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HP boss on motivation, human capital, and staff retention

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Hewlett Packard staff in the US waiting to hear the extent of the much-anticipated redundancies face the longest night of all. Tomorrow morning, at 8:45am Pacific Time (4:45pm British Summer Time) the company will brief analysts, and the press an hour later, on "details of a company restructuring plan".

(Some HP watchers had expected today - but perhaps the printer giant had exhausted its supplies of red toner.)

So to get us all through the dark hours ahead, let's hear what CEO Mark Hurd has to say about the importance of motivating his employees. We turned to his gripping 2004 volume The Value Factor: How Global Leaders Use Information for Growth and Competitive Advantage for what Hurd could tell us about the human dimension. Surely, the turnaround artists must know what makes people tick.

At only 130 pages, Hurd's book is a slim volume, which we assumed was a sign of brevity and crisp writing - a Good Thing.

Unfortunately there's just the solitary reference to motivation, and it refers not to motivating people, but the banks' motivation to consolidate. This is important, Hurd tells us, because, "... the result is that banks need an overwhelming amount of information to be able to understand their customers,"

It isn't exactly what we'd hoped for, so we cast the net wider, to look at employee issues in the most general terms possible.

We didn't have long to wait. As early as Page 20, Hurd acknowledges the value of the staff to a large organization.

"Leaders who understand their company's financial operations, customer's needs, supplier and partner relationships and what motivates employees will be the leaders to envision the future of their industries," he writes. And how will they achieve that?

"It comes down to information".

A few pages along, things look much more promising.

"Top managers and frontline employees alike must be empowered," he writes. Yes, yes - that's more like it. Empowered to do what?

"Empowered to see the business in the same way - one set of numbers, the right numbers."

Ah.

In case we missed the point, Hurd explains employee empowerment a little further on.

"A company and its employees have access to all the information they need," he declares.

Who would have guessed?

How about staff retention? That too drew a blank. Of eight references to "retention", none of them refers to retaining people.

We tried other buzzwords. What about "human capital"? Alas, The Value Factor has just one reference to the term - and it's a quotation by Mohanbir Sawhney, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. After which Hurd quickly reminds us:

"The valuable potential of intangible assets is unlocked by information."

So whatever it is that contributes to "The Value Factor", it isn't employees. In fact in Hurdistan, people are inconvenient encumbrances that simply get in the way of the true goal of beautiful information flows.

As Hurd himself said in an interview two years ago,

"Great companies align people throughout their organization. But if the information isn't aligned, it's hard to align the people."

As with National Public Radio, where technology has replaced progressive politics, for pointy-haired business executives "information" has replaced building great products or services and selling them at a profit. The means have become ends in themselves.

Later today Hurd is expected to undertake formidable demonstration of executive firepower, a Shock And Awe campaign designed to impress Wall Street analysts. As to how he plans to turn HP around, the book didn't help us too much. Either Hurd really does have a plan and he isn't saying, or he doesn't, and will focus on "aligning the information" as his top priority.

Either way, we don't have long to see who's being aligned and in which direction. ®

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