Thursday, September 21, 2006

Do People Change or Adapt Their Attitudes

People do not change, people adapt. I look at so many people I know around me. Childhood friends, school mates, college mates, colleagues from career, family members and so on. I find most of the people have not changed. Their basic attitudes remain the same, their strengths and weaknesses remain the same, their likes and dislikes have remained the same. What then has happened to them? What is different in them? They have been adapting; adapting to changes in life. They have been adapting to changes in their phase of life, from student to work life, one job to another, one career to another, bachelorhood to family life. Things that come with age, time, and phases of life. They have been adapting, learning to manage using their basic inherent qualities and do things differently and different things.

This is fundamental difference. People do not change, people adapt. Change is a long drawn process and is influenced by strong factors over time. Adaptation is natural to human beings.

This difference is critical for human resources professional. We are expected to be change managers, we are expected to bring change in people, change in organisation. We maybe should be taking a different approach where we do not focus on change but on adaptation.

Let us take the case of training. There is so much of effort which is put on training people. HR professionals are asked why don’t you design a training programme for this and that. Essentially we are told why don’t you change this person. But is it possible? Is there a better way of handling this – improving performance to meet certain objectives?

I think instead of asking how do we bring a difference in people by way of training them, we should focus on how do we use people strengths. How do we help people adapt to different perspectives? How do we sharpen the skills in the contexts of the business. Some of the ways in which we need to do is, change people’s roles/ assignments to suit their natural characteristic, traits. Give people different roles where they can try and see if they are able to adapt and grow. For example giving change in function, assignments, roles etc. This is what we call exposure, perspective etc. This is not something new. We need to do more of this and make it a core of people development.

Basic skills ability to solve problems, analytical skills, ability to perceive situations, eye for detail, emotional intelligence, natural instinct for numbers, people, creativity, innovation, interests in people, tasks, social skills, remain what they are. Yes they may get sharpened, or accentuated.
What changes are newer technologies, using new tools, ability to handle greater level of complexity, risk taking, judgment, These again cannot be taught, but are leant with facilitation from the outside.

When two people are tough to drive a car, they learn how to drive using the various tools in the car like the gears, clutch, brake etc. With some practice, they both become conversant in driving the car with ease, make judgments while they drive. But then how they really drive the car is based on the difference in the mental make up. For example the speed, apitite for driving long distance, etc. differ.

There is a difference between teaching and learning. Training is more an external process, driven from the outside. Whereas learning is an internal process driven from the inside. The focus has to be on learning. It is wrong to emphasise on training. It will just not help. Look at the countless training programs people go to. They remain that - programs. What do we people learn from these programs? How much change does it bring in them?

People should be allowed to exercise their natural abilities, adapt themselves to newer contexts learning through their natural inherent process. Organisations should facilitate the adaptation, and use the natural abilities and create environment for sharpening the skills and tools.

Somewhere along changes in jobs, careers etc are linked to this aspect of change and adapt. It may be worthwhile to ponder into this aspect.

People want to handle newer things, greater level of complexity and something they see as meaningful and truthful to them

Disgruntlement crops us when these seem either unfulfilled or they are eroded. One of the reasons most HR people are frustrated are when they see that they are doing things which are meaningful or truthful. They know they are doing things which are not adding value. They are unable to do things in the manner they would prefer to. Executives after some point get frustrated when they feel that their organisation is not willing to change, take risks, adapt. Executives get disgruntled when they are not able to handle complexity in terms of business, technical problems etc.

Only two of the HR guys in my reasonably big circle of HR guys say they are happy. Most of the others are “looking out”. Both of them are handling roles and doing things they have not done before. That’s what makes sense and gives them the excitement. They are seeing global areas, greater level of complexity, making a difference to the business etc.

At the same time we also have to bear the fact that the organisation wants to accomplish more, wants to grow, wants people to take on more and do more, do differently. So on the one side we have a desire coupled with disgruntlement due to non fulfillment of the basic urges and on the other hand we have the organisations which are crying for capable resources. We need to be able to allow the natural process of adaptation to yield to both rather than focus on something unnatural a nd long drawn such as change to become the focus of attention.

If we could make facilitation of adaptation the key then the what we will do and how we do in HR will be different

In conclusion:
We should focus on adaptation and not change. People do have an inherent nature and urge to adapt to higher level of things – complexity, newness, meaningfulness etc. HR should facilitate in the process of adaptation and not indulge in bringing change in people. They can do a lot in this direction which will thus be of more use to the organisation as well as the individual.