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PROSPER MAGAZINE:  DIGITAL EDITION

DEVELOPING OUR PEOPLE

PEOPLE ARE OUR GREATEST ASSET 

As the world continues to grapple with Coronavirus and the unemployment figures sore each month across Britain, Prosper asked Dr Steve McCabe, lecturer, researcher, economist and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Brexit Studies, for his thoughts on 'the people bit'.

 

The maxim that people are our greatest asset is as true now as ever.

 

However, in difficult times it's easy to put off 'the people bit' as it may take time and effort. As a consequence of COVID, we are currently experiencing extremely challenging conditions.

 

The foreseeable future will be characterised by many fewer people being required in a vast swathe of sectors and industries. The reality of any organisation whether it is to make profit or fulfil a social purpose is that there must be people.

 

That's axiomatic. For sure, you can run a system without human input. However, it is simply a collection of inter-related machines or, increasingly, information technology (IT) processes. But systems don't create themselves.

 

This takes human ingenuity. However bleak the immediate future looks, there will be better times ahead.

 

The current world health crisis (pandemic) is not the first that has ever been experienced and, sadly, won't be the last. What is crucial is to, of course, survive. In the longer-term what will be essential is in contemplating the changes that will be necessary to cope in the future.

 

This requires innovative capability which, fundamentally, can only be achieved by people cooperating and collectively working out solutions to future challenges and, more importantly, developing solutions to problems we don't know we have.

 

In over thirty years of teaching and researching business, management and organisations, it is possible to see the rise and fall of trends. However, the one thing that runs through all of them with resonance to veins that are in any human being, is the importance of people in being able to operate effectively in providing customers and consumers with the best possible product and/or service.

 

Researching the incredible achievement of Japanese manufacturers of electronics and automotive products – in which there was no previous experience – as part of post-war reconstruction demonstrated their willingness to learn the lessons of quality gurus such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who emphasised that quality is based on people.

 

Some may claim that IT and, more latterly, AI (artificial intelligence) has supplanted the role of people. Undoubtedly there are fewer people required to carry out processes than used to be the case; a trend that will continue. However, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, in many sectors people are utterly vital in keeping the systems going.

 

Given the uncertainty, what should any organisation currently do?

Clearly, the first priority is in making budget. In Charles Dickers' David Copperfield, the Character Mr Micawber claimed that he had recipe for happiness: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness.

 

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." However, there is also the issue of babies and bathwater. In the rush to make savings there is always the danger that you make yourself so lean as to be incapable of being able to develop in the future.

 

Research demonstrates that, like someone who wishes to lose weight by using crash diets followed by the all-too-inevitable lapses, organisations that use hiring and firing fare less well in the long-term than those who cultivate their human assets.

 

Analysing the most successful organisations demonstrates the fact that, their ability to avail of opportunities has been based on investment in education and training. This is essential. Fitness in body is based on intense dedication to the physical aspect of exercise.

 

Engaging in exercise releases chemicals (endorphins) which trigger positive feeling in the brain and body which decreases pain similar to taking morphine. Fitness in mind requires using the brain as fully as possible. If people are considered to be analogous to the brain of any organisation, not developing them is a waste of talent.

 

People who are not developed through continuous training will be less able to cope with change which, as those of us who've been around for a while will attest, is a constant. More importantly, the great innovations are frequently a result of allowing people to use their 'creative juices' to think differently about existing issues.

 

Such innovations, particularly in enhancing experience and service, may be critical in ensuring future success rather than failure. Deming's philosophy was that quality is a virtuous circle in that if you invest in people who develop your products and services, the reputation of your products and services is enhanced.

 

This makes it attractive to those who will buy it in the future which, if translated into sales, leads to more jobs. This is what British industry had to learn in the 1980s, especially in producing cars when faced with Japanese alternatives that exhibited superior performance characteristics.

 

It is important to stress that training should be considered worthwhile by those who undertake any course. Everyone has probably been on a course they felt like a waste of time. All too often these are laid on to hit an arbitrary target. Known as the 'sheep dipping' approach to training. As such the credibility of training is undermined.

 

Sometimes, particularly for people who've not been in formal education for many years, encouraging them to partake in any course, regardless of the fact that it is related to their job, may be the key that 'unlocks' their creative potential.

 

Finally, I'd like to relate a wonderfully evocative story heard at a training conference a number of years ago from a keynote speaker relating their experiences.

 

This person explained that many senior managers of companies they talked to claimed that money spent training and educating people to develop their capability, expertise and confidence can seem like a waste as those who've benefitted achieve promotion by leaving to go to another company.

 

As the speaker, described, their riposte to this argument is to spend nothing on your workers and no one will want them! 

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