A Paradigm Shift in HR

The term paradigm comes from the Greek paradeigma which translates to “model pattern or example”. First introduced years ago by the philosophy of science historian Thomas Kuhn, the term paradigm is now used to mean a broad model, a framework, a way of thinking or a scheme for understanding reality.

A paradigm simply establishes the rules (written or unwritten) defines the boundaries and tells one how to behave within the boundaries to be successful. The impact of internationalization, information technology, diversity and ethics given detailed attention in the organization of enterprises and effective strategies will depend more on development and deployment of intellectual resources than on the management of physical assets. And these human and intellectual resources have moved into the new paradigm too often as indicated in the accompanying OB in Action: Multitasking Their Brains Out, at a very disruptive stressed out pace. In other words, for today’s and tomorrow’s organizations and management there are new rules  with different boundaries requiring new and different behaviours inside the boundaries for organizations and management to be successful. Paradigm shifts have invalidated advantages of certain firms (e.g. consider the well-known problems of Kodak, United Airlines and Sears, Roebuck) and created new opportunities for others (e.g. Google).

Those who study paradigm shifts, such as the shift that look place in the basic sciences from deterministic, mechanistic, Cartesian Newtonian to Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics note that real controversy tales place often involving substantial restructuring  of the entire scientific community under conditions of great uncertainty.

Commonly called the “paradigm effect” a situation arises in which those in the existing paradigm may not even see the changes that are occurring. This effect helps explain why there is considerable resistance to change and why it is very difficult to move from the old management paradigm to the new. There is discontinuous change `in the shift to the new paradigm. As one observer of the needed new paradigm organization noted:

The depth of change required demands that those charged with charting a passage through hurricane like seas do more than run up a new set of sails. What is involved equates to a quantum shift in, not just learning but how we learn not just doing things  differently, but questioning whether we should be doing many of the things we currently believe in, at all; not just in drawing together more information but in  questioning how we know what it is (we think) we know.

This article on Organizational behaviour has the goal of helping today’s and tomorrow’s managers make the transition to the new paradigm. Some of the new paradigm characteristics include coverage of information technology, globalization, diversity, and ethics, on the organizational context of design and culture, and on reward systems. The new paradigm sets the stage for the  study, understanding and application of the time tested micro cognitive processes, dynamics and the final part on  managing and leading for high performances. However, before getting directly into the rest of the text, we must know why management needs a new perspective to help meet the environmental challenges and the shift to the new paradigm. We must gain an appreciation of the historical background, methodology and theoretical frameworks that serve as the basis of this text’s perspective and model for organizational behaviour.

Management is generally considered to have three major dimensions consisting of the manager’s functional expertise in accounting or engineering or marketing and increasingly in information technology. There seems little question that today’s managers are competent in their functional specialization. Overall managers are certainly more aware and becoming competent in their functional / technical component few today would question that, at least in the past most practising managers either ignored the conceptual and human dimensions of their jobs or made some overly simplistic assumptions.

All management had to do is to devise monetary incentive plans, ensure job security and provide good working conditions, morale would then be high and maximum productivity would result. It was as simple as one, two, and three. Human relations experts, industrial /organizational psychologists and industrial engineers supported this approach and human resource managers implemented it.

Unfortunately, this approach no longer works with the current environmental demands under the new paradigm. Although no real harm has been done, and some good actually resulted in the early stages of organizational development it is now evident that such a simplistic approach falls far short of providing a meaningful solution to the complex challenges.









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