Learning from others


IBM’s supply chain is a slick, integrated global operation. In the early 1990s, however, it was a very different beast. Representing a series of disparate operations, there were up to 30 supply chains within IBM – about one for each business unit. Economic trends for the 21st century were predicting a shift away from national and multinational company structures. The future was to be a place for globally integrated enterprises. If this was where IBM was heading, its supply chain was not up to the challenge. Supply-chain transformation was central to IBM’s global enterprise strategy. A question soon emerged around the company’s leadership table: What if it was to model the management of its greatest source of competitive advantage – its people – on the success of its supply chain? The answer was the Workplace Management Initiative, a model to build IBM’s supply chain of talent in much the same way as you would build a supply chain for other resources. In a time of greater expectations for efficiency, productivity and creativity, HR professionals must look at new approaches to building the most effective workplaces.

The marketer

  • Brand and marketing specialist Mary van de Wiel believes there is much HR can learn from her profession.
  • “Brand intelligence takes a right brain/left brain approach. It’s like the art and science behind business dynamics,” she says. “It uses logic and analytics to understand the business of brands but also uses the right brain to bring more play to your brand.”
  • “If HR had a pulse and heartbeat that reminded people that this organisation stood for transformation and talent, that’s how organisations can attract brilliant people to work for them. Human resources should be the heart of a company.”

The technologist

  • Nick Southcombe, general manager of Frontier Software, which specialises in HR and payroll management software, believes the majority of HR roles are currently transactional – that they deal with recruitment and manage inductions and payroll.
  • “That’s fair enough because it needs to be done. But I think HR needs to work with managers to develop strategies so that labour is not viewed as an expense that needs to be managed but as an asset that needs to return,” he says.
  • “Innovation is generally more incremental and that comes from being out in the marketplace and being out in society – networking, going to seminars that aren’t even necessarily in your industry.”

The anthropologist

  • If there are challenges in applying models built for inanimate objects, Dr Catie Gressier, a cultural anthropologist teaching at Melbourne University, says there are things HR can learn from her profession.
  • “Anthropologists have been brought into organisations to look at a meeting, for example, and look at how the different roles that people take on can determine people’s contributions.
  • “We don’t just take what people say as the truth – what they say and what they do can be quite different. We don’t believe in hypotheticals, we believe in empirical data. Our research methodology would be to actually go in there and see what’s going on. In a business context it would mean becoming part of the office environment,” she says.
  • “Businesses have very particular cultural values and practices. And as cultural values are dynamic and open to change, coming to know what these values are means you can actively work to change them if they’re not proving productive,” she adds.

The primatologist

  • Andrew O’Keeffe, HR consultant and principal of Hardwired Humans, takes groups of executives to the zoo to observe the behaviour of chimpanzees and the silverback gorilla. “The chimps are the second brainiest species to us and their behaviour is so incredibly similar [to humans],” says O’Keeffe.
  • “I tell business leaders that you can’t bond with your team unless you spend time grooming – and this means social chit chat. If all your conversations with people are about tasks – sales plans, pipelines, project plan reviews – then, as important as those topics are, they do not constitute grooming and they do not constitute bonding.”
  • “When we apply these models to HR we often end up with a language and a framework that leaders outside of HR can understand better and it may make it easier for them to engage with HR.”

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Learning from others


IBM’s supply chain is a slick, integrated global operation. In the early 1990s, however, it was a very different beast. Representing a series of disparate operations, there were up to 30 supply chains within IBM – about one for each business unit. Economic trends for the 21st century were predicting a shift away from national and multinational company structures. The future was to be a place for globally integrated enterprises. If this was where IBM was heading, its supply chain was not up to the challenge. Supply-chain transformation was central to IBM’s global enterprise strategy. A question soon emerged around the company’s leadership table: What if it was to model the management of its greatest source of competitive advantage – its people – on the success of its supply chain? The answer was the Workplace Management Initiative, a model to build IBM’s supply chain of talent in much the same way as you would build a supply chain for other resources. In a time of greater expectations for efficiency, productivity and creativity, HR professionals must look at new approaches to building the most effective workplaces.

The marketer

  • Brand and marketing specialist Mary van de Wiel believes there is much HR can learn from her profession.
  • “Brand intelligence takes a right brain/left brain approach. It’s like the art and science behind business dynamics,” she says. “It uses logic and analytics to understand the business of brands but also uses the right brain to bring more play to your brand.”
  • “If HR had a pulse and heartbeat that reminded people that this organisation stood for transformation and talent, that’s how organisations can attract brilliant people to work for them. Human resources should be the heart of a company.”

The technologist

  • Nick Southcombe, general manager of Frontier Software, which specialises in HR and payroll management software, believes the majority of HR roles are currently transactional – that they deal with recruitment and manage inductions and payroll.
  • “That’s fair enough because it needs to be done. But I think HR needs to work with managers to develop strategies so that labour is not viewed as an expense that needs to be managed but as an asset that needs to return,” he says.
  • “Innovation is generally more incremental and that comes from being out in the marketplace and being out in society – networking, going to seminars that aren’t even necessarily in your industry.”

The anthropologist

  • If there are challenges in applying models built for inanimate objects, Dr Catie Gressier, a cultural anthropologist teaching at Melbourne University, says there are things HR can learn from her profession.
  • “Anthropologists have been brought into organisations to look at a meeting, for example, and look at how the different roles that people take on can determine people’s contributions.
  • “We don’t just take what people say as the truth – what they say and what they do can be quite different. We don’t believe in hypotheticals, we believe in empirical data. Our research methodology would be to actually go in there and see what’s going on. In a business context it would mean becoming part of the office environment,” she says.
  • “Businesses have very particular cultural values and practices. And as cultural values are dynamic and open to change, coming to know what these values are means you can actively work to change them if they’re not proving productive,” she adds.

The primatologist

  • Andrew O’Keeffe, HR consultant and principal of Hardwired Humans, takes groups of executives to the zoo to observe the behaviour of chimpanzees and the silverback gorilla. “The chimps are the second brainiest species to us and their behaviour is so incredibly similar [to humans],” says O’Keeffe.
  • “I tell business leaders that you can’t bond with your team unless you spend time grooming – and this means social chit chat. If all your conversations with people are about tasks – sales plans, pipelines, project plan reviews – then, as important as those topics are, they do not constitute grooming and they do not constitute bonding.”
  • “When we apply these models to HR we often end up with a language and a framework that leaders outside of HR can understand better and it may make it easier for them to engage with HR.”

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