HR could learn lessons from nature to help run businesses

Biology – including the evolution of crabs and sea anemones – could help HR professionals design and run a business, researchers have claimed.

Speaking at the HR Forum at Savoy Place in London today, Phil Richardson, chief executive of Thoughtcrew, a leadership firm, told delegates that firms could “learn lessons from nature” to help them with leadership, management and communication.

He cited the crab, which de-shells 18 times during its life, each time completing one development phase before moving onto the next, as a classic model for managing change. The sea anemone, which stings sea slugs that attack it, was a great example of market protection and awareness, he added.

“The crab’s own development provides a change management plan. It doesn’t allow itself to move to the next process until it has completed the one before. It tells us to identify what strengths we need to keep and what we need to get rid of before moving further into the change process,” Richardson said.

Symbiosis, whereby different species of organisms benefited from living together, could be used by businesses trying to get various people to work together, he added.

HR professionals present at the event were confident they could apply the principles of science to leadership culture.

Richard Sharp, global HR services director at Unilever, told Personnel Today: “I would use it [the symbiotic model] to understand how complementary businesses work well together. We have a bunch of service providers and organisations that work with Unilever, so this would be useful for managing that relationship.”

Geoff Hall, head of HR at World Duty Free, added: “The basic principles taken from the crab, in that it grows by 30% each time and doesn’t move onto the next phase until it’s ready, is interesting when thinking about change management.”

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, told delegates at a separate speech that nature and nurture worked together to explain individuals’ behaviour at work.

He called on employers to ensure that the working environment would get the best out of staff. “By all means we can find genes that change characteristics such as behaviour, and willingness to cooperate. But that certainly doesn’t change the fact that their environment alters behaviour too.”

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