Sustainable Human Source Administration (SHSA): From Goal-seeking Organizations to Ideal-Seeking Systems!

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Human “Resources” or HRM practices do not need more insights and analysis. What they need, to begin with, is to change the conception of humans as a ‘Resource’ to that of a Source. Yes, we humans are not a resource but a source! Hence, the right acronym should be SHSA (Sustainable Human Source Administration).

Next, they need to go to the root cause of their problems and stop addressing signs and symptoms!

Consultants and practitioners must stop using childish analogies like “Your business should be more like a cat than a dog.” Give me a break!

They must understand, first and foremost, organizational design principles.

Everyone involved in organizational development, change management or “HR” activities has, on more than one occasion, heard or said, “we could take care of the problem immediately if the people only cooperated/participated.”

People in general (project teams, community members, volunteer groups, etc.), and their behavior in particular, and how they relate to each other (i.e., organization), are crucial to the success or failure of a collective endeavor. This is particularly true given the dynamic and turbulent environment in which most organizations are living.

This axiomatic statement, however, has not translated into efforts to investigate the issue commensurate with its importance.

The reasons for not doing so relate to the relative familiarity and ease of search for technical solutions, and to the lack of conceptual clarity of alternative approaches such as examining the role of the extant organizational structures.

Lippitt and White’s ( 1943) seminal work on group climates demonstrated that all human organizations embody one of only two genotypic and fundamentally different organizational structures or design principles:

1) Bureaucratic (restrictive & tropophobic)

2) Participative Democratic (enhancive & tropophilic)

Emery (1993) refers to bureaucracy as the first design principle (DP1) and to participative democracy as the second design principle (DP2).

Human behaviors (e.g., participation, commitment) and factors (e.g., values, institutions, policies) that influence and motivate those behaviors are central to any understanding of organizational performance and SHSM.

People’s actions do not arise as simple responses to external or internal stimuli per se, but as a response to situations determined by the relationship between the effectivities of the system and the environmental affordances through positive and negative feedback loops (Emery, 1985). In other words, people’s behaviors are determined by the relationship between the individual and his/her environment.

Thus, negative behaviors (i.e., maladaptations, such as apathy, dissociation, lack of responsibility, commitment, and participation) are attributable to bureaucratic structures or first design principles (DP1), which restrict the effectivities of its elements.

The restriction of element effectivities gives rise to goal-seeking or “rational” individualistic behaviors as a requirement for survival within this type of restrictive organizational structure and turbulent environment.

On the other hand, positive behaviors, such as high responsibility, commitment, and participation, are attributable to participative organizational structures, or second design principles (DP2), which enhances the effectivities of its elements within this type of structure and turbulent environment.

The fact that DP2 organizations are more productive and have lower worker-to-productivity ratios has been known for over half a century.

During the Norwegian Industrial Democracy experiment, conducted over 60 years ago, DP2 companies scored better on turnover, absenteeism, productivity and earnings. At Norsk Hydro, productivity increased between 50 and 100% despite low staffing levels; downtime dropped from about 30% to about 10%. Since the 1990’s, Syncrude Canada has operated as a DP 2 organization and has increased its productivity by 90% ( Donald de Guerre).

The enhancement of element effectivities gives rise to ideal-seeking behavior through the purposeful pursuit of ideals. Because ideal-seeking behavior and choice are intimately related ( Ackoff& Emery, 1972), the future and sustainability of Human Sources Management, is increasingly determined by the choices people make and their behavior ( Emery, 1985).

Covid19 has shown the increasing importance of learning about DP2 as the only sound and sustainable alternative to restrictive organizational design principles. DP2 organizations will ensure not only Sustainable Human Source Management practices but also will enable businesses to go from reactive goal-seeking organizations to pro-active Ideal-Seeking Systems and, eventually, become Tropophilic.

Here’s To The Health Of Your Sustainable Human Source Management and Ideal-Seeking Systems!

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.

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