Special skills and intelligent management keep HRO from becoming a faith-based activity.
I read a lot. Why? I read so you don’t have to. Turns out that on average, American college grads read just under two books each year. That would put me on the freakish end of the scale. Each week, I read somewhere between two and five books, 10 or more pounds of magazines, seven newspapers, a dozen or so blogs, hundreds of web pages, and a stack of stuff that gets submitted for publication (most of which is unworthy of mentioning). By my count, that’s a weekly average of about 1,400 pages in English with occasional smatterings of French. It’s all so that when I see something that can benefit you, I pass it along, with an HRO spin.
So, since I know you’re not yet caught up on your summer reading, I thought I’d help you cover yourself with three books that have lessons for us BPO jockeys.
First and second are Michael Lewis sports books. For my money, Lewis is the heavyweight champ of nonfiction, book-length reportage. He writes like I want to write when I grow up. And his books read so well I can almost smell the sweat.
A couple years ago, his hot title was “Money Ball, the Art of Winning an Unfair Game.” It covered the science of baseball as practiced by 2002 Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane. With a statistician’s eye for the arcane detail, Beane drafts players whom nobody else wants but who have an uncanny ability to deliver a specific thing: pitchers who get hitters to hit the ball on the ground, an unsung second baseman with a remarkably high on-base percentage who can bunt and run, an overweight catcher who has mastery over difficult pitchers.
By bargaining better than anyone else for these apparent second-stringers, he builds a powerhouse for a pittance. Lewis himself says it best: “The Oakland A’s, by winning so much with so little, had become something of an embarrassment to (Major League Baseball Commissioner) Bud Selig, and by extension, to Major League Baseball.”
I can think of several characters in HRO who have used Beane’s tactics. With microscopic attention to the metrics that matter and the cost side of the business, certain leaders have made their sales, service, and delivery teams into winners, sometimes against tough odds. As a result, gone are the “acquire market share at all cost” models. Even more to Lewis’s point, many executives who took risks and failed at one shop but who have one or more particular skill have been recycled into new opportunities where their special talent is delivering for their new employer.
Lewis’s most recent tome is “Blind Side, the Evolution of a Game,” where the title refers to a football quarterback’s “blind side,” or a right-hand-throwing quarterback’s left side, from which an unblocked defensive player can deliver an injury-inducing tackle. In one sense, the book is a rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher, a six-foot-five, 350-pound, left tackle whose skill was in protecting that blind side. In another, it is the tale of a multi-billion-dollar industry—the National Football League—that has evolved to reliance on ever-more-specialized (and vicious) players and the masterminds behind their development. Lewis’ question—whether the NFL is ruled by brutes or geniuses—reminds me of the HRO business. Sure, HRO in its many flavors often depends on brute-sized economies of scale to work. But successful implementations and client relationships now more than ever require highly intelligent and adaptive management.
Then we come to my newest favorite title, Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything.” For certain, everyone may not agree with the ultra-fluent Hitchens’ atheist premise that monotheism is snake oil salesmanship of the highest water. In his words, it is a “plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to the fabrication of a few non-events.” Yet, in reading the book, I am reminded how at this point in HRO’s life, virtually nothing is faith-based. HRO lives in the reality-based world, measured and counted over and over, with all glory to transparency in the highest measure. In that sense, HRO is the anti-religion. It requires no faith. Just good sense.