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Organisations around people

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In the factory economy, each worker had a tightly-defined task: punch a hole every few seconds, pour coolant into the reservoir when it gets empty or feed coal to the boiler. When one worker left, the other filled his shoes and continued to punch holes or fill bins or feed coal to the boiler.

This is the ‘task view’ of organisations. It assumes (quite aptly for the factory economy) that an organisation needs to do repetitive tasks with reasonable efficiency in order to exist.

Things are obviously quite different in the knowledge economy. However, it is surprising that we often continue to act in the factory mode.

Take, for instance, the way we look for a ‘replacement’ when somebody vacates a position. We float the job description and a list of requisite skills (often mirroring the skills of the outgoing employee) to the recruitment team. The good folks at HR try to find candidates who fit our defined bill. And block out those who don’t.

There are many problems with this approach. While trying to find a replacement, we ensure that we do not stretch the boundaries. By trying to look for a replacement replica, we pass up the opportunity to explore new horizons.

The other way to look at an organisation is the ‘people view’. The view that an organisation is made up of unique individuals (including their skills, competencies, personality and potential) opens up myriad possibilities. When a building block falls away, you are not looking at replacing a brick with a brick. You are looking at exploring new possibilities. You are trying to unleash undiscovered potential. You are trying to go much beyond filling a gap. You are looking for a better way of doing things. Maybe you are looking at crossing over.

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