systems that will allow us to move our hierarchical structures into a tool and with policy rather than the org chart. By using a tool, we maintain our ability to still know what people are working on, when we can expect it, and who they are working with, without them always having to ask permission to go solve a problem or do something that will move our companies forward. A colleague of ours once pointed out that it was possible to use a written governance structure to replace a physical bureaucracy. Begin by writing down how much time employee can commit to an activity (time is money) at each seniority level and adjust the levels as needed to make sure the system works. We’ll be exploring this topic much further in a forthcoming white paper, so we’ll move on to neurocognitive.
How the human brain works at work
For the sake of simplicity, we like the work Dr. David Rock has done as a basis to start an exploration of neurocognitive issues and impacts in the workplace. Dr. Rock developed the “Scarf” model, and we have further tailored it to represent behavior and thinking found in a heavily project/new initiative environment: the BACCS Model.
Belongingness – People need other people. Teams and other workgroups that are stable can fill this need at work.
Autonomy –People want to be as self-directed as possible. They will abide by limits, but micromanagement is intolerable.
Competence – Competence is a positive survival trait (inborn). Competence also directly contributes to an individual’s sense of self.
Certainty – Certainty is a range. Some people are comfortable with the certainty that Murphy’s law is real (yes, it will go wrong) and enjoy the battle.
Safety –freedom to take appropriate risks, freedom to present new ideas, freedom to fail fast.
Purpose and getting a man to the moon
Today, we as a business community tell ourselves that Millennials are unique because they want to work for a purposeful organization. Human beings have always wanted to work for something other than survival. Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs in 1962, with survival at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. The key with purpose is that it doesn’t mean the same to all people. Every generation learns this lesson anew and creates its own example. We remember the “I’m building a cathedral” story from our childhood, and we replaced that with the story about President Johnson asking a janitor at the Kennedy space center what he did there, and the janitor responded, “I’m helping get a man to the Moon.” Purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose. It just needs to be about something other than the stock price.
Easy to use technology rides to the rescue
Culture (what we’ve been exploring up to this point) and technology go hand in hand in the modern world. Culture takes intellectual and empathetic “muscle” to maintain. Technology takes organizational savvy to get right. Why do we say organizational savvy? Because it’s more important for a system to be easy to use than for it to have every feature under the sun. It’s more important that the software be designed to support people rather than control them (our earlier premise). Resource Management systems are wonderful if they replace excel, but that doesn’t go far enough. It’s not about just assigning someone to work (that doesn’t make anyone happy). It’s about getting the right person to the right work at the right time. And when you’ve accomplished that, it’s about letting the right person get themselves to the right work at the right time to fully realize their potential.
How do you accomplish this lofty goal? You start with the obvious
Step One: Pick an easy-to-use tool that supports every stage of the process, from deciding what work is important (the portfolio) to ensuring that you have enough of the right people to do the work (capacity). Next, you’ll need to assign work, which means you need basic skills to start and much more complex knowledge of individuals later. You’ll also need to ensure that the work is well managed, but that’s another blog for a later date.
This step takes longer than many of us would like because you need to do it right. Doing it right means always remembering at every step of the way that this system belongs to the people whose lives will be managed by it. It is a “power to, not a power over” system.
Step Two: Get people involved in planning their own development. This will include committing to provide access to training provided by someone other than your HR department. We are talking Microcredentials, etc. Five years ago, this might have been difficult to do. Today there is no excuse (including we don’t have the money.) Why? Because hiring new people instead of investing in your own people costs more.
Step Three: Allow people to bid on what work they want to do next. Notice the word bid. That means they must be good enough to be chosen. There needs to be some level of internal competition to keep people striving and developing (there is a tiny lazy streak in even the most type-A personality.)
Step Four: Allow people full access to the system. How often have you said to yourself, “I’m sure there is someone in this company who knows the answer to this question or has a background in this area.” It is at step four that we reach the penultimate goal of self-organization or continuous agility.
By the time you reach step four, your organization will be an industry-leading firm, and you’ll have done it all without inventing a new form of management (holarchy) or consciously choosing to become a “Teal” firm. Everything outlined in this blog is based on a series of small steps, so you won’t have to turn your company inside out to accomplish them. In the final analysis, evolution works better than revolution. In human systems, it just takes foresight and tenacity to achieve your goal.