All entries for Friday 17 October 2008

October 17, 2008

Human Resources Management: Lesson 7 – Exercise:

Question 1: What implicit expectations do you and the employees you manage/work with have of your employer?

IBM’s employees’ expectations enormously changed in the past 10 years and actually they’re still evolving and changing.

Fixed remain the low level of “self-management” that departments have; the strong rigidity and the high bureaucracy (so often criticized by employees and management).

Also the explicit expectation for a fairly pay, benefits like pc, car and mobile phone remain but I feel it’s really less then it was in the past.

Bureaucracy and rigidity united to the growing competition and the fewer wealth in the IT sector make IBM more difficult to maintain its attractiveness towards highest market skills that still have implicit expectations like gratitude for the work performed, highlights in the value for extra-ordinary work, proposing challenging and rewarding career growth.

A complete new feeling is also emerging in these last few years (I’m especially referring to Italy but I do not think we’re the only country) that is the “survivors” one.

The reaction to all the mergers and takeovers and to the redundancy programmes performed in these last few years has been different from department to department:

  • Administrative/supporting department started developing an implicit expectation as that described by Greenhalgh and Sutton, 1991 (“less willing to accept change, more resentful of imposed change and more secretive and competitive”). Restorative strategies are strongly suggested.

  • Consultants / high skill technicians department started developing an implicit expectation as that described by Brockner et al., 1991 (“greater motivation”).

By the way we’ve to admit that job insecurity is a complete new feeling for several IBMers especially the less young ones.

The implicit expectation of “having maintained his/her own job” has been substituted by a wish of continue investment on one person skill improving and training.

IBM use to give several opportunities of learning (always outside and after the working hours) despite job rotation (also immediately after training session) is strictly submitted to bureaucracy and to single department needs.

Question 2: Analyse how and why these expectations might be different from the implicit expectations in another organisation with which you are familiar

Let’s compare IBM to a medium/small consultancy Italian company (Thera)

Talking to a consultant his expectations are: high pay, good salary raising plan, complete benefit set (mobile phone, car, pc…), flexible working hours, high investment in his learning programme and an immediate exploitation of the “new skill level” by the company, high level accommodations when he travel for working purpose…

Actually all these expectations are still present only in some IBM department, the richest ones, but we cannot consider them valid all over the company.

Being a small company Thera is strictly connected to new contracts / new projects developed so consultants know that  planning the future is hard and that career progression depends on their effort but also on the money the customer they’re working on wants to spend.

In IBM this is less perceived by consultants that can be easily moved form one customer to another.

Dealing with extra working time and “work hard” these “negative expectations” are quite common both in IBM and in Thera.

In a smaller company perhaps fewer holidays and a worst medical insurance are guarantee. IBM despite the worsening conditions seems to still believe in employees’ values.

From all the above and because of the differeces hilighted I found Robinson and Rousseau (1994) theory: in the smaller company turnover rate is higher, there’s a lower level of trust between employees and managers, perhaps less job satisfaction and several employees intend to leave the company.

Question 3: How convincing do you find the idea of the psychological contract as a theoretical framework for understanding the employment relationship?

In the psychological contract count “what employees are prepared to give” (that is what they believe they have to give) in exchange for what an employer is supposed to give (job security, pay, benefits and training according to Newell and Dopson - 1996).

So it deals with the concept of “mutual obligations” quite common in each relationship.

I strongly believe in the psychological contract and accortding to (Nicholson, 1996) I believe it may become one of the main causes of dissatisfaction and turnover.

Being implicit and psychological this contract has to be considered individually and “works” for singular relationship “employer-employees” (what I perceive I’m prepared to give is different from any other employee, what I suppose I should receive is different from any other employee).

I think each manager should be aware of what his/her employees’ expectations are and it should be understood at singular level and not at team level.

As per my experience (in IBM) the interaction should be between employee and his/her first line manager since is the most direct contact, is the one who have a reasonable number of employees, is more directly involved in day by day experience.

HR dept or higher management level should intervene only when communication problems are perceived / highlighted.

Always dealing with my experience it’s also important to “write” and to “leave some written message” of the psychological contracts. Managers change position quite often so contract violations may occur: the next manager may not know anything about the previous relationship! HR databases with singular career path/ wishes and "promises" help in this sense.

References:

  • The Warwick MBA for IBM – Human Resource Management (IB811Z), Lesson 7

  • Mick Marchington and Adrian Wilkinson, Human Resources Management at Work. People Management and Development, Third Edition, CIPD, 2007


Human Resources Management: Lesson 6 – Exercise:

Question 1: Thinking about an organisation that you know well, evaluate the extent to which it conforms with the LO model.

In my opinion it’s not easy to give an answer to this specific question: in lesson & readings we do not have one preferred LO model, “there is not an agreed consensus about what a learning organisation is”[1] and none of the proposed authors’ definitions and opinions are defined as the 'right' or 'most correct' one.

Among the several definitions and concept proposed in literature about the LO concept two characteristics are, in my opinion, the most important ones:

  1. An LO organization has a systematic and well-organised structure for managing learning and development[2]

  2. An LO one is an organization where[3] new skills and capabilities are developed (i.e. new things can be performed), new awareness, attitudes and belief are created.

The organization I’d like to deal with in this question is the delivery department of “GL Informatica” (already mentioned in my blog 2). This department mainly deals with customization and personalization of SW sold to customers and with development of new SW product perceived needed from customers. Stimulated by the need to be competitive and looking for new way of achieving competitiveness this company define itself “oriented to learning” that is a concept, in my opinion, still far from the LO described in this lesson but whose aims include those 2 characteristics I mentioned above.

In fact I recognize the particular way in which this organisation designs itself “to value, manage and enhance the skills and career development of its people” but I’ve also to sincerely admit that it seems not due to “ensuring continuous organisational transformation”[4] but to increase market share, market attractiveness, maintain competitive advantage…

Another characteristic that may let us think to “GL Informatica” as an LO organization is the low “rigid organization” it’s based on. Variety is widespread despite, in my opinion, it may be more due to the fact that we’re dealing with a quite small company then to the awareness that "to learn is to disorganise and increase variety”[5]

So summarizing, according to the definition given at the beginning of this answer, “GL Informatica” is not a complete LO organization.

Compared to several competitors it’s really learning oriented but it may 'improve' this position. It should make its “commercial” targets match the LO goals and should exploit its small dimension in order to get all the long term advantages brought by being a L.O.

Question 2: What changes would need to take place within the organisation to make it into a learning organisation?

In order to become a real LO, several activities may be started/implemented. For instance, managers could act more as “mentors, coaches and facilitators”, could more encourage risk-taking approaches and could try to develop some experimentation. As per my experience job rotation encourages learning as well.

Decision-making process, company strategy, reporting structures may be modified in order to exploit the “perceptions of the nature, legitimacy and outcomes of learning that are likely to be central to employees”[6]. This is a shared goal between management and employees that shouldn’t be ignored: it’s one of the main part of the “psychological contract” that ensure companies a continuous commitment in a contest of high dynamic labour market.

I also suggest “GL Informatica” to implement these changes as soon as it can since growing in size its bureaucratic structure is increasing as well. As stated by Salaman (2001) bureaucracy and rigidity are obstacles to any learning activities.

Less “isolation” is also suggested. Consultants are often alone at customer site and brain storming sessions seldom occur. The idea that “learning is a social and participative activity rather than merely a cognitive activity”[7] should be more developed in the company. Communities of practice, non formal and high socialized should appear as well.

Question 3: To what extent do you think these changes are a) feasible and b) desirable?

In my opinion employees, management and also HR dept could benefit from all the changes described in the previous paragraph.

Analyzing the “feasibility” all the changes suggested don’t seem to me too hard to be implemented, but it depends strictly on the “level” GL want to reach.

Again becoming a complete LO organization is perhaps a not reachable target for GL (still wandering if organisation and learning are essentially at odds[8]...?) in a so dynamic and competitive environment but (in a medium to long term strategy) investments in this contest are recommended. As already mention all the above should occur now that the already established boundaries are still editable.

Dealing with the “desirability” in my opinion

  • employees should like and appreciate a similar approach;
  • management may find new challenges in it and, in a medium-long term optic should understand the benefits it may take;
  • HR dept (centralized) may find only opportunities in it and I think also a reduction in the contrast between HR and management will occur.

[1] Lesson 6

[2] Marchington and Wilkinson (2005)

[3] Senge's (1994)

[4] Swan and Preston (1998)

[5] Salaman (2001)

[6] Findlay et al. (2001)

[7] Gheradi (2001)

[8] Salaman (2001)

References:
  • The Warwick MBA for IBM – Human Resource Management (IB811Z), Lesson 6
  • Mick Marchington and Adrian Wilkinson, Human Resources Management at Work. People Management and Development, Third Edition, CIPD, 2007

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