Wise Words from Charles Handy – by Catriona Cookson

In his latest book “21 Letters on Life and Its Challenges”, Charles Handy is talking to his grandchildren about the world of work and why the world’s big corporations may not be set up to attract and retain the next generation of talent unless they understand that people are not a human resource.

You can read the excerpt from the book here which includes some very relevant messages :

1.Keep it small

“If people truly mattered, then it was better that they worked, if at all possible, in situations where everyone could know each other. For how can you trust or rely on someone whom you never meet? Humans need human-sized groups to be at their best. Small is better, if not essential, to get the job done properly”.

While new technology has a huge part to play in the future of work, Handy believes that “The technology should not try to do what humans do better, and vice versa.”

2. Human scale

Charles suggests that 45 people works best as the maximum size of a work group, considerably smaller than Professor Robin Dunbar’s number of 150 being the largest number of people we can know personally and have some affinity with ….perhaps no coincidence that many consulting firms either merge or sell when they reach a headcount of c150.

So can the major corporates reorganise themselves into small groups linked by technology?…they’ll have to ….“Already young people are turning away from the traditional pyramid organisations in which you clamber your way up the hierarchy over the years. The world of work is increasingly going to realise that small is better.”

3. You are not a Human Resource

Handy identifies the difference between managing and leading ….. “Any organisation whose key assets are talented or skilled people doesn’t use the word manager to describe the people in charge.The title of manager is only used for those who are in charge of things, not people.

It strikes me that this is very sensible and true …that organising, leading and managing are three different activities …..people are not a resource to be managed, rather a person to be led.

Charles Handy


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