Sunday, October 11, 2015

Key Development Indicators (KDI's): Alexipharmics for "the Dumbest Idea Ever"

Dr. Bob Aubrey has been one of the vanguard thinkers and writers on Human Development in business for the entire 20+ years I have known him.  His thinking represents a unique blend of Eastern and Western philosophy as well as practical business, consulting, and entrepreneurial experience.  Further, no one working in this field today can match his global perspective and experience:  he speaks multiple languages and has lived on three different continents for decades at a time.  Like the old EF Hutton commercials, when he speaks on human development, especially for multinationals, it’s a good idea to take heed.

His latest book, Measure of Man:  Leading Human Development, shines a light on what is coming at a speed that few are prepared for.  The key thrust of the book is that the systems being used to keep score by individuals, businesses, and even countries are not only lacking, but often counterproductive to stated aims.

In Aubrey’s view, Human Development in particular is not getting the attention it needs.  You would be mistaken to think this is just Aubrey taking his lifelong hobbyhorse out for a ride.  This book was penned entirely in Asia where a handful of countries and their businesses are home to and employ close to half the world’s population.  Those countries and businesses know that developing their teams and citizens is a matter of survival.

Dr. Aubrey says that what is needed to thrust development into the forefront are Key Development Indicators (KDIs).  Right out of the gate he contrasts KDIs with their well-known older brother, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).  The KPIs used by businesses tend to be short-term focused and dominated by actions and financials.  Aubrey argues even country measures like the Happy Planet Index are incomplete as well.  KDIs on the other hand, are longer-term, learning-oriented, and focused on concepts like mastery, autonomy, purpose, and depth and breadth of relationships.  If Y = f (X), Aubrey believes happiness and financial measurements are the outcomes or Ys of getting Xs like human development right.

In thinking this way, he is in good company.  For example, a couple of years ago, much was being written about how Shareholder Value creation was misguided.  Former and current CEOs like Jack Welch formerly of GE and Marc Benioff from Salesforce were calling Shareholder Value “the dumbest idea ever.”  Firms were more than just shareholder piggy banks and had to invest in the development of associates, invest in innovation, and invest in studying, delighting, and winning over current and new customers.  By almost requiring companies to forego this long term thinking, an obsessive focus on Shareholder Value creation actually ran counter to, well, shareholder value creation.

Aubrey’s book provides the road map for leaders and companies looking to counter short-termism with a long term view on development.  He is a philosopher at heart so he approaches the challenge with a wide lens.  This is important and ensures that human development does not get narrowly defined as something as trivial as how many people have achieved a certain proficiency at Excel or one of the latest stat packages or how many have had a performance review.

Measure of Man lays out a taxonomy of development measures and provides multiple case studies for how they are being applied by leaders and HR professionals.  The book highlights leaders who are leveraging KDIs effectively and also those who are badly whiffing.  Both types of case studies are instructive.

He also takes on the “HR as business partner idea” and argues HR abandoned its core constituency (employees and their capital D Development).  HR can talk about business partnering until the cows come home, but until they understand what human development is, how to advocate for it, how to measure it, and how to change it, they will be nothing more than a Management cat's paw.

Some might view Bob’s frequent forays into philosophy as a weakness of the book.  In my view, this puts the book on the high ground while also remaining practical.  Further, there are a number of personal anecdotes that some may choose to skim through.  But again, to me, these reflect the fact that he is writing from the marrow of his experience and not trying to catch a trending wave just to get another book out there.

The book finishes strong as the final few pages provide ten predictions for coming shifts in Human Development.  These predictions are in some ways the payoff pitch and at the least are exactly what you want and expect from a vanguard thinker writing from the front lines of where Human Development is being wrestled with.

A final thought:  If the broad development of your team however large is an area of concern, you would be ill-advised to think you have lots of time to begin putting a foundation in place.  In my view, all ten of Dr. Aubrey’s predictions are “coming soon to a theater near you.”  If you are not towards the front of that line, you may not get a seat.

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