Regardless of the type of organization that I serve, I see a number of phrases that seem to be common. Every company hires only “the best and brightest”, every organization claims their people to be their “most valuable asset” and every entity declares, “Our people make the difference”.

Beyond the fallacy that everyone hires only “the best” (Note: I am from Minnesota, the land of Lake Wobegon where “all of the children are above average”), there is something that bothers me about these statements. In today’s world, culture is the key to sustainable competitive advantage. Accordingly, the focus on people is certainly warranted. Without the right people, the culture and its host organization are adversely impacted. Yet, while this seems to be understood on an intellectual level, and while organizations will say all of the right words, the incongruence between so many organizations’ words and deeds is startling.

The deviation between how companies say they treat their people and how they actually treat their people breaks down almost immediately. Most companies spend a tremendous amount of time and money on recruiting new employees. From developing a job description to posting it on the web and/or engaging a recruiter, reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and finally selecting a candidate, organizations invest a great deal in bringing on new people.

However, most turnaround and don’t aid their new employees once onboard. They spend countless hours recruiting them and then don’t have a workstation ready for them, don’t set-up or orchestrate key meetings with them, or, in one case, even bother to show up for the employee’s first day. All of the time spent wooing these people is followed by decreasing their ability to contribute from day one. Can you imagine making the same kind of investment in the acquisition of a physical or financial asset, and then neglecting its fine tuning and on-going care, or otherwise casting its fate to the wind?

Once the new employee does finally receive their equipment and understand their environment, the dichotomy between the value that the organization claims to place on people and how they actually treat them only grows.

The worst offense is to refer to people as “resources”. The application of this term to human beings has dark origins. However, it’s the practical implications that cause more immediate damage. Treating people as “resources” implies that they are fungible. That is that they have the exact same skillset, attitude, collaboration skills and behavior as their peers. Using this term also assumes that they have no discernable difference between the inanimate resources that occupy the modern workplace. Can a desk adapt to its circumstances? Can a conference room table learn? The answer is clearly “No”. However, people can adapt, they can learn. They were hired for their unique skillset, their ability to adapt, their “cultural” fit only to have the very organization that valued this uniqueness in the hiring process destroy it by treating them the same as the conference room table.

The impact of this treatment changes the very nature of the process in which these people are engaged. Treating them like “Resources” leads to “defined process” thinking and statements such as, “If I give you two more resources can you complete the project?” or “we will double the resources”.

Treating product development like a “defined process” leads to the creation of a set of work instructions that the people engaged in this effort are asked to blindly follow. Instead of recognizing that developing a product is empirical in nature and can’t be fully understood, if at all, until development of the product commences.

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As the “best and the brightest” confront the insanity of attempting to manage that which is empirical via a defined process, they often meet resistance. “We’ve always done it this way”, “We’re a regulated industry, so we have to do it this way,” or “You don’t understand how difficult this is,” are just a few of the common refrains heard when people attempt to challenge these defined processes with real data and/or experience from the field. If the new hire is unsuccessful at enacting change and becomes discouraged and disengaged, he or she may simply resign themselves to the status quo. Worse, he or she may leave the organization, saddling it with both the cost of the failed hire as well as the additional cost of recruiting to fill the position once again.

What does all of this have to do with agility – In Real Life? We believe that people are not resources, but are human beings with a unique skillset that can be unleashed by using collaborative frameworks, like Scrum, to build products. Interested in learning more? Give us a shout or better yet sign-up for our courses.