Tending the People; Caring for the Human Factor

In my shop, we are in the process of hiring a new director for human resources.   Our gracious and accomplished current director has decided to move into a new mode – retirement, as we typically speak of it – in order to focus his energies elsewhere.  So, it means that I am back to thinking about how crucial this role is for the effectiveness of the organization where I give leadership.   And two things come to mind. 

First, I am reminded that our greatest asset as an organization is our people.  Sure, there are other important and vital assets:  our brand and institutional culture, our capital assets – our buildings and IT infrastructure — and our financial endowments and support network, and more, perhaps.   But our greatest asset is our people.   We are only as effective in our mission as the quality – the character and competence – of the individuals who work here and invest time and energy in the mission of this organization.   I thus choose to thank God for them – my colleagues; but also, I know that in this search for a new director for human resources, we are making a strategic hire:  we are looking for the person who will think about how we tend and care for and develop our greatest asset:  our people. 

Second, I am also reminded that there are five indicators – at least five – of a quality organization when it comes to what it means to “tend” this asset so that, indeed, this is a good place to work. 

  1. First, it is a matter of recruitment and on-boarding – the process of identifying and persuading quality people to become part of your organization:  paid employees, volunteers, supporters.    You have a system in place, or if not a system at least an intentionality around identifying the key contributors to your board, your staff and your key leadership positions.  And then when a person is appointed, there is an intentional process of bridging with and orientation to this organization – everything from history to the mission to the logistics or mechanics of working in this place and contributing to this mission. 
  2. There are policies in place that monitor how we function so that there is fairness and consistency in our approach to our work.   Don’t buy the line when someone says that they are about people not policies; good policies are there precisely because we believe in people.   
  3. There are shared activities by which we cultivate a sense of mutual belonging – eating together, worshipping together – those activities by which we simply enjoy each other’s company.   One sign of a healthy organization is that friendships are formed and cultivated with those with whom we are privileged to work. 
  4. There is a learning and development culture – a commitment where we no doubt get a benefit from each person but also an equal resolve to invest in any and every person who works here.  We provide professional development support so that for as long as you are working with us, you are honing your skills your competencies.   This is evident in part in a healthy and encouraging performance review process. 
  5. Finally, a healthy organization knows how to manage transitions effectively.   This may be through a provision of limited tenure on the board.   Or, a fixed term contract.   Or a phased retirement policy and provision.   But sadly it also means that the organization is able to recognize when something is simply not working and that a termination is required.   And it is done with firmness and grace – with clarity and a commitment to do all that is organizationally possible to help the person who is being released to find suitable employment elsewhere.   And, of course, there are appropriate farewells:  ways and means by which we say “thank you” and bless those who are moving on to another chapter of life. 

If you sit on a board, ask yourself as a trustee of this organization:  is the senior leadership doing this well? – that is, are they cultivating a process and intentionality around how this organization tends to the quality and care of those who work here?  If you are in senior leadership, monitor how well you are doing on each point.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.