The Most Powerful Words for Guiding Human Resource Development in Organizations

In the fewest possible words, can we get a guiding principle for developing people in organizations?

In my search for something that works, something not necessarily lofty, but nevertheless validated by success, I can think of no better one than the one below.

Every organization develops people. It either helps them grow or stunts them.

–       Peter Drucker

The power in this profound observation escapes the casual reader. Make no mistake about it. For those who haven’t yet grasped the significance of these words, there is a new world waiting to be born! These are the most powerful words for any leader in any role to really reflect on, be it CEO, HR Head, L&D Head or a Business head.

What makes them so powerful? They illuminate a truth we seldom consider & act upon.

Our most over-used cliché is that people are our best asset. We accept that developing people is the key to organizational success. But do we really think that by not helping people grow, we are stunting their growth? To stunt is to permanently impair the ability to reach full potential. Do we consciously weigh our actions in this searing light?

Here is what we will think & act upon if we believed this to be true: “All actions create a ripple of consequence in time and space. Every decision & action, or the lack there-of, is shaping the lives of our people. If we do nothing, it does not mean nothing happens. When we do not invest in learning, we don’t simply leave people where they are. We deprive them of  ‘vantage-point’ learning that hinges on the intersection of timely opportunity & their unique self-development cycle. Crucially, this ‘vantage-point’  learning creates new territory if people were to walk down the path. They see new possibilities & question old assumptions. Exactly what’s needed for innovative breakthroughs.If people don’t learn now, they lose the ability to learn in this context forever. If we are not moving forward, we are going backward. We are simply not being in the same place no matter what we do”

A useful parallel to drive home the point is that of a doctor.

A doctor is called upon to take care of the sick. A doctor knows that every medical intervention is doing one of two things – helping the healing process or hindering it. It cannot not have an impact. The doctor decides a mindful course of action.

In leading organizations, if we are similarly mindful, we will be forced to consider strategic choices & their irreversible consequences. We will be sensitive to the 360 degree impact of our people decisions. We will go beyond narrow objectives. We will study the ways in which people might come to harm, especially when we choose to do nothing. We will ‘see’ how organizational choices constrict the space that people need- to grow and thrive in.

Ask of everything, ‘Is this in any way stunting people’s growth’? No harm in assuming it does, if only because it can help scope out the larger impact of our people actions.

Organizations applying this guiding principle show a remarkable sensitivity in their HR practices. Every action is well-thought through in terms of its immediate & long-term consequences. What every strategic choice means for the people in-itself is given serious consideration. The urgency/immediacy of the people dimension percolates into every decision-making context.

For people who work, the possibility of their growth being stunted is a strong wake-up call. The bonus or package-increase is tied to past-performance. What matters is the ability to learn & grow for the future. To be stunted, that is to never be able to reach full potential; is a terminal career hazard. Working professionals need to be proactive and make tough choices if they are to escape the perils of stunted growth.

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