We are our choices

Can you imagine being told by your supermarket what you had to buy? Or your hairdresser telling you how your hair should be cut? How about local bar or pub deciding what you wanted to drink? I know for one that I wouldn’t put up with it and I guess is that it wouldn’t take long for you to get fed up either.

Because we like the choice. We like the feeling of control. We like to be in charge of our own destiny. Now of course, we could debate for hours, whether we are actually in control, or having the living daylights manipulated out of us on an hourly basis. But stay with me.

It’s well known that the idea of a “war for talent” makes me want to self castrate with a rusty set of hair clippers. I’m also not going to go down the Gen Y debate, because there are too many haters out there and I can’t be arsed.

But. And this is a big but (no jokes please). I do think the relationship is changing between employers and employees.

Yet, so much of what we do is still grounded in the paternalistic past where the boss knew best. How we pay, how we offer benefits, how we train and develop. How we promote and manage careers.

We provide very little choice in organisations, very little flexibility and very little responsibility. Instead we standardise, homogenise, process and commoditise the employment relationship. Partly because it makes things easy for us, partly because it retains control.

But it misses a trick. If the future of employment relationships is less permanent, less linear and generally more two-way. Then shouldn’t we be designing our organisations to genuinely give choice and ownership to employees? Not merely paying lip service to it.

It is nice to talk about the way that management is going to change. The way in which the organisation is going to change. The way in which careers are going to change. But how is the organisational infrastructure going to change and who is thinking about it?

That’s what I’d like to know.


  1. changinghr · August 4, 2014

    Great post Neil. As you rightfully indicate we’ve been slavishly following the doctrine of organisational efficiency for decades as a major strategy which of course has been making an art of the division of labour, employee consistency and buying power. The old trade unions would hate your talk of choice as an attack on their collective power and of course finance / procurement want easily maintained and ‘low cost’ contracts with employees for the balance sheet. The organisational infrastructure couldn’t be more lop sided in meeting our challenges than they are now. We’re back to the problem that even with all this inefficiency it is pretty easy for HR functions and businesses to ignore the trends and keep with the old. What act of organisational farce will force a rethink and do we have the leaders brave enough to take the steps ?

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      Great comment and that’s the thing, we’re just not set up to do this. If we are really, REALLY focussed on it, then it means re-engineering. And that will happen, maybe not today, but soon.

  2. GrumpyLecturer · August 4, 2014

    Neil your argument appears to be bordering on broaching the dreaded notion that HR is no more than an alternative means of employee control. If so it is time you ‘came out’ and joined a growing movement.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      Bad HR is about control. Good HR is about facilitating and meeting need.

  3. daviddsouza180 · August 4, 2014

    I heard someone say a couple of weeks ago that marketing had begun to learn that they needed to target individuals (rather than groups) and that orgs should do the same. I’m hoping that the organisational infrastructure issue will be one of the considerations for #btwc. I’d also chuck in the thought that the search for predictive analytics/big data etc is ignoring the individual’s desire to have personal control and not just be a data string. The more we cluster people the more we undersell the importance of individual choice. We are so excited about possibilities for the future that we are rushing headlong into those possibilities with the mindset of the past.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      Totally agree. I think we can understand the patterns of behaviour that might be likely, but we should never lose the fact that we are talking about individual human beings.

  4. alex_moyle · August 18, 2014

    Part of the problem lies in that most people in an organisation are not given a view of what the goals of the organisation are and why they are important. Fearing the consequences rather than being excited about more people being motivated and contributing ideas. . Netflix induction slideshare articulates why big companies seek control as they get larger.

    • Neil · September 7, 2014

      I think the growing start up is a really interesting area. I’ve thought a lot about this, one day I’ve love to have the chance to putt my ideas in to practice on a growing organisation struggling with that dilemma.

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