Organizational Productivity by Harnessing the Strength
Organizational Productivity by Harnessing the Strength
Effective organizational management achieves the productivity by harnessing the strengths available in the organization (Fig 1). It is aware that it cannot build on weaknesses. To achieve results, it has to use all types of the available strengths in the organization which include the strengths of the non-executives, the strengths of the executives, and its own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. After all, the unique purpose of the organization is to make strength productive. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which the organizational employees are generally having with them, but it can always make these weaknesses irrelevant. It is to strive for using the strength of each employee as a building block for the enhancement of the organizational productivity.
Fig 1 Organizational productivity by harnessing the strength
The major area in which the effective management encounters the challenge of strength is in its function of staffing. The effective management fills positions and promotes people on the basis of what the employee can do. It does not make staffing decisions to minimize the weaknesses of the organization but to maximize the strengths. Such management makes effective appointments since it selects people for their tested abilities and not for the absence of a weakness. It staffs people for their strengths though they may have weaknesses which are to be ignored. The people having narrow but very great strength normally bring success to the organization. If the management tries to place a person or staff the organization to avoid weakness then it ends up at best with mediocrity. The idea that there are ‘well-rounded’ people, people who have only strengths and no weaknesses (whether the term used is the ‘complete man’, ‘mature personality’, ‘well-adjusted personality’, or ‘generalist’) is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence.
Everyone is aware that where there are peaks, there are also valleys. Similarly strong persons always also have strong weaknesses. Further, no one is strong in many areas. Measured against the universe of human knowledge, experience, and abilities, even the greatest genius can be rated a total failure. Hence, the management which is concerned with what an employee cannot do rather than with what he can do, and which therefore tries to avoid weakness rather than make strength effective is a weak management itself. It probably sees strength in the emploees as a threat to itself. But no management has suffered because the employees are strong and effective. In fact, management is to look out for people with strengths and put them to work.
Effective management is aware that the employees are paid to perform and not to please their superiors. It overlooks the shortcomings of the employees as long as they carry out their work effectively and even if this involves unpleasantness in the administrative routine. It never asks how the employee gets along with his colleagues but what does he contributes to the organizational productivity. It never looks for what the person cannot do but what can he do exceptionally well. In staffing, management is to look for excellence in one major area, and not for performance that gets all around.
To look for one area of strength and to attempt to put it to work is dictated by the nature of a person. In fact, all the talk of ‘complete man’ or ‘mature personality’ conceals a deep disrespect for person’s most specific gift which is the ability to put all his resources behind one activity, one field of endeavor, and one area of accomplishment. It is, in other words, disrespect for excellence. Human excellence can only be achieved in one area, or at the most in very few areas.
People with many interests do exist and such a person is normally called ‘universal genius’. People with outstanding accomplishments in several areas are unknown. Hence, unless, the management looks for strength and works towards harnessing of the strength for productivity, it gets the impact of what the employees cannot do, of what they lack, their weaknesses and impediments to performance and effectiveness. To staff from what there is not and to focus on weakness is wasteful often a misuse, if not abuse, of the human resource.
To focus on strength is to make demands for performance. Management which does not first ask what a person can do, is bound to accept far less than the person can really contribute. Such a management excuses the non-performance of the person in advance and is destructive but not critical, let alone realistic. The really demanding management always starts out with what a person is able to do well and then demands what he can really do it.
To try to build against weakness frustrates the purpose of the organization. Organization is the specific tool to make human strengths to perform and to make human weaknesses neutralized and largely rendered harmless. In fact, the very strong people neither need nor desire organization. They are much better off working on their own. The rest of the persons, who constitute great majority, do not have so much strength that by itself it would become effective despite their limitations. It is similar to the proverb normally associated with human relations people which says that ‘one cannot hire a hand; the whole man always comes with it’. Similarly, one cannot by oneself be only strong; the weaknesses are always present with him.
However, the organization can be so structured that the weaknesses become a personal blemish outside of, or at least beside, the work and accomplishment. The organization structure is to make the strength relevant. In the organization one must be able to make his strength effective and his weakness irrelevant. Effective management is not blind to weakness.
People may say that this is obvious, but then why it is not done all the time. After all, the management of every organization does not practice harnessing of strength of the employees to achieve productivity. It is because the immediate task of the management is not to place a man but it is to fill a job. Hence, the tendency is to start out with the job as being a part of the order of nature and then the management looks for a person to fill the job. It is only too easy to be misled this way into looking for the ‘least misfit’ person and this leads invariably to the mediocrity. The widely followed practice for this is to structure jobs to fit the personalities available. But this practice is worse. Jobs are to be objective; that is, determined by task rather than by personality.
One reason for this is that every change in the definition, structure, and position of a job within an organization sets off a chain reaction of changes throughout the entire organization. Jobs in an organization are interdependent and interlocked. One cannot change every person’s work and responsibility just because one has to replace one person in one job. To structure a job to suit a person is almost certain to result in the end in greater discrepancy between the demands of the job and the available talent. It results in a number of people getting disturbed in their job in order to accommodate one. This is very much true in the bureaucratic organizations.
But there is an understated reason for insistence on impersonal, objective jobs. It is the only way to provide the organization with the human diversity it needs. It is the only way to tolerate and indeed to encourage the differences in temperament and personality in the organization. To tolerate diversity, relationships need to be task-focused rather than personality-focused. Achievement is required to be measured against objective criteria of contribution and performance. This is possible, however, only if jobs are defined and structured impersonally. Otherwise the accent is always on ‘who is right’ rather than on ‘what is right’. This leads to personnel decisions being made on the basis ‘do I like this person’ or ‘does this person is acceptable’ rather than by asking ‘does this person is most likely to do an outstanding job’. Further, structuring jobs to fit personality is almost certain to lead to favoritism and conformity and no organization can afford either. It needs equity and impersonal fairness in its personnel decisions. Or else it either loses its good people or destroys their incentive. And it needs diversity or else it lacks the ability to change and the ability for dissent which the right decision requires.
One implication is that the top executives who build first-class teams are not generally close to their immediate colleagues and subordinates. Picking people for what they can do rather than on personal likes or dislikes, they seek performance, not conformance. To insure this outcome, they keep a distance between themselves and their close colleagues. They know however that the friendship with their colleagues is to be outside the job. They know that whether they like a person are irrelevant, if not a distraction. And by staying aloof they are able to build teams of great diversity but also of strength.
Of course there are always exceptions where the job is to be fitted to the man. But these exceptions are to be rare. And they are only to be made for a person who has proven exceptional capacity to do the unusual with excellence. Then how to do effective staffing for strength without stumbling into the opposite trap of building jobs to suit personality. For this management normally follows the four rules which are described below.
Rule number 1 – Management does not start out with the assumption that jobs are created by nature or in the heaven. It knows that they are to be designed by human beings who can make mistakes. Hence, the management is always on guard against the ‘impossible’ job, the job which is simply not for normal human beings. Such jobs are common. These jobs generally look very logical on paper, but they cannot be filled. On such jobs most of the people do not do well.
Almost always such a job was first created to accommodate an unusual man and tailored to his habits. It usually calls for a mixture of temperaments that is rarely found in one person. Individuals can acquire very divergent kinds of knowledge and highly disparate skills. But they cannot change their temperaments.
A job which calls for disparate temperaments in a person becomes a job which cannot be done. The rule is simple for this. Any job, which has not allowed two or three persons to succeed in succession, even though each has performed well in his previous assignments, is to be assumed unfit for human beings. It is required to be redesigned.
The effective management hence first makes sure that the job is well-designed. And if experience tells that it is otherwise then, it does not hunt for genius to do the impossible. It redesigns the job. It knows that the test of the organization is not to hunt genius but it is its capacity to make normal people achieve exceptional performance.
Rule number 2 – The second rule for staffing from strength is to make each job demanding and big. It is to have challenge to bring out whatever strength a person is having. It is to have scope so that it can bring out the any strength which is relevant to the task and which can produce substantial results. This, however, is not the policy of most of the major organizations. These organizations incline to make the job small which makes sense only if people are tailored for specific performance at a given moment. Further, the jobs are to be filled with people, as they come. The demands of any job other than the simplest are also certain to change, and often abruptly. Hence the perfect fit person then rapidly becomes the misfit. Only if the job is big and demanding to begin with, then it enables a person to rise to the new demands of the changed situation.
This rule in particular applies to the job of the beginning knowledge worker. Whatever his strength, it need to have a chance to find full play. In his first job the standards are set by which a knowledge worker guides himself during the rest of his career and by which he is going to measure himself and his contribution. Till he enters the first adult job, the knowledge worker never has had a chance to perform. All one can do in studies is to show promise. Performance is possible only in real work, whether in a research lab, in a teaching job, in an organization or in a government agency. Both for the beginner in knowledge work and for the rest of the organization, his colleagues and his superiors, the most important thing to find out is what he really can do.
It is equally important for the knowledge worker to find out as early as possible whether he is indeed in the right place, or even in the right kind of work. There are fairly reliable tests for the aptitudes and skills required for manual work. It is possible to test in advance whether a man is likely to do well as an operator or a mechanic. However, there is no suitable test available for a knowledge work. What is needed in knowledge work is not this or that particular skill, but a configuration, and this can be revealed only by the test of performance.
For the ability of a knowledge worker to contribute for the organization, the values and the goals of the organization are at least as important as his own professional knowledge and skills. A young man who has the right strength for one organization may be a total misfit in another, which from the outside looks just the same. The first job should, therefore, enable him to test both himself and the organization. This not only holds for different kinds of organization but it is equally true between organizations of the same kind.
It is easy to move while young. Once one has been in an organization for ten years or more, however, it becomes increasingly difficult, especially for those who have not been too effective. The young knowledge worker is, therefore, is to judge whether he is in the right work and in the right place for his strengths. But he cannot judge, if the beginning job is too small, too easy, and designed to offset his lack of experience rather than to bring out what he can do.
The young knowledge worker whose job is too small to challenge and test his abilities either leaves or declines rapidly into premature middle-age, soured, cynical, unproductive. Organizational management normally everywhere complains that many young persons with fire in their bellies turn burn out very quickly. For this management itself is to be blamed since it has quenched the fire by making the job of the young person too small.
Rule number 3 – Effective management knows that it has to start with what a person can do rather than with what a job requires. This, however, means that the management is to do its thinking about people long before the decision on filling a job has to be made, and independently of it. This is the reason for the wide adoption of appraisal procedures these days, in which people, especially those in knowledge work, are regularly being judged. The purpose is to arrive at an appraisal of a man before the management is to decide whether he is the right person to fill a bigger position.
However, while almost every large organization has an appraisal procedure, few of them actually use it. Mostly these appraisal reports remain in the files, and nobody looks at them when a personnel decision is to be made. Everybody dismisses them as so much useless paper. Above all, many times, the appraisal interview in which the senior executive is to sit down with the subordinate and discuss the findings never takes place. Yet the appraisal interview is the crux of the whole system. In fact, senior executive mostly consider the appraisal interview as the most distasteful job.
Appraisals, as they are now being used in most of the organizations, are designed originally by the management consultants who are theoreticians and rarely do they have the understanding of the organization. These consultants normally design the appraisals for bringing out the weaknesses of the person so that it can be corrected.
In Japanese large organizations, management does not use appraisals since they feel that the appraisals bring out a person’s faults and weaknesses. Since in Japan, the management can neither fire a person nor deny him salary increments and promotions, the appraisals are of no interest to them. On the contrary, they feel that the less they know about the weaknesses, the better. In fact, Japanese management wants to know what are the strengths of the person and what can he do. Their feeling is that the appraisals are not even interested in this. This is the way every Japanese management sees the traditional appraisals.
Every organizational management may well ponder the lessons of the Japanese achievement. It is well known that there is lifetime employment in Japan. Once a person is on the payroll, he advances in his category (a worker, a white-collar employee, or a professional and executive employee) according to his age and length of service, with his salary doubling around once every fifteen years. He cannot leave, neither can he be fired. Only at the top and after age of forty five there is differentiation, with a very small group selected by ability and merit into the senior executive positions. Japan has shown that such a system can be shaped with the tremendous capacity for results and achievement. This is because the Japanese system forces the Japanese to play down weaknesses of the persons. Since Japanese management cannot move people, it always looks for the man in the group who can do the job. It always looks for strength. It is better for every organizational management to adopt the Japanese custom of looking for strength and using strength. For the management to focus on weakness, as most of the present appraisals require the supervisor to do, destroys the integrity of his relationship with his subordinates.
The many executives follow sound instinct when they sabotage the appraisals their policy manuals impose on them. It is understandable why they consider an appraisal interview which focuses on a search for faults, defects, and weaknesses distasteful, since it has a negative effect on their working relationship with the subordinates. Hence, very few executives use the official appraisal as intended is thus hardly surprising. It is the wrong tool, in the wrong situation, for the wrong purpose.
Appraisals with the philosophy behind them are also far too much concerned with ‘potential’. But experienced executives know that one cannot appraise potential for any length of time ahead or for anything very different from what the subordinate is already doing. Potential is merely another word for promise. And even if the promise is there, it may well go unfulfilled, while persons who have not shown such promise (if only because they may not have had the opportunity) actually produce the performance. All one can and should measure is the performance. This is another reason for making jobs big and challenging. It is also a reason for thinking through the contribution a man is to make to the results and the performance of his organization. For one can measure the performance of a man only against specific performance expectations.
The appraisal is required to be much more critical look at a person than the usual procedure does. It is to focus on strengths. It is to begin with what a person can do. Weaknesses are to be seen as limitations to the full use of his strengths and to his own achievement, effectiveness, and accomplishment.
There is one more question which is not primarily concerned with strengths. Subordinates, especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, usually incline to mould themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in the organization than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Such a person may well operate effectively on his own and even within the organization, he may be tolerable if denied all power over others. But in a position of power within the organization, he destroys. Here, therefore, is the one area in which weakness in itself is of importance and relevance. By themselves, character and integrity do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else. Here, hence, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on performance capacity and strength.
Rule number 4 – The effective management knows that to get strength one has to put up with weaknesses. The effective management usually asks whether this person has strength in a major area and whether this strength is relevant to the task and if the person achieves excellence in this area of strength, then whether it makes a significant difference. And if the management gets a positive answer then it goes ahead and selects the person.
Effective management rarely suffers from the delusion that two mediocrities achieve as much as one good man. It has learned that, as a rule, two mediocrities achieve even less than one mediocrity since they just get in each other’s way. It accepts that abilities must be specific to produce performance. It never talks of a ‘good person’ but always about a person who is good for a task. But in this task, it searches for strength and staffs for excellence.
This also implies that the effective management focuses on opportunity in the staffing and not on problems. It is above all intolerant of the argument that this person cannot be spared or there is going to be trouble without him. The management has learned that there are only three explanations for a person who is indispensable man. These are (i) the person is actually incompetent and can only survive if carefully shielded from demands, (ii) the strength of the person is misused to reinforce a weak superior who cannot stand on his own two feet, or (iii) the strength of the person is misused to delay tackling a serious problem if not to conceal its existence. In all the three situations, the indispensable man is required to be moved anyhow and soon since otherwise his strength gets destroyed. In fact, the management must decide in such a case to move automatically anyone whose superior described him as indispensable since this either means that the organization has a weak superior or a weak subordinate or both. Whichever of these alternatives are there, it is better to find out at the earliest possible time.
Overall the firm rule is to be to promote the person who by the test of performance is best qualified for the job to be filled. All other opinions to the contrary that the person is indispensable, he is not acceptable to the people there, he is too young or he does not have the field experience are required to be ignored. The job always deserves the best person man and the person of proven performance is to get the opportunity. Staffing the opportunities instead of the problems not only creates a very effective organization but it also creates enthusiasm and dedication.
Equally, it is the duty of the management to remove mercilessly anyone who consistently fails to perform efficiently. By letting a non-performer to stay on spoils the others and it is grossly unfair to the organization. It is also completely unfair to his subordinates who are deprived of opportunities for achievement and recognition by their superior’s inadequacy.
A superior has responsibility for the work of others. He also has power over the careers of others. Making strengths productive is hence much more than a necessity for effectiveness. It is a moral requirement, a responsibility of authority and position. To focus on weakness is not only foolish but it is an irresponsible action. Organizational management owes it to the organization to make the strength of every person as productive as it can be. But even more it owes to the employees to help them get the most out of whatever strength they may have. Organizational management is required to serve the employees to achieve through his strengths and regardless of their limitations and weaknesses. This is becoming increasingly important, indeed critical.
It is very important for the organizational management that it has focus on strengths and must make the strength of the employees productive. Staffing for strength is thus essential to the effectiveness of the organization. Making strength productive is as much an attitude as it is a practice. But it can be improved with practice. It needs discipline.
In every area of effectiveness within the organization, it is essential to feed the opportunities and to starve the problems. It is more important with respect to the people. The effective management looks upon people including itself as an opportunity. It knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces nuisances and the absence of weakness produces nothing.
In human affairs, the distance between the leaders and the average is a constant. If leadership performance is high, the performance of the average goes up. The effective management knows that it is easier to raise the performance of one leader than it is to raise the performance of a whole mass. It therefore makes sure that it puts into the leadership position, into the standard-setting, the performance- making position, the person who has the strength to do the outstanding, and the pace-setting job. This always requires focus on the one strength of a person and dismissal of his weaknesses as irrelevant unless they hamper the full deployment of the available strength.
The task of the management is not to change human beings. Rather, the task is to multiply performance capacity of the all the employees of the organization by putting to use whatever strength, whatever health, whatever aspiration there is available in the employees.
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