Is Your Company Keeping Up in the Human Era?

Over the past decade, we’ve built systems that are dehumanizing. Current executives and companies learned processes from the industrial age, attempted to convert them to the information age, and, in turn, became disconnected from the people who built and continue to build the business.

How many times have you been told, “the system won’t let me do that” in airports, over the phone, or in another situation? We overprocess so many aspects of our lives that people feel detached from the very systems they are responsible for running.

This problem seems like it could be solved by simply recognizing and stopping when we overprocess things in our lives, but the issue is actually incredibly more complex than that. Below, I identify and explain four main causes associated with the problem of overprocessing our lives and why they need to change.

“The customer comes first” mindset has been ingrained in businesses

One of the dehumanizing processes that is still implemented in business today is the “customers come first” model. This industrial age–idea remains a major problem in businesses today; holistically, to continue improving the quality of business and creating an incentive for employees to invest themselves in the company, high-level executives need to adopt an “employees come first” mindset.

External success for a business starts with internal success for its employees. Betsy Raskin Gullickson, editor of the Best Practices section of Strategic Finance magazine, provides insight on this idea through her 2008 article titled “A Corporate Virus?” Although “bringing the human dimension into business isn’t easy,” according to Gullickson, she qualifies that investment in the people who run the business will pay off in the long run (14). She states that “the problem is institutional, but the solution is personal,” which is exactly what the Human Processes Continuum hopes to do for businesses: find a contemporary solution for industrial age–problems.

Today, we live in a different business environment than that of the industrial era, one that is continuing to evolve, and old world management principles are no longer working. John Marshall, Senior Partner and Global Director of Strategy at Lippincott, and Graham Ritchie, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Hill Holiday, co-authored a piece titled “Welcome to the Humans Era” that discusses how brands need to initiate change to appeal not only to the customers, but to the employees as well. Now more than ever, customers want to invest in the companies they purchase products from, and this is why we see so many startups sharing their brand mission and story with the world. If customers see that companies support a cause or that its employees are proud to associate themselves with that company, they are more likely to pay attention to that business.

A shortsighted focus on results and efficiency instead of actually knowing your audience

Highlighting the need for sharing a business’s story and narrative, Marshall and Ritchie state that “there is great value to be unlocked by identifying and activating valuable connections, inside and outside the company” (9). In the past, a business’s mission used to be solely to deliver the service it was advertising and then transition to adding something unique to make it stand out among other companies. Now, customers not only search for companies that deliver the service they are looking for, but they look for a company that speaks to them on another level.

David Aaker, Vice Chairman at Prophet, specializes in brand strategy. He notes that “brands that do [have personality] have a significant advantage in terms of standing out…. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.” In other words, when a business has a personality, it appears less commodified and more humanized, therefore taking that extra step to become more valuable to its customers.

Commodities are replaceable, and businesses that lead with a results/selling mindset often fall into the trap of being viewed as such. We have become the most productive workforce in the world that is also the least engaged. Adding a “human” dimension attracts and retains both employees and customers as they see that the business has a mission and a voice to accomplish a larger goal with the support of its customers.

The prioritization of short-term wins over long-term success

Most of western culture values quick fixes and short wins over long-term thinking. Suzan Lewis, Richenda Gambles and Rhona Rapoport, coauthors of an article published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management, acknowledge that “quick fixes can be appreciated in the short term… . [but] Long term sustainability remains in question” (368–369). This statement presents the problem that while short wins seem acceptable on a surface-level, real issues within a company that run deep will continue to be ignored and pushed back, therefore resulting in even larger problems.

Gullickson also provides more insight on the benefits companies (and individuals) can reap if they start considering long-term effects: “If and when we resist the urge to find a quick fix and stay open, insightful solutions emerge from the collective unconscious” (14). Here, Gullickson’s statement exemplifies the positive possibilities that can originate from patience at the start to get things right the first time. This is a key principle in the Toyota Kaizen philosophy that, in turn, creates efficiency by building a collection of short term wins aligned with the long-term vision.

Additionally, Marshall and Ritchie also shed light on a concept that businesses utilize and should transition to using on a consistent basis: transparency. They state that “they [human communications] involve a willingness to talk about the hard stuff, the ugly stuff. …People demand the same from how brands tell their stories today — transparency, a willingness to engage on their terms and timeline, acknowledging flaws, and putting forth a plan to improve” (Marshall and Ritchie, 9). In this, it is evident that the coauthors identify transparency as one way to initiate a business’s transition from emphasizing short wins to valuing the long-term success — a transition that will culminate by developing beneficial processes for all components of a business.

Management either helps a business thrive or turns it toxic

“If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that organisational cultures, and the people we employ and the way we manage them, are critical to the way businesses perform — or, where cultures turn toxic, fail to perform,” said Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD. Essentially, he accentuates the idea that management will either make or break a company from the inside. Solely focusing on the end-product for customers continues to be a major problem for businesses.

Instead, embodying a more “human” approach to building a company’s culture will increase employee retention and improve business performance simultaneously. What Cheese warns us about is that if business leaders remain in the past and fail to acknowledge that society is transitioning to become more transparent and empathetic, those businesses that do not change their processes to be more human will not be able to compete.

“Change or Die” is a phrase that has been recently utilized by business leaders at conferences around the world, and now we’re seeing it occur. Companies are dying off, there’s no more time to discuss or theorize, and it’s time for businesses to change so they can stay in the game. Slow down and give everyone a moment to breathe — really “put people first,” leading from the inside out with employees, then customers, then society, and invest in the game long-term. We’re not here to kill ourselves; we’re here to enjoy life. With HPC, I aim to serve as a facilitator to help C-suite leaders answer the crucial question of how exactly to put people first. To combine a love for people with expertise in operations/processes and apply that to businesses, the Human Processes Continuum — a pragmatic set of simple tools — helps business leaders analyze their companies in an introspective way. I’d love to share that with you here.

Feedback is very important to me, and I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts and insight. Do you see this as a “problem” in your workplace? Are there other “problems” you identify that aren’t discussed here?

Please connect with me on my social accounts @HilaryCorna, contact me on my website, and follow me on LinkedIn (even if we’re already connected). Thank you!

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Works Cited

Aaker, David. “6 Ways Your Brand Personality Should Add Value”. Prophet, 6 May 2015, www.prophet.com/2015/05/229-6-ways-your-brand-personality-should-add-value/?utm_source=aaker&utm_medium=linkedin.

Cheese, Peter. “Running the Numbers”. People Management, Feb. 2015, p. 5. EBSCO Host, cacheproxy.lakeforest.edu:3725/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=12&sid=bbd3a01d-a9ea-4dbc-ad2d-95b6abebdc0c%40pdc-v-sessmgr04

Gullickson, Betsy R. “A Corporate Virus?” Strategic Finance, Sept. 2008, pp. 2–3.

Lewis, Suzan, Gambles, Richenda, and Rhona Rapoport. “The constraints of a ‘work-life balance’ approach: an international perspective”. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, volume 18, no. 3, March 2007, pp. 360–373.

Marshall, John, and Graham Ritchie. Welcome to the Human Era, e-book, LinkedIn SlideShare, 11 Jun. 2014.

CEO | Founder of The Human Way | Bestselling Author | New book #UNprofessional out 9/21 | Host of the UNprofessional podcast | As seen in Forbes, Fortune, WSJ

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