Saturday, September 13, 2014

From Unrest to REST (Recruitment Engine and Skill Transmission): An Automotive Inspiration to Human Resources Drive Train

Contemporary organizations are in a state of continuous unrest. Competitive conditions are no longer the only pressure for survival or superiority. Disruptive conditions make even the most recent strategic scripts obsolete. Governments and regulators assume an increasingly activist role in support of their constituencies or in pursuit of their mandates. When Chinese manufacturers offer smartphones, telecommunication gear, bulk drugs, power plants and bullet trains at amazingly lower costs relative to suppliers in the developed and developing world, competitive conditions turn into disruptive conditions for such vendors. Within India, low entry barriers and fragmented industries have been disruptive to orderly development and growth. Organizations, therefore, are in a state of perpetual unrest as they retool their available skills and retool with new skills. That, however, is hardly the answer because the changed competitive conditions tend to become real and ravaging well ahead of anticipated occurrences, and worse still in a completely unanticipated manner. Neither subdued organizational fatalism nor excited organizational unrest is hardly the answer to meet such surprises. ‘Anytime organizational readiness’ as a concept requires the adoption of REST model as it is the only way for organizations to be in a state of perpetual readiness.   

Automotive analogy
It is well known that the drive train that comprises the engine and transmission is the key enabler of automotive efficiency. The nature of the engine, whether it is gasoline or diesel, and the type of the transmission, whether it is manual or automatic, together determine the onroad power, torque, performance and economy of the automobile. The matching of the engine and transmission as an integrated system of drive train on one hand and the matching of the drive train to the driving conditions on the other are essential for optimal performance of an automobile in different countries. The automotive designers, therefore, commit considerable innovation and effort to optimize the drive train to internal and external conditions. While there exist several other design factors that impact automotive performance such as the profile and weight of the automobile, for a given set of non-drive train factors, it is the efficiency and economy of the drive train that determines the internal and external performance efficiency and driving compatibility of an automobile.
This blog post proposes that two essential components of the human resources function in an organization, namely recruitment engine and skill transmission constitute the drive train of an organization and impact the overall performance of an organization in the competitive traffic of business competition. As with organizational design there exist several other factors of organization design that impact organizational performance. These are, for example, the profile and size of the organization (akin to the profile and size of an automobile). Be that as may, the way the recruitment engine and skill transmission in an organization are designed and tuned determines organizational performance, other factors remaining constant. This blog post proposes an optimized model of Recruitment Engine and Skill Development, with the acronym of REST that can provide a meaningful conceptual and analytical framework for driving human resources efficiency and effectiveness in an organization. The drive train needs to be continuously optimized as driving conditions and preferences evolve; so does the organizational drive train need to be continuously optimized as business conditions and strategies evolve.
Recruitment engine
The automotive engine is characterized by three fundamental characteristics, the power, torque and specific fuel consumption (SFC). The power curve provides the ability to accelerate the automobile and carry the load while the torque curve provides the ability to start the vehicle with loads and in upward gradients and the SFC curve reflects the ability to run economically at different power and torque levels. The recruitment engine in an organization provides a similar function set; an ability to take the business challenges against adversity (the torque), an ability to cruise competitively on the business pathway ahead of others (the power) and an ability to use resources judiciously and economically while meeting the other two traction needs (the fuel economy).  Just as these three characteristics are integral and integrated part of an engine design (despite being three separate performance curves), the three characteristics of resilience, competitiveness and economy must be the integrated and integral part of recruitment engine design and delivery.
Different engines are designed for different purposes in classic automotive design. Similarly, different recruitment engines are required for different business purposes. Startup phase requires high resilience of the human resource base (high torque talent). The growth phase requires an ability to accelerate and stay ahead (high power talent). The maturity phase requires the skill to be cost competitive and achieve long term sustenance (high economy talent). Firms that desire to stay in the game as long as possible in the maturity phase or extend the product life cycle through a fresh startup and growth phase require all the three characteristics in varying measures. Just as a unitary engine design is today being re-tuned to meet different characteristics (for example, Tata Revatron engine which is controlled by microprocessor technology to meet three different driving needs of city, sport and economy), the organizational recruitment engine must also be capable being one in constitution but multiple in recruitment characteristics. This requires extreme sensitivity (akin to microprocessors) on the part of the recruitment engine to varying internal and external needs.  
Skill transmission
The automotive gear box plays an extremely important role in enabling the basic performance of the engine to be matched and amplified based on the driving gradients. The gearbox technology has moved from manual four speed gearboxes to automatic and continuously variable transmissions capable of matching the engine performance to road requirements at different engine speeds. In organizational settings too systems of skill transmission can play a great role in ensuring that the available skills brought in by the recruitment engine are amplified and conditioned to meet unanticipated and challenging business requirements. One is habituated to expect skill transformation to accomplish such arduous transportation on business highway to future. Skill transmission, however, is an altogether different concept. It is the ability of the team managers and corporate leaders ensure that the available skills are matched or enhanced to levels that are required. Managers and leaders are habituated to assume themselves to be the steering wheels of an automobile in a classic automobile analogy but they actually need to play a less visible and more appropriate role of a transmission that is consistent with their accumulated knowledge, experience and intuition.
Managers would need move from coordinating and controlling roles to progressive roles that excel in imparting their skills to reshape or augment their team members’ skills and, in some cases, let their own skills work directly with their team members’. Leaders would need to transform themselves from oversight and judgmental roles to judging business gradients and competitive conditions. Over time, the behaviors of managers and leaders tend to be predictable, from their periodic exhortations to quarterly expectations. Over time, in organizations,  innovation and creativity of executives tend to be subservient to the directions and boundaries set by the managers and leaders. As the competitive intensity increases managers and leaders become skill demanders rather than skill enhancers. Their expectations lie around transformation of the skills of their team members (which is a required long term fix) rather than devising ways by which available skills can be redeployed to maximal efficacy. Managers and leaders need to recognize that they are an integrated part of the human resources drive train and the converter between the raw power, torque and economy of their teams and the rough conditions of their businesses.
From unrest to REST
Organizations cannot afford to ever rest in the task of organization building and talent development. New entrants must see their entry as only the first step to develop skills that are industry-specific and application oriented. Managers and leaders cannot afford to consider the journey of competitiveness as a steady state cruise. Disruption, whether by competition, regulation or globalization, is the order of the day. If unrest in organizational performance and infrastructure is a way of life, REST as a model of organizational competencies is the elixir of organizational life. Recruitment engine in a growth oriented high performance organization never gets switched off; it remains in perpetual throttle to balance the skills at a basal level and rev up as required. Skill transmission enjoins the leadership to be in a continuously variable application mode to deliver maximum value by combining the executive, managerial and leadership skills that are already resident in the organization.
Like the best automotive drive train that remains invisible under the hood but purrs to perfect performance, REST, the human drive train, is the invisible force that remains in perpetual throttle with an automatic transmission of combined human capabilities of the organization to meet variable business requirements. This, however, requires a major shift in the mindset of managers and leaders (and organizational expectations) from visible direction-setting and judgmental oversight to invisible skill amplification and augmentation of their teams and organizations. This also requires a shift in the mindset of team and organizational members (and manager, leader expectations) from compliant direction taking and performance excellence to active knowledge seeking and competitive collaboration with their managers and leaders.   
Posted by Dr CB Rao on September 21, 2014  



No comments: