Saturday, February 12, 2011

Principles and Practices

A few months ago, a client asked me to address a group of internal HR leaders on the key practices associated with integrated talent management. In piecing together the presentation, it occured to me that more important than the practices themselves were the particular principles that informed them.

Without clear, substantiated principles about things such as development, potential or the role of HR within the broader organization, the actual practices didn't have a lot of meaning and were likely to have limited impact on outcomes. In other words, to build something of high quality and enduring value, you have to have clear principles and beliefs to guide your efforts.

This brought me around to thinking about one of my favorite phrases - "form follows function" - and the broader quote associated with it. The popularization of the phrase is attributed to Louis Sullivan, a late 19th century architect that many consider one of the founders of the modernist architecture movement. Here is the quote:

"It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
of all things physical and metaphysical,
of all things human and all things super-human,
of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul,
that the life is recognizable in its expression,
that form ever follows function.
This is the law."

The essence of what Sullivan is trying to see is that the manifestation of something (be it a building, a system of government or a talent management system) should be in keeping with the underlying purpose for which it exists. Thinking about it another way, if you can truly identify the "why?" behind something, the "what" and the "how" should follow accordingly.

I encourage you to reflect on the talent system you have in your organization today. Is it a clear expression of an underlying purpose and a clear set of principles around talent or is it something else? If not, perhaps something got lost in translation or the purpose and principles were never defined in the first place. Either way, I hope this gives you something to reflect on and apply. Please share your thoughts.