The human and the machine


  The best session at CIPD11 by far was on efficiency and performance and was delivered by John Greatrex, Group HR Director at Unipart, and Franceso Mereu, Director, HR, Corporate Planning and CSR at Toyota Motor Europe.

For Greatrex there is a growing perspective that there needs to be more of the Human in HR.  He described the need not just to be lean and efficient, but for this to be combined with employee engagement too.  These are both central to the Unipart Way which includes beliefs about there always being a better way, that no problem is a problem etc, but also that engagement drives performance.

Unipart have some great approaches to support this, eg the communication cell providing a framework for daily 10-15 minute briefings ensuring that structured communication takes place every day.

I also liked the way their engagement survey is dealt with in work teams with the results only being passed up to group level if the team can’t deal with them, or the survey process needs to be improved.

More generally, they attempt to measure the process, not the score.  Eg they don’t compare everyone’s engagement score but look for and spread best practice.  The objective is to identify problems – they don’t want people to disguise them.

For Greatrex, all this is about combining lean tools with an engagement philosophy.

In a similar manner, the Toyota Way is based on continuous improvement and a respect for people with a big focus on teamwork.  This needs mutual trust and respect:

  • Setting goals together
  • Involving in decision making
  • On-going sharing of information.


For example, business planning is based on the concept of ‘nemawashi’ or consensus building.  Toyota seek to prepare the ground gradually, building opportunities to work as a team through 20 group discussions with 50 managers walking about – looking at documents, asking clarification questions.  If someone doesn’t feel involved properly they can register their desire to be consulted.  It’s then the relevant department’s responsibility to do this.  This encourages the mindset for people to be involved from the beginning.

Also middle and senior managers’ ratings are aligned across the organisation, ensuring that rewards are based on company-wide vs just departmental interactions and ending a clear message that managers are part of a wider team.


I loved the way that people were so central to business strategy in these two examples.

The point came up again later in a session on leadership for the future with John Burgoyne who suggested that leadership shouldn’t be either human relations or management science but a mixture of both – the human and the machine.



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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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