How people management evolved

How people management evolved

As we move from the knowledge age to the innovation age, the way we manage talent must change as well.

After starting out as hunter-gatherers, humanity evolved from the Agricultural Age (from around 10,000 BC) and the Industrial Age (250 years ago) to the Knowledge Age (50 years ago). Over the past decade, we have reached a new level in the age of innovation.

In this new era, the critical means of production are not tools (hunters and gatherers), terrestrial and domesticated animals (agricultural era), energy and machines (industrial era), nor even data management systems. and information (knowledge age). They are know-how (knowledge, skills and experiences), concepts and ideas.

Likewise, a company’s main competitive advantage will no longer be economies of scale (industrial age) or range (knowledge age), but the ability to use know-how to create new, original innovations. and significant.

Innovation always starts with ideas that spring from the brains of individuals, which then cooperate with others to turn them into innovations. Unsurprisingly, the era of innovation elevates the importance of people. Today, let’s explore how “people management” has evolved and could develop further in the innovation economy.

In the industrial age, companies began to mass produce standardized goods using energy machines. This new economy required a lot of hands, first to extract the coal needed to run the machines, and then to run the machines. Many farm workers have gone on to become unskilled mining or factory workers. The workers were easily replaced because their tasks were standardized and simple.

The only motivation for workers to show up at the factory gate was the desire to earn enough money for their families to manage each day. Typically, workers received their meager wages at the end of the day (and later at the end of a week or month) for the hours they worked or the output they produced.

As the concept of scientific management developed at the end of the 19th century, “staff” became a subunit of finance and accounting, with “bean counters” focusing more on hours, outputs and wages as per the needs of the people. This perspective widened with the emergence of the human relations movement in the mid-twentieth century.

Subsequently, human resource management became a separate corporate function responsible for hiring, administering, paying and firing workers (note how this name indicates that industrial workers were considered a productive resource similar to inputs).

In the relatively static and predictable business world of the industrial age, a blunt management hierarchy directed the efforts of large numbers of workers in a command-and-control style.


In the knowledge age, companies have devised new ways to process data, information and knowledge more efficiently with information management systems. Compared to the low-skilled blue-collar workers of the industrial age, well-educated and highly-skilled knowledge workers (management guru Peter Drucker’s new name for white-collar workers) have grown in relative importance.

White collar workers were paid fairly good monthly wages, and earning money tended to be their main motivation. On the other hand, automation starting with industrial processes and subsequent administrative tasks led to a “resizing” of the workforce during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the ever-changing and accelerating business environment of the 1990s and 2000s, “talent management” emerged as a new label for the people management function. It has broadened to include activities such as acquisition, onboarding, management, development (through training, coaching and mentoring), motivation (often using KPI agreements and quarterly or annual review exercises) and finally “get ahead” of these well-trained and paid knowledge workers to replace them with younger, cheaper, but less experienced strains.


In the age of innovation, the success and survival of an organization depends on its ability to create and transform existing and newly emerging knowledge into meaningful innovations. Thus, the former knowledge workers must evolve into co-creators and gain further prominence.

People management has yet another new name: Human Capital Management, indicating that humans are now considered assets of a business (although they are not yet listed on the balance sheet).

Progressive companies signal the increased importance of the human factor by creating a C-level role for the human function (called the Chief People Officer or Chief Human Capital Officer). This person’s job is to attract, align, develop and adequately reward agile and intelligent co-creators.

These new co-creators are above all motivated to join meaningful organizations (when making money is only secondary). They cooperate in light but motivated teams led by the person best qualified for a given project. Additionally, creative leaders embody authenticity, talent, skills, experience, passion and a track record of successful results.

The people management style in these innovative companies will be a blend of self-management and team management focused on achieving monthly to quarterly production goals that contribute to the successful pursuit of a long-term noble cause. Compensation in these meritocratic organizations is medium to high and tied to individual, team and company performance.

Interestingly, managing people in the highly dynamic environment of the Innovation Age seems in many ways to resemble the egalitarian and cooperative, flexible and agile, skill-based and creative approach of hunters. of primates.

What knowledge have you acquired? And at what age is your organization operating in terms of managing its people?

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