Unleashing human capability


What, if anything, do ConAgra Foods (a U.S.-based food company) and Symphony Services (an Indian-based technology company) have in common? 

Well, people.  They both employ people.  Other than that, no other commonalities spring quickly to mind.

Nevertheless, here’s something I learned from interviewing senior executives at both companies as a part of our research for Good Company (the book that my colleagues and I are in the midst of writing).  Executives at both organizations stated that they are seeking to “unleash human capability” or “liberate people capability” (same idea, different words). 

The fact that such different organizations would both view the world in such a similar way strikes me as both interesting and important.  What it means is that these executives understand that as the industrial era fades further into the rear view mirror of economic history, we must find ways to break free of the ubiquitous (but largely invisible) artifacts of it.  They are everywhere – from how we account for and report on the people side of the business (as costs) to how we manage and train employees (still all too often as if they were “production workers” rather than “knowledge workers”). 

John Maynard Keynes summed up the challenge as follows, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”  Old habits die hard. 

The organizations that will thrive and prosper in the future will be those that systematically figure out how to identify and move away from old habits (or lack thereof) in the areas of thought, beliefs, processes and policies that are keeping them locked into the past.  Such habits can literally render organizations unable to realize the promise of the future, due to their inability to unleash their human capability.

There’s a lot of good and important work to be done!

Liberating People Capabilities: Lessons from India


Next week I’ll be taking my first trip to India, on a whistle-stop, five-city seminar tour.  In preparing for the trip, I had the good fortune to interview the SVP of HR, Mr. Mahalingam (“Mali” for short), at Symphony Services (a large India-based technology company).  I wanted to understand how his views of the “people side” of the business compared with that of HR folks here in the United States.

Mali said a few things during the course of the interview that really stuck with me, including:

  1. HR is not a strategic player.  HR IS the strategy.
  2. We are very focused on “liberating people capabilities.”
  3. We are investing extraordinary sums in employee training.
  4. We are acquiring technology companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Hmmm… I don’t think I’ve ever heard an HR VP in the U.S. say either #1 or #2.  That, in combination with #3, probably goes a long way to explaining #4. 

Unless you live your life under a rock, it’s not news that India is a rising super power.  But when you sit and think about the implications of what Mali is saying, you have to conclude that India’s capabilities may develop even faster than most of us had imagined. 

Stay tuned.  More observations from India to come…