Monday, 31 May 2010

People First

I wrote a blog entry on 1 November 2009 where I promoted putting people ahead of balancing the financial books. Schultz (2009) in his Foreword to “It's not about the coffee” wrote "we are in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people" (p xi). It is easy to miss the significance of this statement. The focus is that people are put first and not the business of providing coffee.

Behar (2009) in his preface to the book reinforces this people emphasis when he says "Without the people who buy, roast, deliver, prepare, and serve the coffee, we wouldn't have Starbucks" (p xvii). The people make the business and not the business making the people.

Behar contends that even in the tough times, "It is the people who have the creativity, energy, and passion to move us forward" (p xviii). The business doesn't run itself. The ideas come from people. The people make things work. Without people nothing would happen. People make the difference.

He further emphasises this when he says "You can't retreat to success. You can't retrench to success. You need to reach toward success which means the honouring of people who will take you there, treating them not as assets but as creative human beings" (pp xviii-xvix). If we don't foster an environment where people feel valued and enabled then we will not see their creativity at work. Enabling a person's capacity comes from a sense of belonging, of being able to contribute, and genuinely feel accepted in the organisation.

Behar observes that his parents taught him that people survived the Great Depression because of the help that they received from others (p xx). His parents never talked of blame for the depression. The focus of his parents was on "how they managed and what they did to make their lived work" (p xx). I wonder whether this is our attitude now?

Behar (2009) contends "If you grow people, the people grow the business," arguing that "If your people are better human beings, they'll be better partners of the company" (p 2). By treating customers as people, you will establish a better relationship with them. The people factor in a business or any operation can't be ignored.

In his list of principles, he argues that you should do things because it's right and "not because it's right for your résumé" (p 5). I echo this principle in relationship to teaching. So often teaching is treated as secondary to research because research gains Kudos and résumé credits but teaching doesn't. My future is at risk because I am failing on research targets. Failing to do what I know is right in respect to teaching, leads to dealing with disgruntled students and activities that distract from the teaching role.

Another of his principles is knowing who you are or wearing one hat (p 5). What he means is that we should remain true "to a deeper sense of ourselves and our values" (p 12). This is about being "consistent with oneself." This he contends leads us to feel good about expectations of others but act true to who we are as a person. In discussing his own development, he says "He showed me that by faking it - by changing myself to meet the expectations of others - I was preventing myself from doing what I did best" (p 15). "I needed to learn how to bring my emotions to work so they could work for me and could inspire others" (p 15).

It is easy to get caught up in a system that seems to pressure us to produce a certain type of result or output and forget that when people come asking for help, they really need our time and abilities. In teaching, it is easy to give the student seeking help a solution rather than to spend the time helping them to work through the problem so that they come to the solution themselves. If we are truly people focused then we will spend the time helping the learner to understand rather than providing the learner with answers.

What will be important in research is the improvement that it brings to people's lives rather than the kudos or résumé points that we gain. Tomorrow, I travel to another university to present my research findings and in late June, I will go to a conference. Why do I go? I am partly looking for people who are interested in the research that I am doing but I am also hopeful that some may actually want to use my research to improve their teaching. I know that the conference will count as a research output and that publishing journal articles will count as research outputs but my selection of the conferences and journals is more about who the likely readers are and whether the readers will benefit from what I write. My work has to be for the benefit of people and not for the kudos accrued through producing research outputs. After all, I chose my line of research not because it was a high profile area but because it would help me in my teaching and working with students.

As I look toward the production of games for learning, the same applies. I want to ensure that the games open up the desired space of learning rather than whether they will bring in lots of acknowledgement.


Howard Schultz (2009) Foreword. In Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.

Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.

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