posted 27 Jan 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 5
Title: The Human Factor
Author: Rolf Habbel
Publishers: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
Wilma Garvin reviews The Human Factor: Management Culture in a Changing World by Rolf Habbel.
“The success of a knowledge-based organisation will always depend on the willingness of its people to share their knowledge and expertise. There is a dependence on the human factor.”
Elizabeth Lank, then programme director for knowledge management at ICL
In his book, The Human Factor, Rolf Habbel, vice president and partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, based in Munich, has focused on the human factor in business. He explains how management needs to convince its employees that the company has a long-term future through innovation and its dependence on customers. He aims to chart an ethical roadmap for successful management in the 21st century. As he states in the foreword, the book does not intend to offer a template for the successful manager but attempts to make connections between global trends, key entrepreneurial challenges and success factors. Habbel presents a thoughtful discussion on the challenges facing businesses in the 21st century, such as globalisation, the internet, technological developments, the competitive environment, the role of knowledge and social change.
The book examines the virtual world and its impact on life and business. It argues that leadership and human factors are being overlooked, and that unless companies can convince employees and customers that they are going in the right direction they will not survive.
When the book was published as Faktor Menschlichkeit in German, it received the Best Business Book of the Year (2001) award from the Financial Times in Germany. In his consultancy work, Habbel specialises in worldwide market strategies, innovative business strategies, and efficiency programmes in the telecommunications and information industry.
Habbel’s discussion of knowledge management covers the importance of ‘competence networks’. He defines competence as “the result of an intelligent, active combination of knowledge, experience and personal networks”. This could be compared to the work of Etienne Wenger on communities of practice as he discusses mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. According to Habbel, competence networks support the productivity of knowledge workers; the flexibility and adaptability of the organisation; the development of employees as individuals; innovation management; a more profound understanding of the market; management of core competencies; the quality of customer service; networking beyond the boundaries of the organisation and preparation of the organisation for e-business.
Recent work by Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace can be considered here. Habbel describes communities of practice as holding the knowledge base, processes and procedures that inform a collection of actions in the delivery of a product or service. He discusses how practitioners join together to find ways of rebuilding the capabilities required to realise strategies, and the knowledge base, skills, abilities, attitudes, brands, processes and relationships that result in the ability to undertake actions within the practice. He also makes the link between strategy and performance.
Underpinning the role of knowledge management and the human factor, Habbel covers leadership and presents the leadership framework: leadership for change is represented as the ‘think, talk, do’ matrix. Under the ‘do’ element he recommends acting consistently with principles, recognising and rewarding appropriate behaviour, punishing inappropriate behaviour, initiating key processes, leading by example, encouraging input outside the hierarchy, being flexible with tactics but inflexible on principles and finally, delegating, empowering and getting out of the way. The views on leadership that Habbel puts forward in The Human Factor are comparable to Greenberg and Robertson’s 1999 study for Accenture, The Evolving Role of Executive Leadership. Here they define 14 dimensions of leadership – shared vision, developing and empowering people, appreciating cultural diversity, building teamwork and partnerships, embracing change, showing technical knowledge, encouraging constructive challenge, ensuring customer satisfaction, achieving competitive advantage, demonstrating personal mastery, sharing leadership and living the values.
The Human Factor could be informative for senior managers considering the strategic impact of knowledge-management initiatives and the importance of people to the organisation, with regard to innovation and customer relationships. It is also interesting to find a European book that discusses knowledge management when the majority of books on the subject originate from North America. This presents an insight for companies that have business links with German-speaking companies.
Overall, this book covers the major challenges of the 21st century from a European perspective and includes references from senior managers from German-speaking companies. Habbel also introduces research into the book, which he refers to as implicit and explicit knowledge from Leopold K. Fara of the Paderborn Institute for Applied Psychology. The research differentiates between individual, implicit knowledge (that which is present but unavailable) and explicit and available knowledge, which offers a useful perspective on knowledge, as represented by the work of Nonaka and Takeuchi, and Cook and Brown.
Wilma Garvin is director at Mountfitchet Ltd. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org