By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
BusinessWeek has proclaimed Lawler one of the top six gurus in the field of management, and Human Resource Executive called him one of HR’s most influential people. Workforce magazine identified him as one of the twenty five visionaries who have shaped today’s workplace over the past century. Professor Lawler is the author and co-author of over 43 books.
His most recent works include Management Reset: Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness, Useful Research: Advancing Theory and Practice, Achieving Excellence in HR Management: An Assessment of Human Resource Functions, Talent: Making People Your Competitive Advantage, and Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness. It was wonderful to hear him speak about what HR should and could be doing differently; his work, his research. It is hard to captured all that he has done in a short interview. But here are the questions I had to ask the guru.
Abhijit Bhaduri: You would have been an HR professional. But became an academic and wrote 43 fabulous books that HR people have read. How have you seen the HR professional’s opportunity for contribution to business success evolve over the years?
Ed Lawler: HR has slowly but surely moved from being a largely administrative function to being a contributor to organizational performance in multiple ways. In some corporations, it has the ability to influence and change strategy as a result of senior HR executives who understand the business and business strategy. Unfortunately, this is a relatively rare situation. In most cases, HR works to implement the business strategy by being sure that the talent and the HR systems that an organization have will line up with what it needs to be able to do in order to implement the business strategy. My recent research study with John Boudreau, now published as a book titled, Effective Human Resource Management: A Global Analysis, goes into this issue in considerable detail. We also compare data from multiple countries. Interestingly enough, major countries do not differ greatly in the degree to which HR is a strategic player. To mention three geographies we looked at, it is about the same in India, the United States, and Europe.
Overall, I think HR still has a long way to go in terms of being a key strategic player in business organizations. There is enormous opportunity, however, for it to make a big difference in how effective an organization is. Human capital continues to grow in its importance and organizational change also has become more important. The world is changing rapidly and organizations need to adapt. Many of the things they need to do to adapt involve changing the skills, behavior, and involvement of employees.
Abhijit Bhaduri: Was there ever a phase in industry when you felt that you would have enjoyed being a practitioner?
Ed Lawler: I considered being a practitioner when I graduated from college, and that was a long time ago. Since then I have never had a great desire to be in anything more than a researcher and consultant who gives advice to corporations on issues of human capital and organization design. In short, I have never looked back.
Abhijit Bhaduri: In the initial part of your career, you studied what motivates people to work harder. What have been your insights?
Ed Lawler: Yes, I have done a great deal of work on work motivation. It is on one hand, a very simple topic, and on the other hand, a very complex one. That is full of myths and misunderstandings. For example, people still think job satisfaction is an important determinant of performance and yet the research on it suggests it is more the consequence of job performance than a driver of job performance. It does relate to absenteeism and turnover, but only has a small relationship to performance.
What drives performance, essentially, is the degree of which rewards that are valued by the individual are related to successful performance. All too much, the literature on motivation debates the relative advantages of intrinsic rewards, extrinsic rewards, money vs. feelings of accomplishment, etc. The evidence indicates that any or all of the rewards that exist within an organization can be a motivator of performance; the challenge is to fit them to the individual. There are large individual differences in what people value and to the work situation.
Abhijit Bhaduri: What are a few things organizations could do to help people find meaning at work?
Ed Lawler: One key thing that organizations can do to give individuals more of a sense of meaning is to give them customer contact and feedback about how well the organization is performing. The other is to give them an overall sense of what the organization’s mission, agenda, and direction is.
Abhijit Bhaduri: In your article for Wall St Journal you urge the Board to utilize HR as the “expert resource on the condition and utilization of the work force” What skills should HR professionals build to become experts in this area?
Ed Lawler: What HR needs is much better skills in the area of metrics and analytics. They need to be able to assess the condition of the workforce and how it is being utilized. They then need to be able to tie this to the work and strategy of the business. This is why I think it is so important that HR have an understanding of the business and a grasp of the organization’s strategy.
Abhijit Bhaduri: You want organizations to move from being job based organizations to competency based. How can this idea be translated into action?
Ed Lawler: Many organizations have already moved to be skill and competency-based. Doing it requires eliminating traditional job descriptions and recognizing that jobs in a dynamic environment need to be constantly changing and require new and different activities and skills. The key issue here is recognizing what skills individuals need in order to accomplish their performance goals and then tying the compensation system and the training systems of the organization to the skills that individuals need. (For more on this, see my book, Talent: Making People Your Competitive Advantage)