Max Mckeown and Philip Whiteley argue that 'people' and 'Strategy' are not mutually exclusive
Another month, another clutch of surveys showing how empowered and motivated employees create more successful companies. The Work USA 2002 Survey by Watson Wyatt found that returns to shareholders were three times higher at companies with high levels of trust between managers and staff.
Why does no-one believe the results? We are told that we always have to choose between the evil but efficient 'maximising shareholder value' option versus the caring, socially aware 'stakeholder' approach.
This notion of choice between head and heart is an illusion. There is a powerful cultural myth of some intrinsic connection between exploitation and profit-making; that the more people are demeaned and have their horizons shrunken, the more lean and successful the business.
There is solid evidence that the whole human being, freed from the shrinking effects of gratuitous rules, bullying and excessive cost-cutting, produces better business.
Most managers will have been lectured over their failure to be more strategic. But what does it mean to be strategic when most business strategies fail and the 'people element' is regarded as peripheral?
Specifically, the approach to strategy based on the notion of a company as an inanimate superstructure to which staff are subordinate as 'resources' is just plain wrong. Research shows that mergers and restructurings on this model nearly always fail.
The myth is so strong it persuades some people to try to convert good businesses into bad ones. Southwest Airlines, alone among US carriers, has never reported a loss. It makes development and selection of its people its core strategic objective - yet it still comes under pressure from investors to cut 'costs' on recruitment and training.
The 'Unshrink' theory replaces rules and obsessive cost measurement with principles. The principles are that we are not what we do, but what we can become. We are all human - boss and employee alike. Only good change is good, and our organisations and world are communities and not machines.
It means creating a workplace for grown-up, complete people with families, brains, unfulfilled ambitions and pride. People will follow willingly when they understand the principles, believe in them and are permitted the freedom to follow their own initiative in so doing. <