The drivers of success in the 21st century will be different from those that
fuelled the mass-production economies of the 20th.
Management models that are confined to standardisation, volume, top-down
compliance enforcement and a single-minded focus on cost will not generate the
agile, innovative, customer-delighting organisations that will take the prizes
in a global economy.
We have clear evidence that the ways people are managed and developed have
more impact on performance than any of the other levers available. Investment
in technology, marketing, production, the efficient use of capital and the
supply chain are all vital. But people provide the key to competitiveness. They
alone can spark the continuously learning, regenerating cultures and capacities
that can anticipate ever-rising customer expectations and deliver solutions.
We also have effective tools for crafting strategies and practices that
work. There is a strong body of knowledge and understanding embodied in the
CIPD’s ‘thinking performer’ standards, which are continuously developed by
research and case studies. These guidelines help practitioners put together
people strategies that both support the achievement of today’s business
strategies, and create the capacity for more ambitious targets in the future.
From research into the psychological contract, high-performance work
practices and giving employees a voice, we know the components that lead people
to contribute their initiative and discretionary effort to the continuous and
successful improvement. As a mainstream, daily activity, workplace learning at
individual and team level can play a sparky role in fostering high-commitment,
Business strategies of differentiation and mass customisation call for these
attributes of progressive people management and development.
Across the economy, there are too few organisations implementing progressive
people management practices. Like rabbits frozen in the headlights of an
oncoming car, organisations are failing to match the best practice of their
This provides a great opportunity for the many high-quality people
professionals I meet every day to take a lead.
Our colleagues in the boardroom and management teams need us to be more
assertive in showing what can be done and how we can make it happen. But we
should not let ourselves get bogged down with administration, jargon and fads.
Instead, we should try to answer the big strategic questions facing the
organisations in which we work: What will success look like in the eyes of
customers, employees and other stakeholders? How can our people make that
happen? What styles of management and what cultural changes are needed? How can
we assess the our effectiveness? What can we learn from the experience?
We should take the lead in designing and implementing the strategies and
practices that will enable our organisations to develop the hard-to-imitate
capabilities that competitiveness demands. And we should tell the world about
it – particularly in annual reports – so that we draw a true and fair picture
of the drivers of value that go beyond those captured by traditional financial
People professionals can make that contribution. Now is the time for HR
leaders to be bold. Success depends on our effectiveness.