To People or not to People

Looking back at a couple of decades of global and local Belgian human resources and business life I realize that there is a compelling need for a new verb to describe how to most effectively interact with each other, to team up, to move forward together, to negotiate with others and get a constructive outcome.   This verb could add so much to help us understand what is going wrong in case our discussion, our collective effort, our negotiation, our energy spent trying to get somewhere do not lead us to the desired outcome.  It would also develop more successful individuals, teams and organizations.  

Being extremely fascinated to get results through and for people in organizations it was time to reinvent this verb that describes it all, that is ‘to people’. So from now on if you think ‘this is not working out’, ‘we are not moving in the right direction’ ask yourself, ask your team : ‘Am I, are we able to people well’?

Skill, competency, natural talent, organizational capability.

To people is all of that.  It is the art to move forward together without necessarily agreeing with the party you are moving with, it is about creating a common goal and being courageous enough to be interdependent.  It is about motion and moving to avoid standstill or going backwards.  It is about understanding the frame of reference of who is sitting on the other side and not being afraid of trying.  

Today’s world is more dividing than uniting.

There is a large need to people better in today’s world.   I could give multiple examples globally, regionally and locally, at organization, department and team level where the individuals involved are not able to move forward, not able to make things happen or progress.  As my expertise is basically in a business setting I will focus on business examples although this phenomenon is visible in all parts of society and at all levels. 

Strategy and implementation

The classical example I have seen many times in my human resources career is the bright human resources professional developing great strategic plans, fantastic power points and, unfortunately, none of them are used by the business leader the person supports.  This is not exclusive to human resources, it also exists in other functions such as communications, marketing, or engineering developing a great product that sales can’t, or is not willing to sell, or production is not able to produce at the right cost.

Sometimes an individual, team or even entire function in an organization forget the reason why they exist.  Instead of meeting a specific business need with a concrete approach, intellectual rhetoric and 30000 feet high plans are developed, thoughts, ideas and actions that are never applied and end up at the cemetery of brilliant though unused ideas and all of this because they do not people well with their business.

Management and Social Partners

Another example frequently observed is the unproductive way management and social partners interact with each other.    Business leaders and union or works council representatives depart from the position that the other one has to be wrong or does not get it.  Not exactly a good point of departure and a waste of energy, resources and lots of frustration on both sides.    

When parties to the table start doing things to just fit their own agenda, they won’t be able to move, they will do the opposite and dig themselves in.    Short term solutions are found to unblock the immediate crisis and long term issues continue to exist.

These two examples illustrate that creating intellectual rhetoric without meaning is useless and expensive and dysfunctional social relations are a drain on company resources.  All of this because those involved do not people enough, they forgot how important it is to move forward together with respect of different opinions and styles.

How to move forward together without necessarily agreeing on everything.

The success criteria to respect to people well can be described as follows :

 1) Have a strong desire to make things happen.

2) Be courageous enough to put everything on the table and avoid ‘a prioris’.

3) Avoid being dogmatic and exclusive. 

4) Make a conscious effort to understand the frame of reference of the other party.     

5) Focus on the opportunity and not on what can go wrong or what is dangerous.    

6) Have a firm belief that information is not power.   What you do with the information is key.

7) Don’t think you need to like everything that is going on, just be willing to try, to experiment, to forget your anxiety for a moment and engage.

Managing egos.

If you want to people well you also need to understand the role of ego in the discussion.   There is nothing wrong having a strong ego as long as you can manage it and as long as it does not run away with you.    I have seen so many people in my career, more as they move up the ranks, who forget the basic reason why they exist in the organization.  They forget that the business and the customer ares at the center and start to operate in a vacuum.     Leaders or individuals who do succeed in managing their ego well understand what others really need.  By not controlling their ego leaders fail to respond to operational needs and miss the opportunity to make a difference.   They are not able to people correctly, they are not nourishing their organization, they  are just nourishing their ego and actually end up managing the consequences of ineffective decisions versus shaping the future.

Keeping in touch with all stakeholders including your social partners.

In these turbulent Covid days many companies will have significant economic challenges ahead and will need to adjust to the new reality. To people correctly when you need to restructure means:

  • Creating an environment where both sides commit to people well
  • Determining what is in the interest of all the stakeholders
  • Avoiding to inject non-negotiables
  • Not hiding behind laws or mediators
  • Not being shy of sharing information
  • Determining what you are interdependent on and which common goal you have

While entering negotiations one side often surprises the other one with financial data the other side does not buy in to.   To people well makes parties exchange their numbers ahead of the negotiation so that they are understood so when negotiation starts they know each other’s point of view and can start looking for  common ground to find solutions without spending hours just challenging the data. 

To people well.

This goes both ways.   If you really want to people well you will find the opportunity, if not you will create a drain on energy and deliberately decide to stand still or go backwards whether you like it or not, whether you realize it or not. 

To people or not to people, a basic art, skill, capability that some seem to have forgotten to practice although it is free of charge, gets fantastic results fast, builds value for your business and team members and once you get the hang of it the sky is the limit.