I’m not going to mince words. The most important word in “human resources” is human. I sincerely hope you agree. Not everyone does.
And many who do agree are often caught in the never ending struggle between what is human and what constitutes tangible, measurable resources. We still constantly assess, measure and quantify the hard asset value of our people and what they produce. I won’t even say that’s a necessary evil. It’s simply necessary.
We absolutely need accurate accounting of what it costs to attract, pay and keep good people in our organizations. We need to know the cost of payroll and benefits, legal, healthcare, compliance and any number of other expenses associated with people.
We need to assess with reasonable accuracy the net revenue associated with every person’s efforts. After all, if any of us is not producing a measurable net revenue, we’re a drain. We’re not worth having around. Not in the long run anyway.
We also need to remind ourselves from time to time that all measurable productivity is undeniably dependent on a wide range of terribly intangible human variables that are difficult and in some cases, even impossible to measure, quantify and assign any specific value. The plain truth is that human beings are incredibly complex organisms and we are only just beginning to understand some of our most fundamental behaviors.
Despite what we don’t know, we all know through experience that we feel. We care and we want others to care about us. Most of us have a deep need to learn, grow and make ourselves better.
We need the company and to some degree the recognition, approval and acceptance of others. We need to know we’re contributing to a purpose or cause greater than ourselves. We need to know our lives–– and our work––matters.
We also need to have some sense of control over our own lives. We need to feel that what we do is really shaping who we are, what we will become and that our efforts will produce some positive outcomes for ourselves and the people we care about.
Most of the logic I expected from human behavior was long ago dashed in nearly 30 years teaching people how to reach beyond their own self-limitations. That was my job as Sensei.
I took my job seriously. I embraced a life-long study of psychology, human behavior and to a large extent, behavior modification. After all, isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do? It’s our job to modify behavior––hopefully in a positive direction. That’s what leaders do too.
The rest of my skepticism in the rationality of the human animal was fomented as I started to transpose the philosophy and psychology of human performance I learned as a martial artist to the even more demanding domain of leadership, particularly business leadership.
That’s when I discovered Dan Ariely.
For those who may not be familiar, Ariely is a Duke University researcher and one of the pioneers in the field of behavioral economics. He and others in his field are turning the study of human behavior upside down, particularly when it comes to how we make decisions about what we buy and what motivates us to do good work.
Much of our tradition in human resources assumes that human beings are at least somewhat rational. That we’ll respond logically to incentives and rewards as well as to threats and fears.
Well, not so much. Ariely sums it up:
“Even the most analytical thinkers are predictably irrational; the really smart ones acknowledge and address their irrationalities.”
By the way, the behavioral economists are also proving that we are remarkably selfinterested creatures and that lying, cheating and stealing are understandable, dare we say even rational human propensities. Ariely insists that “individuals are honest only to the extent that suits them (including their desire to please others).”
Are you ready to start re-writing your employee manual yet?
My point is that when we insist on crafting human resource policy and culture on the fundamental belief that people will act and respond rationally, well, we just might not be paying attention to the human side of the equation.
So what, exactly, does motivate people?
Dan Pink did an amazing study. He wanted to know exactly what would motivate people. He found three that trumped all others––including pay:
So––we want some control over our own lives. We want the opportunity to improve. And we want to know we’re doing something meaningful.
These are the deeply human conditions we need to satisfy if we want to bring out the best in the people that comprise the human resource part of our organizations.
Before I wax too philosophical, let’s take a quick look at one more impressive study. The good folks at Gallup developed a powerful tool to assess whether or not an organization has a culture that encourages best productivity. This is the now famous “Q 12.”
You can study the Q 12 in detail in First, Break All the Rules by Dan Clifton. Interestingly, Clifton and his team were not sure what the data from the Q 12 would reveal. They somewhat expected not to find a correlation between high Q 12 responses and productivity. Instead they found…
“…employees who responded more positively to the 12 items also worked in business units with higher levels of productivity, profit, retention and customer satisfaction.”
The Q 12 is a set of twelve simple, yet carefully crafted items that measure a person’s feelings about the conditions that create an environment most conducive to high levels of performance and productivity. Clifton adds that the most important are the first 6 items. Not surprising to those of us here at THE SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT, these items all reflect deep human needs, desires and interests.
In other words, if you focus on the human–– you’ll get better results.
1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In that last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
In martial arts we call a person who addresses these needs a “Sensei.” At work, we call these people “leaders.”
Note I chose the word “leader,” and not “manager.” It would be nice if all managers were leaders––sadly they are not. And there are remarkable leaders in every organization that hold absolutely no rank, title or position of authority. Some of our best leaders are not and do not want to be managers.
Let’s quickly contrast the “manager” and the “leader.”
Some time ago Admiral Grace Hopper said, “Management is about things. Leadership is about people. For too long we’ve gone overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”
To paraphrase the Admiral, management is about the resource. Leadership is about the human. Both are important. The trick is not to lose our humanity to the emphasis on the resource.
The “manager” motivates (or tries to) –– the leader inspires.
The “manager” delegates –– the leader empowers.
The “manager” drives –– the leader guides.
Inspire, empower and guide. That’s what the Sensei does––and that’s what I see effective leaders do in every industry and at all levels, from the front lines to the C-suite. Pay attention to these most human aspects of leadership and you bring out the very best in the people you serve.
If we want to fully access the potential of our human resources––we need to focus our best efforts on the human. Take care of the people in your organization––and they’ll take care of business.
Human-centric leaders are servant leaders. They understand that their achievement is measured by the achievements of the people they serve.
Long ago Lao Tzu wrote:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
That is the perfect description of a leader focused on the people. A leader who understands that human is the most important word in human resources.
A Sensei Leader.
Jim Bouchard is an international corporate and conference speaker, Leadership Activist, and founder of The Sensei Leader Movement(TM). TheSenseiLeader.com