Resources: Blog Post

March 30, 2016

One size fits all? Nah!

Ian's Morning Musing imageA couple of weeks ago I cited a recent Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) study which stated that 76% of the respondents felt that their Learning and Development function was ineffective, or very ineffective, in helping them achieve business targets. Many of you will agree with me that part of the problem is that our programs are designed for a group setting, with unfortunately all the participants being in different places on knowledge, experience, attitude, disposition, and so on.

Our bias could be that individualized learning is impossible because budgetary constraints limit our capability, so a program to the masses is the best alternative. Something is better than nothing, as the saying goes, and, at minimum, running a program seems to suggest that HR is on the ball.

Last week, I had a conversation with a CHRO who was in the middle of a strategic review, with a well-known consulting firm leading the work on behalf of the CEO. Span of control, delayering and making accountability real, were being intensely debated, and there was pressure to give managers at least 10 subordinates to report to them. Most of us having been part of something like this, know that there are a few considerations when determining spans of control – including the similarity of tasks on the team, the complexity of the work, the experience within the team, the amount of change within the organization, the capability of the manager, and so on. A blanket rule of thumb imposed without considering such factors will result in the same implementation failures that the CLC cited.

In the retail world, we know more and more stores are gathering information about their customers, so they can pinpoint likes and dislikes. This will ultimately lead to the customization of their products. Nike, for example, already can charge a premium for made-to-order sneakers, with colour monogram and other choices. Supporting this approach, a Magnetic company study found that 41% of consumers who got a “highly relevant” digital ad, or emails from a retailer, spent more with it than with rivals.

Do we not feel positively disposed when we are catered to? Is it not the same for employees in our organizations, when managers actually pay attention to individualized needs and interests? Let’s remember the Gallup research that points to the importance of the human connection.

In Toronto, we have our last place hockey team in the NHL playing in front of enthusiastic crowds. Usually, mediocrity has the media and fans berating the players and management? The difference – young players are making a real commitment to compete and optimism is in the air. A journalist asked the coach, Mike Babcock, how he was getting the most out of the team.

His answer: “there are 23 players – you coach them 23 different ways.” Some claim he seems to focus on those with the most upside, (the organizational hi-po), a little more intently. If so, that’s smart in my eyes. The critical point though, is that it takes effort, and genuine interest, to figure out what each employee needs to constantly develop his/her skills, and what keeps him/her motivated to succeed. And what’s the reason that most managers do not coach enough (if at all)? They are too busy doing other stuff. And when asked whether “stuff” is more important than “people,” the answer is what exactly?

I would argue that smart organizations entered the age of mass customization a while ago. No doubt some of you read Ron Carucci’s recent HBR article. He cites the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey in which only 27% of leaders were seen as behaving in open and transparent ways. That minority of leaders have also likely figured out that today’s competitive advantage is in designing jobs that connect skills with strategies and matching the right people to the work involved. Couple this with a manager’s genuine interest in each individual team member, and you might be able to enjoy the rarified air of being in the elite league of performance.

Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” The same should apply to HR.

Ian Hendry headshopt

Ian Hendry is the president of the Strategic Capability Network. In his Morning Musings, he provides insight on issues facing today’s business leaders and looks at subject matter related to upcoming SCNetwork events. He is also VP HR & Administration at Interac Association.

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