To succeed in the world of management you really do have to understand how people tick and use that insight to optimise each employee’s performance. Sometimes this onerous task can feel a little like herding cats!
It was perhaps a little easier in the past, when employees tended to come from the surrounding area and grew up in similar backgrounds, but today’s workplace is a melting pot of different cultures and the relative ease of commuting and even remote working can make the job of bringing together individuals into an effective whole a very tough one indeed.
Sometimes a book comes along that is of invaluable benefit to the HR leader, and the ‘Oxford Handbook of Human Development and Culture,’ edited by Lene Arnett Jensen is one of them.
Bringing together the finest minds from various disciplines, but weighted towards a psychological perspective, the Handbook is a fascinating read but the time-pressed HR manager – or need I just say the HR manager – will find Parts 1, 5 and 6 of most value.
Integrating a Global workforce
Part 1 of the Handbook explores the effects of globalisation on human development, including its influence on issues of self and identity and the impact of migration. There is also lots of material scattered throughout the book about the development of language, cognition and emotion across cultures. For the HR manager, the important message to understand is that employees are all affected by globalisation, whether they are looking to define their sense of self through work or adapting to a new country through a process of acculturation. Attempting to understand their experiences is not only humane and considerate, it will also give you ideas for harnessing their individual histories and qualities for the good of the company.
From recruitment to retirement
Parts 5 and 6 of the Handbook will help you to take account of another powerful influence on employee performance: age (parts 2 and 3 focus on childhood and adolescence so will be of less immediate relevance).
For example, there is a chapter on the effects of New Media and social change on young employees. Unless you have grown up under the lens of social media yourself it can be easy to underestimate the influence this has had on the new generation. HR recruiters can use this information to better target young workers (e.g. with the strategic use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like), while managers of existing staff can help to educate employees about what is an acceptable use of social media, protecting both the company and the employees themselves.
Part 6 looks at middle and older adulthood and this can shed light on the value provided by mature employees as well as the challenges they face. For example, midlife narratives can impact on some employees’ sense of self and affect performance, while older workers might start to worry about their ability to adapt to changing technology and the approach of retirement.
The take home message, from a management perspective, is that work is an important but tiny part of the larger context in which every employee is situated. Understanding the other influences that play a part – including age, background and culture – can only deepen your effectiveness as a leader.
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