Thursday, 18 April 2013

Human-Centred Management - a case for standards?

This post is a follow-up to a debate at the IEHF Conference led by Dr Scott Steedman CBE, Director of Standards, BSI. That background has not been added yet, so the post may not be clear as it stands.

 We 'know what good looks like' as regards the human-centred management of people in enterprises. This note gives some pointers to that literature, with an emphasis on Pfeffer and Sutton's work on Evidence Based Management. A good summary can be found in the Happy Manifesto by Henry Stewart. The first chapter is called "Enable People to Work at Their Best". Perhaps using this knowledge to produce an inspriational standard would help the cause.
We need to promote what ought to be commonsense because it is overwhelmed by technocratic command and control thinking and an obsession with 'leadership'. The zillions of Something Management System standards promote the mechanistic management of things. Whilst this might be useful, on the basis of 'what gets measured gets done', such mechanistic procedures exacerbate some of the flaws in our society. A human-centred approach needs to be promoted to at least restore the balance. Fortunately the wherewithal to do this in a 'third generation' way have already been developed.

O'Reilly and Pfeffer have contrasted conventional strategy with values based strategy as follows:

[Based on: Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results With Ordinary People (Harvard Business School Press)]. I have had to deliver Value Plans working for BAE Systems - challenging and genuinely useful in my experience.

In 'The human equation: building profits by putting people first' Pfeffer has shown that a human-centred approach yields long-term business benefit.

We are overdue a paradigm change in the approach to people and safety. The new view of system safety has been well-developed by Woods, Dekker and others. 'How Complex Systems Fail' (pdf) would be a good starting point. The new paradigm has not taken hold (yet). Steven Shorrock has just written a terrific blog post on why this may be. Perhaps a standard would help.

There is over sixty years of literature and practice on Socio-Technical Systems - the conceptual foundation of ergonomics and human-centred approaches. A pointer to that literature can be found here.  In recent years, John Seddon's proprietary Vanguard implementation of systems thinking has found success in the UK public sector, producing benefits considerably in excess of a 20% target.

I will conclude with Pfeffer and Sutton "The single best diagnostic to see if an organization is innovating, learning, and capable of turning knowledge into action is 'What happens when they make a mistake?' "