On leaders: once upon a time there was human resources

Let’s talk about human and team development and (Agile) talent, work culture, the mission of work, and how leaders behave within HPOs (High Performance Organizations). These reflections will concern you, no matter whether you are a CEO, manager, department head, team leader or hold any other function the HR department has chosen to indicate your major responsibility: “leading” teams of employees.


What makes leaders of High Performance Organizations unique is that from day one in the company, they are trained for not finding any resistance in their teams. Instead, they use systematic coaching methods to develop their people´s potential in the quest for solutions that are rewarded with the smiles on their clients’ faces.


Changing our model of thinking first of all requires us to forget that Lean Management is about applying programs of engineering tools that must be audited to make sure “everyone implements them”.

Agile talent in HPO

The journey to Lean Management in High Performance Organizations such as P&G and Toyota starts with “respect for people”. Lean Management means developing work systems that simultaneously become developing programs for people. As Michael Ballé brilliantly explains in his book, Lead With Respect, it means that each leader takes responsibility and puts himself or herself at the service of their teams and customers to achieve that:

Each day, in every single department of our organizations, this continuous improvement becomes the growth engine that drives our team development. This leads to an organization in which managers and staff (Agile talent) begin each day by asking themselves: “Why don’t we deliver exactly what the customer needs and enjoy being passionate about finding the solution – together?”


However, the answer to that question requires much more than just following indicators or graphs. The answer is the outcome of a system of leadership and teamwork built on respect, trust and challenge.


As leaders, we must work every day on building relationships based on trust that develop the full potential of our team members. This demands being able to develop our teams, to inspire and support them, to challenge them and ask them the right questions at the right time to help them find solutions that improve their work systems every day. Always seeing the smile on the customer’s face being our ultimate goal.


The organizational culture of these companies is focused on leveraging human potential to deliver superior value to customers by connecting the needs of our external and internal customers. And this culture is cherished and cared for with the maximum respect even to the point of directing the company’s growth or investment decision.

Value team development

Along these lines, Tony Walker, Deputy Managing Director of Toyota UK, explained to us while we were discussing his strategy with Jeffrey K. Liker on the Gemba:


“While our competitors are totally obsessed with out-selling us, our main goal at Toyota is to reinforce our work culture in every department of our organization and in every corner of the world. We generate enough profit to buy most of our competitors, but here, the work culture comes first, and that’s what we build our growth on.”

Principles of team development at a High-Performing Organization

In a High Performance Organization, this work culture is the centerpiece of personnel related policies and strategies, which seek the self-sufficiency of people. Understanding this in terms of not only problem solving. But they also pursue team development, creativity and leadership skills, thus converting the old “Human Resources” policies into new Human Self-Actualization Development strategies that pursue High Performance through people’s happiness.


I speak of Human Self-Actualization and not of Human Resources because that is my proposal today:

Let’s stop thinking of our teams as just another resource of the company and start to perceive them as the key value to be developed in our quest for customer satisfaction.


High Performance Organizations grow on very solid principles where we consider employees as “co-owners” of the business. And relying on them for their commitment to achieve our common goal. In the strategy of an HPO, employees are far from being mere figures on the income statement and payroll. They are Agile talent.


On the contrary, the biggest source of waste that High Performance Organizations turn their attention to is the poor use of people’s minds and skills. Each suggestion for improvement that is not implemented by one of our employees on the Gemba. It represents the worst form of inventory and respect for the individual, not to mention the ultimate threat to the company’s sustainability.


However, if that happens in your organization, it is your responsibility as CEO, director, or whatever your leadership position may be, to decide between them:


Human Resources (humans as resources) or Human/ team Development?


Growth first and culture later, or culture as the foundation for accelerating sustainable growth?


It is for you to decide. I am sure that the reflections in this article will assist you in making the right decision for your organization.


Have a video call when it suits you best.


Original article published on April 12 , 2015 lean.org. Read here.

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