Thursday, 1 July 2010

Konosuke Matushita on putting people first


   I’ve just come out of a meeting with Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, in which we discussed his new book, ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ (I’ll be reviewing this here and at Personnel Today).

I will just say that I’ve very much enjoyed the book which is well aligned with my own thinking around HCM.  I just hope it sells much better than the one on Profits First (which basically suggested that whilst customers might be second, employees should be placed very much at the back of the queue).

However, the main thought that’s been in my head as I’ve been reading Vineet’s book, and talking to him today, is why is it that, other than in HCL and a few other companies (including a couple of my own clients), this perspective still sounds so revolutionary?  After all, it’s really not that new…


I’d like to share with you some of ‘People Before Products’ written by Konosuke Matushita (pictured) and originally published as ‘Jinjimangekyo’ [‘My Approach to Personnel Management’] in 1977 (and thanks to Danny Kalman for this book and tour around Panasonic recently):

An enterprise is only as great as the employees who work for it.  The growth of a business centres around people, and success or failure hands on whether suitable employees can be found to undertake the tasks it needs done.

No matter how fine a tradition it boasts or how excellent its technology or services, a business that cannot find people capable of sustaining these advantages will gradually go into decline.  For that reason, every business takes the matter of cultivating human resources very seriously.  I believe that the more successful a company is in these endeavours, the more its performance and fortunes will flourish.

When you make use of a machine, all you have to do it turn on the switch and it will perform as it is designed or programmed to do; no more, no less.  But people will reveal unexpected abilities – and willingly put them to work for you – if you adopt the right approach and the right attitude.  Indeed, there lies the great challenge of training people and using their talents to optimal advantage.


Wonderful stuff.  I also loved these comments on the limitations of measurement:

Human beings are complex and sensitive creatures.  They’re sometimes difficult to understand, and often uncooperative.  Every individual is different, changing from moment to moment – a veritable kaleidoscope of variety.  One plus one may equal two in ordinary arithmetic, but with people the equation is not so simple.  In the proper combination, the working potential of two people may equal three or even five; in a bad pairing, the same two can equal zero or even less.  In this sense, nothing can be more unpredictable, unfathomable, and difficult to del with than human beings.


Of course, some of the book does show the sign of age.  Take these comments on early computerisation:

Technology is changing at an unprecedented pace, presenting us with ever-newer and more complex innovations and concepts.  Business as well as management has been completely transformed by the advent of computers and computer systems capable of performing complicated analyses and calculations in the blink of an eye.”


Even here though, the general tone of the comments could apply just easily to web 2.0 today as web 0.0 back then.

Technology’s moved on a pace, but I’m not sure management has - even if Matsushita showed us the way 33 years ago.  Let’s hope there’ll be more progress between now and 2043!


In the meantime, I’ll be posting some of Vineet Nayar’s thoughts on management later on today.



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