HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Core Principles

- Dimitri Pojidaeff – © HR Group Management Consultants

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE DECEMBER 1995 ISSUE OF THE JOURNAL FOR QUALITY AND PARTICIPATION

- Abstract -

The only competitive advantage left is in human productivity and creating an organizational climate that supports and enhances it. We need employees who take ownership of their work, who can problem solve, and who display initiative and creativity. The core principles that are required to achieve such a climate have been well known and documented for over fifty years. Why then, haven’t they been more widely accepted and implemented and why are we faced with so many flavors of the month that are costly, time consuming and ineffective? 

If the number of new buzzwords is any indication, there are many supposedly new developments in the field of Human Resources and Organizational Development: “Empowerment”, “Teamwork”, “Quality Management”, “Continuous Quality Improvement”, “Participative Management”, “Reengineering”, “Restructuring”, and, of course, let’s not forget “Excellence”. It is no wonder, therefore, that Peter Senge (1992, pp.30-38), author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, (yet another buzzword), has this to say in a recent article:

“the quality movement … risks being fragmented into  isolated initiatives and  slogans. The voice of the customer, fix the process not the people, competitive benchmarking, continuous improvement, policy deployment, leadership – the more we hear, the less we understand.

It is not surprising that, for many, it doesn’t add up to much more than management’s latest flavor of the month that must be endured until the next fad comes along.”

So how do we, or can we, make any sense out of all this theory and literature that we’re being inundated with? Does any of it actually work? Is it all just a fad? Where does it all originate? The answer to all these questions is the old French expression, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

What do we mean? All of these supposedly new theories primarily involve the core principle of transforming management practices and reforming workplaces so that employees can utilize their own intrinsic motivation to learn, to achieve, to gain esteem, to improve, to look for better ways of doing things and, in the process of course, to improve productivity and maintain consistently high quality and service.

Let us revisit three classic, traditional theories of human motivation which have provided most of the basis of human resource management theory for the past three to four decades:

  1. Abraham Maslow (1987) first described his theory of a hierarchy of needs in his book, Motivation and Personality, which was first published in 1954. That’s 41 years ago! The top of his hierarchy of motivational factors was what he called “self-actualization” or the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming; to make the very most of one’s potential. “Esteem” needs were ranked second. Both “self-actualization” and “esteem”, of course, can only be realized in a participative workplace, which fosters intrinsic motivation through empowerment, responsibility and a real sense of ownership. This is the same principle that underlies all current theories of quality management.
  2. Frederick Herzberg (1966) wrote Work and the Nature of Man in 1966, 29 years ago. In that book he put forth his theory of Maintenance versus Motivation factors and the concept of Job Enrichment. Maintenance factors are extrinsic to the job and include such things as working conditions, salary and company policies. Motivation factors, on the other hand, are intrinsic to the job, and include such things as achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth and the work itself.

Twenty-six 26 years later, Peter Senge (1992, pp.30-38) writes:

“ ‘The prevailing system of management has destroyed our people’, says Dr. Deming. ‘People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning’.

Intrinsic motivation lies at the heart of Deming’s management philosophy. By contrast, extrinsic motivation is the bread and butter of Western management.

…A corporate commitment to quality that is not based on intrinsic motivation is a house built on sand.”

3.  Douglas McGregor (1960) presented his ideas of Theory X and Theory Y in The Human Side of Enterprise, which was published 35 years ago in 1960. Management’s beliefs about human behaviour, according to McGregor, lead to those management concepts, practices and procedures which foster and support that same behaviour.

They are to a great extent, in effect, self-fulfilling beliefs. A Theory X view of human behaviour holds that employees dislike work and responsibility, prefer to be led and must be forced to do a good job. Theory Y, on the other hand, states that employees seek responsibility, want to be productive, want to achieve and are capable of problem solving. Theory X, of course, leads to the use of extrinsic motivators which maintain Theory X behavior and do nothing to promote Theory Y behaviour. Theory Y, however, promotes the use of intrinsic motivators, which in turn foster the continuation of Theory Y behaviour.

In the preface McGregor 1960, p.vi) writes:

“Without in the least minimizing the importance of the work that has been done to improve the selection of people with managerial potential, I have come to the conviction that some of our most important problems lie elsewhere. Even if we possessed methods enabling us to do a perfect job of selecting young men with the capacity to become top executives, the practical gain for industry would be negligible under today’s conditions. The reason is that we have not learned enough about the utilization of talent, about the creation of an organization climate conducive to human growth. The blunt fact is that we are a long way from realizing the potential represented by the human resources we now recruit into industry.”

The core principles, no matter what past or current buzzword we use to describe them, remain the same. Employees wish to be masters of their own fate and to have a real sense of ownership. When provided with such an organizational climate, employees are able to use their own intrinsic motivation to improve productivity and maintain high quality and good service.

Dr. Alfred J. Marrow is known as the father of “participative management”. In 1947, 48 years ago, he was C.E.O. of an apparel manufacturing company called Harwood. The workforce was comprised of poorly educated young women from the rural mountain areas around the plant. Productivity was low in general and dropped by as much as 25% every time a change was introduced. As a psychologist, Dr. Marrow was interested in the causes of this behaviour and how to change it. He and his colleagues found that productivity consistently increased by as much as 14% when employees were allowed to make meaningful decisions concerning their own work; in other words, participative management dramatically and quickly increased productivity.

Dr. Marrow (1969) wrote:

“The problem is the 25 year time lag between discovery of new evidence and its general application. This gap has occurred because the present generation of executives has been unwilling to replace dying managerial traditions and to start learning a new system”.

It’s now 48 years later. Aside from Dr. Marrow’s 25-year time lag, what has changed to explain the immense interest in such old concepts? The economic climate has. The global economy and ever increasing freer trade means that our businesses must be competitive or perish. There are no longer any alternatives; our businesses must become more productive. Both the private and increasingly the public sector have tried many possible means of reducing costs and increasing productivity: just-in-time inventory, improved cost controls, more consistent quality control, robotics and changes in product design and service delivery to name only a few. Once these systemic means have been exhausted, however, we have only one means left – our human resources. Many organizations have first tried to reduce their human resource costs by downsizing and cutbacks in pay. Past a certain point, however, this approach cannot continue if a certain level of service and production is to be maintained. The only competitive advantage then left is in human productivity and creating an organizational climate that supports and enhances it.

It is gratifying to finally see such interest in our human resources, even if it is forced purely by the need to improve the bottom line. On the other hand, it is so very frustrating that we are still discussing the same core principles over 40 years later. If they have lasted for this long, they must obviously be well rooted and accepted as valid. Then why haven’t we fully embraced them and absorbed them into our organizational cultures? Why are we still so resistant to changes which we admit will be of benefit to us? Why has, according to Peter Senge (1992, pp.30-38), “extrinsic motivation been the bread and butter of Western management”?

The reasons are simple, but firmly entrenched. In order to manage the diversity and complexity of both big business and big government, we abandoned the core principles in favor of those practices that minimize the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour. This was achieved by focusing on the organizational elements of strategy, structure and systems. These elements, believed to be essential to providing focus and control, have evolved into highly complex processes exerting a great impact on our human resources by increasing the degree of fragmentation and systematization of work processes. In most organizations this has lead to the implicit view by management that people are merely replaceable spokes in the business cycle and has created jobs which are narrowly defined, mundane and devoid of meaning to the people that perform them.

This has been the fundamental basis of the bureaucratic, hierarchical organization; a structure which breeds rigidity, poor communication, slow response and stifles any intrinsic motivation. According to Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad (1989, p.75):

“In this hierarchy, senior management makes strategy and lower levels execute it. But the strategy hierarchy undermines competitiveness by fostering an elitist view of management that tends to disenfranchise most of the organization. Employees fail to identify with corporate goals and involve themselves deeply in the work of becoming more competitive.”

This approach is also reflective of our culture in general where government in its wisdom has known best what the needs of its constituents are and has provided program after program to take care of those needs from “cradle to grave”. With a diminishing ability to raise taxes and the burden of immense debt, however, government is now forced to dismantle many of these programs and move back to a more participative democracy where people are encouraged to make their own contributions to meet their needs.

After so many years of the strategy, structure and systems approach as well as having the same approach taught in virtually every school of business, it is quite understandable that there is such widespread resistance to any change that requires giving up control and implementing a more participative workplace which supports intrinsic motivation. Yet this is precisely what must be done to ensure continued prosperity with fewer opportunities to achieve competitive advantage.

Most managers and supervisors, however, are fearful of change that breaks down hierarchical structures, empowers workers and disperses control. They perceive a loss of power, control, prestige, and esteem because they misunderstand the concepts of participation and empowerment. They consider them a threat to their traditional roles as well as a threat to their job security. Such perceptions lead to very strong resistance and, in some cases, sabotage of any change process. Giving up power and control is a very difficult transition for management. It defies their entire training and experience as well as our very culture. Managers have been taught for years that they must “manage” staff, that they must provide goals, direction and motivation and that they must, therefore, control others.

Many organizations recognize the need for change, but are reluctant and afraid to implement the core principles and provide a truly participative work environment. As a result, they do not engage the whole organization in the change process, thereby failing to create intrinsic individual commitment to the outcome. The process is still being “managed” and “controlled” at the top. Only when everyone is deeply engaged in and responsible for change is it going to be successful. Pretense of total participation throughout the organization only results in cynicism, poor motivation and decreased productivity.

Other organizations insist that they truly desire a more participative workplace and have adopted such a strategy, but they leave the same structures and systems in place that support continued extrinsic control. For a truly participative workplace to survive, strategy, structure and all systems must be supportive. Relabeling a supervisor as a “team leader”, for example, does not change the location of responsibility for control and coordination of work. The power structure remains unchanged. Appraisal and reward systems that continue to reflect typical hierarchical, fragmented and competitive roles are also at odds with a truly participative workplace.

These change efforts attempt to create a more democratic workplace, but continue to use processes, structures and governance which are bureaucratic. Because these efforts, therefore, are never truly successful, many organizations continually move from one attempt to the next and create the unfortunate “flavor of the month” syndrome which is costly, time consuming and counterproductive to the desired increase in productivity.

These then are the reasons why the core principles are still not fully embraced by and absorbed into our organizational cultures. It is easy, under the circumstances, to be cynical about the endless parade of buzzwords, supposedly  “new” theories and change processes and many are, especially those subjected to the endless parade of flavors of the month. We cannot let this obscure, however, the validity of the core principles; without them nothing really changes or succeeds over time. Those organizations, both private and public, that do not adopt them will no longer survive. The lack of a participative workplace to support intrinsic motivation is the major reason for the lack of competitive advantage in the private sector and the staggering cost of our bloated bureaucracies in the public sector.

A return to the core principles is a return to the fundamental beliefs of our North American heritage: individual responsibility with minimal democratic governance.     

References

Hamel, G. and Prahalad, C.K., 1989. Strategic Intent. Harvard Business Review, May-June.

Herzberg, F., 1966. Work and the Nature of Man. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

Marrow, A.J., 1969. The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Basic.

Maslow, A., 1987. Motivation and Personality. New York: HarperCollins.

McGregor, D., 1960. The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Senge, P., 1992. Building Learning Organizations. Journal for Quality and Participation, 15(2) March.