Maximization of performance for higher productivity has been a historical business concern. Making a group of people work hard for desired outcomes has been the objective of every business organization. Historical accounts trace these concerns, predominantly, from the first World War. Let us take a quick look at how people and human management practices have evolved in the last century by touching upon some of the most important milestones.
Four prominent scientific management principles by Frederick Winslow Taylor, father of the scientific management, proposed that by optimizing and simplifying jobs, productivity would increase. An era of rationality-based people management started during the early 1900s, by questioning ‘Rule of thumb,’ and a need for harmony vs. discord and cooperation, instead of individualism was postulated. ‘Mental revolution’ and focus on the developmental needs of employees for efficiency and prosperity were advocated.
Elton Mayo's contribution (during the 1920s) to management theory helped pave the way for modern human relations management methods. Mayo management theory stated that employees are motivated far more by relational factors such as attention and camaraderie than by monetary rewards or environmental factors such as lighting, humidity, etc. As cited in the literature, ‘Industrial welfare’ included regulation of work hours and inclusion of women in the workforce, etc. During World War II, the focus was on recruitment and selection and later on training, improving morale and motivation, discipline, health and safety, joint consultation and wage policies, and a beginning of a ‘personnel department.’ A focus on ‘effectiveness,’ ‘doing things right,’ and ‘efficiency,’ i.e., ‘doing the right things,’ meant that people management interventions include employee’s behavior at work in addition to the desired outcome. Personal departments emerged into ‘Human Resources Management (HRM), and interventions for ‘Human Resource Development’ (HRD) became a norm.
‘Performance Excellence’ was required for ‘business excellence’ in a competitive business environment and dominance of the service sector in a global world. Thus, discourses on ‘Human Resource’ as postulated by the scientific era shifted to ‘Human Being.’ People management interventions for performance excellence mandated that organizations think about people's wellbeing and deploy them strategically aligning business needs with workforce competencies and capabilities. Peter Drucker’s framework for ‘Management by objectives’ (MBO) for alignment, HR Partner and HR champions for change by Dave Ulrich and other scholars from the University of Michigan addressed the issue of strategic alignment for business excellence.
Information Technology (IT) resulted in another paradigm shift for people management interventions towards the end of the last century. IT helped HR managers offload routine tasks and give them more time to solve complex problems. IT solutions also ensured that a greater amount of information was made available to make decisions. The use of the internet and a shift to a 24/7 society, new jobs in e-commerce are using new modes of recruitment, e-recruitment, use of social media and online training, led to the emergence of ‘Humanistic Management.’ This included modern concepts like ‘flexibility’, ‘diversity,’ ‘part-time engagement’ and ‘temporary contracts’, ‘distance working’, and ‘work from home’.
The Project Oxygen team of ‘Google’ changed the discourse yet again. One-year data-mining from employee documents (which recorded more than 10,000 observations of manager behavior) resulted in 400 pages of notes to identify standard behavioral science methodologies and being a good coach became one of the eight critical competencies. Empowerment instead of micromanagement, owning team member’s success and wellbeing, and their career progression emerged as some essential people management interventions for performance excellence. These behaviors had one thing in common: the role of a manager includes a deep commitment to short- and long-term employee success.
In the end, it will be worth mentioning some of the current rhetoric being used by thought leaders in the area of HRM. These include, ‘employee first, customer second,’ ‘building capability, not just compliance’, focusing away from centers of expertise towards the ‘employee experience,’ the EACH model - Employees as Adults, Consumers, and Human beings, and the SMAC model - Social, Mobile, App and Cloud management of the workforce. The focus today is on understanding employee’s strengths and the unique contribution they can make, from competency to strength-building and the conversation has shifted to career and learning, rather than performance reviews. Data-driven HR using machine language (ML) & artificial intelligence (AI) is being discussed extensively and used by some businesses. Alongside, employee health and morbidity concerns are being addressed, and a need for a compassionate approach for people management is being deliberated to create a better working environment that will benefit both employees and the companies’ performance.
Excellence is a journey and involves constant striving for improvement, and therefore, performance excellence would need continuous conversations and insights from both practitioners and researchers for more evolved people management interventions.