Monthly Archives: May 2013

Applying Nature’s Principles to our HR Strategy: Energy = Engagement

Continuing with our exploration of how we can apply nature’s principles to our HR Strategy, we look at the third of Nature’s Principles proposed by Fritjof Capra in his book “The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living“: Solar Energy

As I briefly mentioned in Human Resources, How can we add value?, we can draw a parallel between solar energy and employee engagement. Solar energy is the fuel used by most ecosystems; employee engagement is the fuel for the functioning of organizations.

Taking this a bit further, Henry Morris, PhD in “The Tri-Universe” provides us with another way to look at the dynamics within an organization when he defines the universe as follows:

“The created universe is actually a tri-universe of Space, Matter, and Time, each permeating and representing the whole. However, the universe is not partly composed of space, partly of matter, and partly of time (like, for example, the three sides of a triangle). A trinity is not a trio or a triad, but a tri-unity, with each part comprising the whole, yet all three required to make the whole. Thus, the universe is all Space, all Time, and all Matter (including energy as a form of matter); in fact, many scientists speak of it as a Space-Matter-Time continuum.”

Space can be considered from the perspective not only of where we operate, where we have offices, manufacturing plants, etc; but also from the perspective of what markets we serve, the niche for our products, etc.

Time is easy, there is past that we can learn from, present that we need to be fully aware of, and future that provides us with our vision.

Matter is what I want to focus on because it takes us back again to engagement. We can summarize the trinity of Matter as:

Matter = mass + energy + motion

Apart from our physical assets, the energy we use for our operations and the movement required to produce our output,  

mass is our employees, energy is the effort they put into what they do, and motion is the flux of inputs and outputs through the processes we have defined within our operations.

So, no matter how we look at it, employee engagement is the true motor of the results our company achieves. Let us look at a definition of employee engagement I particularly like, given by the Human Capital Institute (HCI):

“The extent to which employees believe in what they do, feel valued for it, and are willing to spend their intellectual effort to make the organization successful.”

The reason why I like this definition is because it provides us with three (again “tri”) areas we need to focus on when developing our HR Strategy.

  1. Employees believe in what they do: There is no way employees will believe in what they do if they do not have a very clear view of how their work fits within the organization as a whole. This applies to every single employee, no matter where they work or what they do. The operator of a machine in one of our manufacturing plants needs to understand how what he is doing impacts the organization: what happens if quality is not met, what are our customers producing with the components we manufacture, how scrap is money going down the drain, etc. The list can go on quite a bit but you get the idea. It doesn’t matter if the employee is the Director of Marketing, the Receptionist, a Call Center Agent, a Software Developer or a Production Operator, everyone needs to know how what they do helps the organization achieve its goals.

    Dialing the Right Mix: Openness, Trust, Collaboration, Transparency

    By Opensourceway

  2. Employees feel valued for what they do: How do you show employees that you value them? There are hundreds of books on this topic. You need the basics first, competitive pay and benefits. But that is not what truly shows you value them. True value comes when you show appreciation for their efforts, when you keep them communicated of what is going on in the rest of the organization, when you provide an environment where they not only have what they need to do their work but, more importantly, they know that they can express their opinions and their ideas are considered. We show we value our employees when we make sure that the leader of each group has the skills to be able to create an environment of trust and enthusiasm, where employees feel they are part of a “we” and would never refer to the company as “they”.
  3. Employees spend their intellectual effort to make the organization successful: If employees believe in what they do and they feel valued for what they do, the probability of them really placing their effort in what will make the organization successful will follow. We need to make sure that the organization does not present barriers, too much bureaucracy that prevents employees from doing their best, too many restrictive processes or having to request authorization for things that should be within their area of responsibility. All these things can quickly kill employee engagement because it restricts their ability to do what they know would be best.

So when you are looking at the Business Strategy to start defining your HR Strategy, remember: Energy = Engagement, the ingredient that will make things happen. And don’t forget that, as with the Tri-Universe, to have employee engagement you need to make sure the three components of the definition are present.





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Nature’s Principles: Cycles and how their understanding aids our HR efforts

As mentioned in “Human Resources, How can we add Value?” we can apply the knowledge of nature’s principles to an organization and learn about its dynamics and how they can impact our HR Strategy and programs.

Let’s look at the second principle: Cycles.

Organizations, like nature, have their own cycles. As Giles Hutchins mentions in “The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience“:

Small, medium or large systems of all shapes and sizes dynamically adapt in the same way. For example, cycles within an economy – boom to bust to boom again. Also, cycles at a product level: a new product release following a new, innovative breakthrough, leading to growth in market share, followed by a period of slower growth, eventual stagnation and decline in market share, then to product expiration and new innovation.”

From a Human Resources perspective, cycles can provide knowledge we can use in different aspects of our strategy. Lets look at some in more detail:


From the perspective of our talent, looking at what has happened during past cycles can help us identify actions that have been successful and those where we have lost talent we would have preferred to retain. During the last economic crisis, when we had to downsize or restructure, did we lose any talented or high potential employees? Were we able to retain the expertise we needed for when the economy rebounded? Did we panic and laid off employees or closed plants only to find that we needed to hire new ones very soon because the dire predictions ended up not being so bad?

If we analyze how we answered the questions above, we might decide to do things differently. We might want to carefully identify the experts and high potential employees and redeploy them to different areas or assign them to special projects. In our factories, we might decide to go to a reduced hours workweek instead of laying off employees that know the job well. This has many benefits: employees will tend to be grateful because they still have income and benefits and as soon as we need to start producing again all we need to do is to let people know and get the production plan running. In addition, we forego the loss of time and the expense of having to hire new employees and train them.

Recipe for a Successful Business

By Opensourceway

Workforce Planning

Analyzing past cycles can also help with our workforce planning. Although no two cycles will necessarily impact the organizational needs in the exact same way, we can have better projections based on how things worked out in the past. For example, if we look at the workforce requirements when we introduced a new technology, it might provide us with important insight as to which questions to ask and how to plan for the next technology development.

If during the past economic crisis we reduced the workforce and then found that we had to scramble to find the right people to hire because we had gone too far, this is important information to bear in mind and challenge the organization on how to tackle the crisis. The short term savings of reducing our organization might be overshadowed by the cost of rehiring and loss of productivity.

An analysis of how employees nearing retirement age reacted during an upward cycle in the past might raise a red flag if they tended to retire early. If we are again in an upward trend and have a significant number of key employees that could take early retirement, we need to start planning what to do.

Organizational Design

How did we redesign the organization to tackle a downward trend? Did it work? If it did, then we want to pay attention to why and see if this time there are similar factors in play. If it didn’t, we need to figure out what went wrong and learn from it.

What did we do when we were in a growth cycle? Are we sure we were able to achieve the most out of the opportunity or did the design of the organization somehow create roadblocks to the innovation or cross business unit potential?

I guess you can see what I mean with these examples.  Although we need to look towards the future and make sure that our HR Strategy is aligned with the Business Strategy, looking back and reviewing how the organization reacted during each cycle can provide us with valuable information that we can use to make sure our efforts will help the business achieve the best results possible.

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Nature’s Principles: Networks and their influence on HR Strategy

We are familiar with the fact that organizations are made of networks of relationships. What we rarely try to identify is what Fritjof Capra in his book  The Hidden Connection: A Science for Sustainable Living  calls “boundaries of identity and interaction” and how these can influence the success or failure of our HR initiatives.

So, what are these boundaries and how can we seek to unveil them within our organizations? Lets try to analyze them from the perspective of their effects. Have you ever been in a situation in which you had to reorganize, followed all the customary procedures to define who adds more value, who less, what positions you actually need and which seem superfluous? You then implement and suddenly find that the organization has lost some key component that had not been identified and things don’t quite work as expected. Giles Hutchins, in his book “The Nature of Business” says that:

“(…) in business, it is not always obvious which parts of the organization that are not overtly adding value are merely there for the ride, or are providing a subtle benefit unmeasured by the normal performance assessment process. Cutting dead wood from an organization in challenging times may be prudent, yet damaging a useful web of stakeholder relations in times when greater resilience is needed is not prudent.”

Understanding the subtle networks of relationships that exist within an organization can be an art. We also need to understand that these relationships are not static. Like Hutchins mentions in his book, “two organisms can have many different types of relationship over time, or even at the same time.”  Therefore our observation of the organization cannot be a one-time-only occurrence.

Social production as a new source of economic value creation

by Opensourceway

We need to establish our own networks and take every opportunity we have to observe and interact with as many people in the organization as possible and keep track of what we find. This will enable us to develop a map that overlays the organizational chart creating a picture that combines the formal and informal networks that exist. If someone moves from one position to another, that does not mean that the relationship they have with their former group ends, their influence is probably still there if there was a strong bond within the team.

Who are the people that employees mention when they are discussing examples of leadership? Who do they look to when they want to see what it takes to be successful? Who do they go to when they seek coaching? It is more frequent than not that these are not their direct managers unless they report into one of those great leaders that tend to be so few.

Who do employees identify with? Are there teams that have a strong sense of identity? What drives this cohesiveness? Is it the formal leader of the team or is there a team member that seems to be the driving force behind it? When there is a team that is viewed as a positive example, what we do to that team will also have an impact on the rest of the organization. If we eliminate it because the work they specifically do is not needed any more, what we are saying is that we do not value the principles on which this team operated. If, on the other hand, we figure out how to deploy the team to other work, we are reinforcing that this is the model we want people to immitate.

From the opposite perspective, are there teams that we have identified as being dysfunctional? What are the characteristics of the leader? What is the driver of the lack of identity? Can we identify a specific person that seems to be the disrupting factor? It has been my experience that most of dysfunctional teams lack good leaders. When I have been able to identify a team whose dynamics are negative, it normally correlates with managers that are “old school”, not on board with what the organization is now asking them to do, and frequently boycotting initiatives through sarcastic comments, or they are weak and unwilling to take charge and address the negative behavior of a team member.

A thorough knowledge of these networks, and the understanding of the organization dynamics that it provides, will provide us with vital information we need when we are developing our HR Strategy and programs. As I mentioned in “Why do HR Strategies Fail?”, we definitely also need to have a thorough understanding of the business strategy. Through our work to learn the business we can gain much of the knowledge we need and this will enable us to be attune to the subtle networks that influence what the organization can achieve.




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