I referenced the bipolar managerial styles of Newtonians and Darwinians in my 2006 DMReview.com article The Many Rooms of the Organization Mansion.1 The Newtonians like to manage quantitative-oriented things such as operations management and finance. Their mechanical thinking relies on an MBA run-by-the-numbers management approach. They see the world and everything in it as a big machine, and they seek the levers, pulleys and dials. This managerial approach speaks in terms of production, power, efficiency and control, where employees are hired to be used and periodically replaced, somewhat as if they were disposable robots.
In contrast, Darwinians like the soft behavioral areas such as change management, ethics and leadership. They recognize that people and human behavior matter most in improving performance. They view an organization as a living organism that is ever-changing with sense-and-respond reactions to its environment. This Darwinian way of thinking speaks in terms of evolution, continuous learning, natural response and adapting to changing conditions.2
I sense that more managers of organizations are Newtonians, which is ironic. An organizations employees represent a significant component of its total value and an equally significant component of its expenses. Yet few organizations manage this enormous and essential asset in a strategic way. Human resources (HR) and personnel departments have traditionally been mired in daily administrative activities and viewed solely as tactical support. Shouldnt HR look for ways to perform more strategically as part of the executive team and as a critical partner with business managers?
What Prevents the HR Department from Being More Strategic?
Some HR teams reinforce the perception that they are tactical rather than strategic by focusing on recruiting and benefits administration rather than on optimizing human capital to align with the executive teams strategic objectives. Even with this administrative emphasis there are problems. In my opinion, HR departments are not reacting quickly enough to the imminent retirement of an aging workforce. These workers are being replaced by a considerably less organization-loyal generation that is more focused on their individual careers. A skills gap for organizations is inevitable. Most organizations havent quantified the effect of this gap, which could explain why they are slow to respond. Inevitably, traditional HR recruitment and training options will need to be revamped to attract the younger millennial workforce.
Admittedly, data and information about an organizations workforce can be a problem. Most organizations do not have all their relevant and specific human capital information in one place. It is scattered and often resides in disconnected spreadsheets, which makes it tough to think strategically about matching future workforce skills with the organizations needs. In some cases, HR may not even know how many full-time employees are on the payroll, or they may have different headcount numbers than the finance department.
At some point, HR needs to demonstrate its value in training and developing its existing and future workforce.
Advancing from HR to Strategic Human Capital Management
Similar to Newtonian-style managers who are being equipped with technologies that support their enterprise performance management methodologies, HR teams also need decision-support methods to help their organizations achieve constantly changing strategic objectives (and gain a seat for themselves at the executive table). Fortunately there is hope. Current information technology can give HR new insights and value from the data they already have, from systems that are already in place throughout their organization and third-party data. This is strategic human capital management (HCM), often referred to as workforce analytics. HCM aids in aligning the behavior, priorities and work of managers and employee teams with the executives strategic objectives derived from their strategy formulation.
One area where HR can use help is in determining the chasm between the skills and abilities of what an organization has and what it needs. With a robust HCM workforce planning system, an organization can project the number and types of employees needed to execute its executives strategy. It would no longer have to muddle its way through periodic layoffs and tardy recruiting of new employees. It would better anticipate workforce needs and, in many cases, retrain employees for approaching needs.