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HR Management Philosophy and generational challenges

BY: Dr Edward Kwapong
HR Management Philosophy and generational challenges
HR Management Philosophy and generational challenges

Over the years and particularly between the end of the second World War and now, HR Management Philosophy has oscillated between the Arm’s Length approach and the Teamwork/One Family-oriented style.

Technology and Artificial Intelligence have also added a new dimension to emerging trends, just as generational factors that influence relationships at the workplace.

These factors, in turn, have informed the leadership style of HR managers. The concept of Situational Leadership is, therefore, brought into play as a matter of conventional wisdom, logic and convenience.

Arm’s Length

The experiences of the Second World War resulted in the military being seen as a reference point for leadership style and management philosophy.

Of course, the military being extremely traditional, hierarchical, disciplined and conservative passed the arm’s length approach in team-building/working to civilian institutions after the war.

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This resulted in the prevalence of formal relationships in post-war organisations and companies.

Such institutions adopted the control and command style of management wherein authority was strictly recognised and obeyed without fail. Formality and solemnity were the preoccupation of all players.

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They were characterised by preference for a) Intelligence Quotient (IQ), b) competence and strict meritocracy, c) formal reporting relationships, d) refuge in rules and regulation, e) compliance and adherence to rules, regulations, policies and procedures, f) extreme respect for the privacy of the worker and naturally, g) the concept of the end justifies the means.

The soft side of management was virtually ignored.

Teamwork/One Family

With time and in view of the Management Philosophy of emerging economies in the Far East, there came a gradual shift to the softer side of management wherein attention was paid to the human factor as the primary driver of innovation and productivity.

This is the part we call the Team Work/One Family HR Management Philosophy.

Key features of this philosophy include a) Emotional Intelligence, b) Feedback and Communication, c) Character Commitment, d) Recognition, e) Flexible Working Hours and f) Work-Life Balance.

This philosophy gave a human face to management, bearing in mind the fact that of all the factors of production, the human being is the only animate factor with a mind and mood of its own.

Recognition was given to the fact that the human being has emotions, temperament, values, choices/preferences and ambition, making him unique in every endeavour.

Boss vs leader

The relationships between the two philosophies may be expressed in terms of the Boss/ Subordinate relationship on the one hand and the Leader/Subordinate relationship on the other, the first being arm’s length and the other family-oriented philosophy.

Where the Management Philosophy of the HR Head is portrayed as a Boss, he displays the following characteristics.

He isolates himself from the team and refers to himself as “I” and really “Drives” the team. He “inspires fear” and “apportions blame” to team members. Ultimately, he “stays at the top” as a monarch of all that he surveys.

On the other hand, where the HR Head is portrayed as a Leader, he exhibits the following characteristics. He identifies himself with the team and refers to the team as “We” and seeks to “Coach and Mentor” members. He “inspires enthusiasm” and “takes blame” on behalf of the team.

After all, the buck stops with him. Finally, he goes “into the trenches” with the team- “no us and them” relationship.

Generational issues

These two dominant philosophies have been influenced by generation characteristics beginning with “Baby Boomers” through “Generation X” and Generation Y” to the “Millennials”.

While the Baby Boomers (1945 – 64) found the Arm’s Length approach a perfect fit in terms of formality, respect for authority and rules, loyalty and perseverance, Generations X (1965 – 80) and Y (1980 -1999) pushed for a more relaxed and informal relationship, craving for flatter organisation and free flow of information, feedback and knowledge.

The latter preferred to have explanation for tasks that they were made to undertake and to be given opportunity to be part of management and contribute to strategy formulation and action plans.

The Millennials, on their part, are asking for greater independence, flexible working hours, virtual offices and ability to work from home, provision for holidays and work-life balance.

Naturally, they seek to know the logic behind every management activity and action plan. Again, they seek to bring their innovative ideas to bear on approaches to problem-solving.

In this regard, the HR Management Style between the two dominant philosophies are being impacted by generational factors such that there is the need for adaption depending on the class and generation of workers that are being managed.

Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Incidentally, Technology and Artificial Intelligence is gradually eliminating human intervention in the production process, the result of which is a reversion to the Arm’s Length and Informal style of Human Resource Management.

At the same time, the situation calls for frequent interaction between the Line Manager and the Subordinate.

Once again, it is worthy to note that neither philosophy is considered perfect and suitable for all institutions.

The HR Management philosophy adopted would reflect the kind of institution or enterprise and the dominant class of workers and the extent of automation and artificial intelligence.

The 7s Model

Perhaps it is against this background that the McKenzie Consultants came up with the 7s model of alignment wherein both the hard and soft sides of management are linked into a perfect symbiotic relationship.

The seven factors are 1) Strategy 2) Structure 3) Systems 4) Staffing 5) Skills 6) Style and 7) Shared Values.

You will realise that the first three constitute the hard elements and seek to emphasise command and control features of management, whereas the last four constitute the soft side of issues.

In the case of the latter, the human element is emphasised with shared values (Culture) linking all the other factors.

Of all the factors in that model, the one considered the most critical is the shared values, which stresses a predominantly humanistic style (one family) as a management philosophy.

In conclusion, the Management Philosophy adopted by the HR Practitioner may not be an absolute version of the two (arm’s length vs one family), but a hybrid suited to the peculiar circumstances of the institution and the emerging technological trends, as well as the generational characteristics of the workforce.

The writer is Fellow and President of IHRMP (Gh.)