The Rapidly Unfolding Rehumanization of Work and Life
How the Changing World of Work will Change Everything for the Better
“We talk about the need to be agile and resilient, yet every day we struggle to get out of our own way. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, half of our transformation programs still fail or spectacularly under-deliver on their promises. Why can’t we get the people projects working as well as our business processes and technology? How will our company ever catch up? " ~ Judy Madison**
This is what leaders say in private. They are worried. Transformation failure rates remain bad, really bad, lying between 40 and 70 percent across repeated studies. Since companies never broadcast failures, the actual number will never be known – but that doesn’t matter. Traditional corporations are changing very slowly at a time when they face real and growing competitive pressure from digital enterprises birthed in the cloud. However it is not just worrisome to be slow, it is very dangerous to company survival.
So, what must these companies do to successfully transform themselves? It’s simple. Business has already entered an era defined by empowered talent, where companies that know how to get the best out of their people win. You want speed? Guess what? Technology doesn’t move, people do. Workers are, and will remain, the only enduring source of competitive advantage. Finally, people count!!
We are witnessing a powerful shift towards a human-centric leadership paradigm, where servant leaders will reign. Treating people as interchangeable parts is now hazardous to your business. The Millennial generation, soon to be 50% of the workforce, has totally rejected the de-humanizing, toxic leadership model that workers labored in for the last 150 years. Why should only a handful of companies be celebrated as a best place to work? That is an unacceptable waste of human capital that destroys companies and lives.
The industrial era created a world where humans were taught to think, but not to feel; where students were praised and rewarded for spitting back facts better than the kid sitting next to them; where workers were dehumanized inside companies that emphasized and cared about processes, technology, and business knowledge even though 80% of individual and group success has been repeatedly tied to emotional intelligence. Understanding and valuing the human side of business has been a total blind spot even though there is nearly a century of research into industrial/organizational/social psychology, and now neuroscience. So, we have finally arrived at that moment where ignoring your corporate EQ is dangerous.
“So, given that, please tell me how is it possible that something as important as getting the best out of our workers was given lip service?”
Well, in the industrial era everything was about control. That era gave us the now dying top-down management hierarchy. It also gave us an educational system where 5 year olds were given a life plan that pushed them along a defined educational path like a part moving down an assembly line. Unfortunately the assembly line ended with a graduation where most individuals were left wondering, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” Is it even possible to design a more dysfunctional system than one that prevents kids from discovering who they are and what they love - their life mission – even after 18 years of education? Each year society ends up with millions of new graduates that know mountains of facts yet understand practically nothing about themselves or what makes people tick. This is the feeder system for corporate America’s leadership. Ouch.
When you compare decades of corporate transformation failures with the unrelenting performance improvement in our technology (devices, networks, storage) over a 60-year period, the contrast is stark. A $5 million dollar IBM System 360 mainframe shipped with only 2 million bytes of memory in 1965 versus 256 billion bytes on a high end iPhone 7 today. We have seen a quantum leap in one and almost no advance in the other.
"Why has the effectiveness of our human infrastructure failed to advance in parallel to our technology?"
Quite simply we focused on one and not the other. Our manufacturing roots led us to perfect the use of tools and processes not talent. During the industrial era “human resources” performed simple repetitive activities on complex assembly lines. The manufacturing processes and capital equipment were paramount not the people. And so it remains in most companies to this day. How to get the best out of people, is a blind spot.
This blind spot has led to some very poor business decisions like outsourcing deals where one set of highly experienced, productive, and tightly knit professionals are “swapped” with cheaper ones who have no institutional knowledge and turnover rapidly. What is the basis of the business case – measured productivity? No, just one variable: Hourly cost!
But there is so much more to talent than cost - especially in technology, where new solutions emerge every year, and hyper-specialization is the norm. Over time institutional experience becomes intimate understanding, competency grows, the pace of knowledge work quickens, accuracy increases and productivity grows.
Individuals turn into high performing teams, trust builds, and social capital grows along with the knowledge. As a leader the diverse productivity potential of talent is conspicuous. High performers have much more of what it takes to be effective: raw creativity, aptitude, extensive knowledge, and a shorter time-to-competency, which leads to broader and deeper experience.
Likewise team productivity varies greatly because work today is inherently social requiring deep and meaningful collaboration to transform anything. Organizations with the right blend of talent, healthy social environments and accumulated social capital are both fast and brilliant.
Beyond a doubt, professionals are not interchangeable parts; they are assets that must be grown. In order for companies to flourish they must build high aptitude teams; they must cultivate deep institutional experience because it has high productive value and they must leverage the emotional drivers of knowledge worker productivity - meaning, social cohesion, caring, harmony, collaboration, sharing, trust, openness, transparency, etc., - to stimulate higher levels of creativity and competitive advantage.
But none of this value will be unlocked unless leaders and workers understand the human side of business better than business processes and technology. Our professionals are the most expensive least understood tools. Companies need to recruit the best talent, nurture it and unlock the workforce’s full productivity potential by designing social environments where a healthy and positive chemistry enables the companies and workers to flourish together. We must accept nothing less.
Companies that understand this and embrace it, will win; the rest will pass into the history books like the dinosaurs that preceded them.
After all, such is life: “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see”.
A message from the PeopleProductive team:
We're thrilled to have your interest in our work and we invite you to join our mission of creating work places where the people as well as the company, both flourish. We welcome your support and participation. To find out more about this just reach out to us here!"
**Judy Madison is a fictitious character that helps us think through challenges of HR transformation. Any resemblance of any HR professional is purely coincidental.