Return on People: Four Steps to a 
More Productive Workforce


In the industrial age, people were valued for what they could do with their muscles. Henry Ford said, "Why is it that, whenever I ask for a pair of hands a brain comes attached?" 

Today we want to engage not just the hands but also the head and the heart.Yet most companies still cling to industrial age people management approaches. Follow these four steps to begin setting a strong foundation for managing today's workforce. 

1. Build a Talent Mindset at the Top 
 Companies that seek a high return from people begin by building a strong talent mindset at the top of the organization and then infusing that mindset throughout the organization. At GE, Cisco and other leading companies, it is senior management's role to create a climate where talented people are heard and can innovate and experiment. Does your senior group talk about your talent strategy when working on your business strategy? Do you ensure you will have the capabilities on board to take you into the future? Do you know how you'll grow or acquire the talent that you don't have? Do you have a talent strategy for engaging your workforce? 

2. Upgrade Management Skills Throughout the Organization 
 People tend to be promoted to supervisory and management positions because they are good at delivering on tasks, not because they have strong people skills. But to engage a workforce, you need both. In particular, the ability to coach people is important. Yet a tradition of managing by command and control is pervasive. It is very difficult to change a manager's style from command and control to coaching. Training programs, where managers are exposed to a endless stream of Powerpoint slides won't do it. Even if they understand intellectually how to coach, they still need to practice it. Think of training the way athletes do. They don't sit in classrooms to learn how to get stronger, faster and better. Rather they practice over and over with coaches who observe performance and work with them to improve. What are you doing to build management skills throughout your organization? 

3. Design Accountability and Engagement Into Jobs 
 Accountability means making people responsible for results. Engagement means involving people in decisions that affect them. Today's workforce wants both and it's the most effective way to grow talent, build collaboration and keep good people. 

 Whole Foods uses teams of employees to run sections of their stores. The teams are given clear challenges with guidance and limited resources. They make the decisions about products and merchandising and each team is measured based on their results. 
 Accountability and engagement works for individual jobs too. Challenging people to be accountable for results and involved in decisions leads to new thinking and breakthrough solutions. How engaged is your workforce? 

4. Replace Outmoded People Practices 
 Organizations continue to use industrial age people management practices, even when they are dysfunctional. A glaring example is performance management systems. Employees don't trust them and managers dislike the process more than anything other than firing people. They discourage employees, put managers in awkward positions and rarely improve performance. In fact most companies only measure the administration: Did reviews get done on time and have we decided how to distribute the merit budget? Automating the process might reduce the time spent on administration, but it won't improve performance either. 

 To improve performance, put in place a forward-looking performance improvement and development process that works the same way as any sport. 
 In golf, for example, a player has a target to work towards (par) and is given regular updates on well he or she is doing (the score). Even the very best golfers have coaches whose role it is to help the player improve, not judge performance. 

In summary, the four points to begin improving your return on people are: 
 1. Build a Talent Mindset at the Top 
 2. Upgrade Management Skills Throughout the Organization 
 3. Design Accountability and Engagement into Jobs 
 4. Replace Outmoded People Practices 

 You can begin this week by engaging your top team in a discussion about how important talent is to the future of your organization, and what kind of initiative will help you get there.