The Future of HR, part 17: can organizations be beautiful machines?

What can we learn from other organisations?

Once in a Board meeting we were listening to stories from other organisations. Question on the table: what, if anything, can we learn from them? One example came from a big global company. It was an intriguing success story. In this organisation everything was perfectly organised. The strategy deployed into annual business plans, with clear sales goals per department. A global ERP system that made it impossible to hide: the only recognised realities are the figures in the system. Work processes that were standardised across the globe. This enabled them to plug in and replace employees anywhere in the process, without any disruption. A very transparent global sales process, with clear steps to follow. This company was a very popular employer. As a young professional you can learn a lot, and if you are successful, you can have a fast career. This was a global meritocracy, where potentially everyone has a chance to become the CEO.

The organisation as a perfect machine

While listening to the story, I felt that I blocked. This was the prototype of an organization I would not like to work in. This was the total opposite of my ideal. This was the organization as a perfect machine. The whole presentation was full of phrases as: standardization, automation, industrialization, people-independent processes, client-push and not client-pull etc.
My perception became blurred, and when it was my turn to mention a couple of lessons we could take into account, I could not mention one. Not even one…. I could only see this big global machine, and felt the fear that this was going to be our ideal role-model.

A colleague rescued me

One of my colleagues came to my rescue. He said: “Tom, I can mention a few that will appeal to you. (1) the constant change that is the standard in the organisation, (2): they give young people quickly the chance to get big responsibilities, and (3) the performance culture that is really ingrained in the organisation.
Later, when I had regained my composure, I was able to see many more. The rigid standardisation of the sales process being one of them.
So the question is how we can incorporate the lessons of this company into our organisation, without becoming one big global machine. The dilemma to reconcile: can you be a perfect and smoothly running machine AND a diverse forest that is organically growing in all directions without too much foresting.

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