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Human relations: the return?

Professor of Management Sciences

ESSEC Business School

Former General Delegate of the FNEGE

*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute.


Article originally published on The Conversation France.

This text is taken from the conference "Au secours, les relations humaines reviennent!" organized by XERFI, FNEGE, AGRH and ANDRH in Paris on December 1ᵉʳ 2016.

"Help, human relationships are coming back!" So it is that they were gone.

It is true that human relations are not an issue for organizations that expect performance from the mere sophistication of their structures, processes or information systems. The question of human relations also disappears when the work parcelled out in a self-managed network or controlled by algorithms would no longer require coordination or collaboration (the "work-with", etymologically).

The human factor

No doubt the valorization of technology, computerization or digitalization, depending on the era, also gives the illusion - as it did a century ago at the birth of the scientific organization of work - that we can finally get rid of the human factor in production. Human relations would then no longer be a problem, but just that romantic extra soul, with the benevolence and kindness so popular today...

However, we realize here and there that only rare combinations of rare skills can meet the challenges of innovation or performance, so we call on talents. In the experience-based economy, in crisis situations or in complex organizations, we also realize that the commitment of people to their work, and even to the company, is becoming essential.

The social and the relationship with others in the company

This is not a discovery, Pierre Louart reminded us of the great names, already old, of those who have shown the importance of motivation and recognition. But the person, as our speakers like to call him, is social, he lives with, through and for others, even if the anthropology of the moment, individualistic or "singularistic", may have been tempted to forget this.

Benoît Serre reminds us, moreover, how much human relations are linked to the culture of the company. In fact, in companies, administrations or associations, one does not work, one always works "with", work is interdependence, one can only do one's own if the others have done theirs, and vice versa.

These interdependencies can be prescribed in a good procedures manual, they can also be tacit in a game of implicit reciprocal promises that always makes the invisible bed of performance when one makes the effort to observe the real functioning of organizations. Better than that, these relationships make up a large part of the concrete experience of work for people, as Jean-Paul Charlez reminds us: it is the relationship with others that keeps you awake at night, rather than the remuneration, which we have become used to being low!

The human face of rules and digitization

The importance of human relations is back in the spotlight when it comes to interpreting the disappointments caused by the automation of administrative processes, when it comes to mitigating the devastating effects of psychosocial risks, when it comes to resolving or anticipating the many conflicts that are bound to arise in these highly political places that are institutions.

In different ways, our speakers reminded us that human relations are a problem rather than a solution. Jacques Igalens explained that the relationships between actors that the law deals with cannot be satisfied with a contractual logic alone, but that they require a minimum sense of the common good that could perhaps be provided by the systems of norms and references developed at the international level.

Xavier Moulins sends the same message by reminding us that social dialogue is nourished by human relations and not only by ministerial reports or laws. As CH Besseyre des Horts says, tools can never replace these human relationships or magically improve them, but they can facilitate them as long as we make the effort to use them to serve these relationships.

So, as Isabelle Barth points out, when talking about diversity, managers take on great importance in establishing and maintaining quality human relations: these managers are definitely responsible for everything. This is a good thing, because non-French managers in large French companies, says Yasmina Jaïdi, recognize that they have a certain sense of humanity and that they just lack a little openness.

Four strong ideas... plus one

We can retain four essential ideas from all these interventions.

The first is that management always benefits from returning to some solid anthropological references: it seems that regularly, with Taylor, the computer or the augmented person, we are tempted to forget this.

The second is that human relationships are learned. Family relationships come quite naturally, relationships chosen on social networks or in "affectionate" tribes, as Aline Scouarnec reminds us, are not very difficult, but working in an organization means entering into relationships with one's colleagues, those whom one has not chosen, those with whom one would not spend a weekend. Have management specialists understood that work should also be a place to learn about these human relationships?

The third is that managers obviously have an extra burden on their shoulders with this relational imperative. But they still need to want to and have the skills to do so. Do our tools for selecting, promoting, evaluating and rewarding managers take this into account?

The fourth, and probably most important, is that the quality of human relations is also a general, shared responsibility. Everyone has a part to play in this: organizations with a social responsibility, managers who are generally responsible for everything, but also all the players, all the employees.

At a time when mastery of digital tools is becoming an imperative for the honest man, it may be necessary to add relational quality. This is a real issue because our young students, like our managers, consider that their managerial efficiency, the fact of becoming a leader, this word that translates so badly into German, would be mainly due to their own intrinsic qualities rather than to their relationships with others.

Article translated from French with


Read also...

Maurice Thévenet's articles on The Conversation France.

The articles & books of Maurice Thévenet via CAIRN.Info.


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