As a young management trainee, the first lesson I received from the president of the institution was, in the redefinition of the term ‘management’. At university, with all its attendant functions we were taught that management is about, ‘getting work done through people’ (human resources). He said, this definition is largely demeaning, because ‘work' is placed as a priority and precedence over ‘workers’. Agha Hasan Abidi by capturing the value of human capital, re-coined, about three decades back, the term management by the addition of the following prefix - ‘Real’.
In real management, he enshrined the first fundamental that said, ‘getting people done through work’ is management. By this mere, but significant alteration, he moved the emphasis on people rather than work. This principle for keeping people (colleagues, clients, vendors, etc) ahead of all other priorities has been my own guiding principle, while managing and leading large institutions. It should be of no surprise to any, since it is the human resource quotient that is the single most important factor for any organisation to either grow, remain stagnant or sadly decay.
There is no computer that can make or even aid significantly in the drawing up of a vision for anything, from the creation of a corporate entity or of envisioning an architectural beauty of, like, say the Taj Mahal, to the simplest act of ‘choosing between alternatives’. The human mind is irreplaceable. Hence the ‘human’ factor is the most important ‘factor of production’. Over the years, the human factor has been labelled as labour to ‘professionals’; from professionals to ‘human capital’; and from human capital to ‘knowledge worker’.
If society permits the polishing and growth of the natural talent possessed by the youth, we will have greater economic productivity. The person who is good in liberal arts should not be coerced to become a medical doctor or an engineer in any of its related disciplines. The inherent strength must be recognised and should be given impetus through education for it to unfold and flourish. It is claimed to have been said by Albert Einstein, ‘judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree and it will spend his whole life believing that it is stupid’.
Similarly, in any organisation or entity, the selection to men and positions, must be done, in alignment with the intrinsic inclinations of the individual. All workers can be trained for enhancement in productivity.
We live in an era of knowledge economy, those societies who have paid adequate attention to research and development in the area of human capital - its need, relevance, skill, talent and abilities, have progressed faster, in all areas of human endeavour, ranging from politics to social welfare. The education policy of the developed world and recently of the newly industrialised countries of north and southeast Asia has been moulded to suit their economic and social programmes. They are unlike us; we have for the last three quarters of a century been busy preparing square pegs for round holes.
Managers are required to inspire action amongst colleagues and team-mates by rendering at their doorstep new challenges. To undertake fresh challenges stemming out of market conditions requires changing skill sets --- hence the way to acquire is to do the work and develop oneself. Emancipated managers facilitate this process for their direct reports. Fortunately, very early in my career I learnt that the only way I could progress (only in worldly aspects), horizontally and vertically, across the corporate hierarchy was by ‘developing’ a colleague, who could take up my set of responsibilities.
Consequently, I was available whenever any new initiatives were embarked upon. It is by training and developing others, that one can succeed with greater pace and rapidity than they would through any other methodology. Essentially, I was consciously and many times unbeknownst to myself was ‘getting people done through work’.
Leaders who have in them the courage to pass the baton by developing others are the ones who live perpetually by virtue of their thought and action. The legacy of such individuals who create better leaders than their own selves is long lasting.
The real management concept embraces, what is stated between the Pillars of Hercules, ‘man, know thyself and thou shall know thee universe’. Real management practitioners get the best out of every single unit of energy (humans).
It is the weak, who fear teaching others. The failure to impart skills renders the possessor with little options to grow. The lotus, despite its beauty, withers in a still lake. The frog of the pond can never have any idea of the vastness of the oceans. The ‘frog manager’ leads the team, with limitations of the small boundaries of his/her imagination --- hence leads to dead end.
All human endeavours and achievements are a result of a formidable combination of motivation, thought and resultant action. Once inspiration is glued with action the results are invariably remarkable. Most leaders guide through inspiration and direction for the self and others; their ambitions and actions affect the lives of many.
Leaders/managers ought to encourage their followers (coworkers) to acquire multi/ disciplinary skills. Those who have a wide variety in their talent and skill set will always have more opportunities knocking on their doors.
In real management there are no sacred cows. Every member has to possess the quality to transcend into new and fresh roles. No organisation can afford a forest of oak trees; those deeply rooted in one function over time become a parasite. The number of oak trees will determine the life of the organisation - the higher the number goes, the more irrelevant the organisation becomes to the dynamic marketplace.
Trouble brings experience and experience brings wisdom. There is no garden without beads, or land without stones or meat without bones or silver without its dross or a rose without a thorn. Similarly no new learning will take place without jettisoning old knowledge. Only in doing, do we learn. Whenever a new position is created or an existing one becomes vacant for various reasons, the CEO looks around to see who amongst the existing staff is the best fit? The CEO scans his kitchen cabinet, and looks for multi diversity - both in skills and other areas of relevance, like, gender, homogeneity, accessibility, etc.
Human capital is a summation of investment made in seeking knowledge and improving skills, to achieve and realise the potential for enhanced productivity. Singapore, the tiny nation state, has only human capital to sport --- it has proven that with just the right quality of HR, a country can develop, although bereft of natural endowments.
Organisation and its leadership has to make available time and resources to visit this fundamental asset (human asset) quality, for in its enrichment lies the future of the entity.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance contributor