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Work to the Power of People (WP®)

In previous articles I have criticised the catch all statement of “People being at the heart of modern organisations”.  To be fair one should add a caveat to the criticism. People being the heart of complex systems is undoubtedly a universal truth and Organisations failing to understand this truth will find it harder to compete and survive in the future.

There are numerous studies that have proven that Organisations putting People Practices at the core of the business (profit or service) show exponential growth in the value they deliver – be that to share holders or to customers, employees or communities.  But there is a vast difference between putting “People Practice” or “People” at the core of an Organisation. In understanding this difference, one should start with a Satori moment (meaning enlightenment – a Japanese Buddhist term, by a thinker I do not know the name of).

The very popular Organisational Development Model looking at business through the perspectives of People, Processes and Technology is still a powerful angle to use as a starting point to explain the many complexities in large organisational systems. When combining this with systems theory, looking and differentiating between complex, simple, natural, man-made, open, closed, deterministic and non-deterministic systems – to mention a few – one finds some interesting answers in the dynamic relationship between the three elements of People, Processes and Technology.

From this it is reasonable to deduce that it is far easier to control, plan for and predict the actions, responses, strategies and costs of Processes and Technology. Once people enter the equation this total system becomes significantly more complex.  That may provide some insight to what executives are trying to say when they describe people as “the heart of their Organisations”.  People are therefore some-what the focal point of complexity.  Although that might be true it is not very helpful.


A Satori moment came from collegial debates in 2002 on the polarity people contributed to organisations.  On the one hand people bring complexity through their being and their relationship with processes and technology and on the other hand they create exponential growth, value and success in the organisation. This elevates the need to understand how people fit into modern organisations even further.


In future articles the relationship between Processes and Technology will be elaborated on by using a handy model called the Data Centric Model (DCM®) as a perspective. Considering this article, we start by looking at people in organisations and their relationship to process and technology per se.


Process Management and Technology in the context of organisational strategy are invariably linked.  All three of these can be described as independent sciences and disciplines in their own right. When trying to find consilience (aspects of commonality) between these disciplines one stumbles across the fact that these elements are context creators for People in Organisations. Strategy incorporates future direction and planning, using the elements of process and technology to provide detailed definition and context in terms of what must be done. This of course needs to happen considering available financial resources (which stands to reason).

These context creators can actually be summarised as the Work the Organisation needs done to achieve its strategic goals, in the context provided by the elements in it.


Some may argue that this is Performance Management’s role. This can be debated again at a later point, but suffice to say that this construct includes output and focus but also refers more to the essence of what must be done, including accountability and organisational structure.


Taking this further one can argue that People delivering the right work at the right time, having the appropriate skills and being appropriately rewarded is the “true heart of Organisations”.


Work to the power of People (W) is a philosophy that defines the optimal relationship between people, processes and technology: Successful Organisations design, plan and build their business through an intricate understanding of the Work that the organisation needs done; linking Work and People through appropriate People Practices that enables an optimal relationship to the benefit of both the Organisation and Individual (employees).


Appropriate People Practices will be defined in further articles but in essence implies the science of People Management, as referred to previously in “People Management: Art, Craft or Science?”.


The fundamental point of departure positioned in this article is that successful Organisations build relationships with people in a manner that must be beneficial to both – they achieve this through a fundamental understanding of the Organisations need (Work) and scientific People Practices.


Organisations that are built around people without the context of Work (understanding of the need) are not sustainable for either the people working in them or the economy.


The creative, flexible and non-deterministic nature of people that can deliver exponential growth referred to above, can also bring about organisational destruction if not applied to the benefit of the Organisation. Building this link through the fundamental understanding of the need (Work that needs to be done), is a far more sustainable solution and initiates the bridge to a science that facilitates planning, decision making and some element of predictability.

By: Otto Pretorius

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