“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” – Studs Terkel, Working, 1974
The pandemic has put us all to the test. It has challenged both our strengths and our fragilities. If anything, we have learnt that we can act and adapt, switching our routines and lives into something completely new. With courage, compassion, and fortitude, we can overcome significant obstacles.
One of the pandemic’s biggest teachings is that we should spend time focusing on ourselves and what really matters to us. But, separated from our friends, family, and colleagues, the pandemic also made us realise that our relationships are one of the most precious things we have in life. Arguably, it unearthed the value of something that we may have taken for granted.
Applying this realisation to the world of work, we should perhaps understand that businesses should become more human-centred. The truth is that most organisations across the globe, big or small, are simply groups of employees working in the service of other people. Although it is the human interactions that give value and meaning to one’s work, this is hardly reflected in the experience of many workers. Whether to make more profit or increase efficiency, plenty of businesses are crushing their staff with deadlines, targets, and to-do lists.
As things stand, the world is not full of human-centric organisations. But it should be. If businesses are not helping people flourish, gain valuable experience, or secure people a stable future, they are failing us.
Ultimately, organisations were created to serve us – not the other way round. There are companies that seem soulless, frustrating, relentless, and faceless. But, in the same manner that we have adapted to this new way of living, we can also act to change organisations to make them fit for human goals and development.
How can this be achieved? Let’s explore principles and practices that can be embraced to build human-focused businesses.
First principle – Commit to being a learning company
One way for an organisation to thrive is for its employees to grow and flourish too. Indeed, people prosper when they are learning, achieving, challenging expectations, and being given the opportunity to be innovative and creative. If organisations fail to appreciate this, they will end up hiring robots instead of humans, numbers instead of hearts, and assets instead of dreams and ambitions.
To help liberate potential, it is important to adopt a view that promotes learning and offers the freedom to gain experiences. This is not only in the interest of the company, as it will develop hand-in-hand with its staff; but this principle will also foster social, environmental, and economic conditions for humans to flourish in.
Second principle – Ecology is crucial
An organisation isn’t its own island. Instead, it is connected to wider social, environmental, and economic contexts, and depends on the external world too.
Therefore, there should be no boundaries between what happens within and without the organisation. It is important for all companies to work in a way that can constantly tighten the fabric of our shared systems. This encouragement of interaction and collaboration should be replicated inside the workplace. Nurturing a collective ecology in the organisation, in fact, can do wonders for a business and its team development.
Embracing these principles can go a long way in making companies more human-centric. But how can you implement them concretely? Here are three accessible practices.
Practice one – Build and value trust
Trust is an essential prerogative to fill the world with human-focused organisations. After all, human relationships are based on trust, and can only work if it is maintained between two or more people. It is, therefore, no surprise that, in business, high levels of trust can create high-performance environments. This is what happens in human-centric companies.
From senior leaders being honest and taking responsibility to open and transparent communication, human-focused businesses are places where trust is valued and helps to build effective human relationships.
Practice two – Ensure quality human-to-human interactions
Research shows that current performance management systems are not fit for purpose, as they use an instrumental and reductionist approach to support and encourage employees. In turn, this has a negative impact on the company’s performance.
Instead, leaders and managers should focus on providing their staff with an expert balance of challenge and support. Expert challenge is the process of helping people identify certain goals they need to achieve. Expert support, on the other hand, is the process of giving them the platform to actually achieve those targets.
Of course, this is no easy task. However, quality human-to-human exchanges can allow employees to flourish, and so will the managers and the company on the whole.
Practice three – People over jobs
Hierarchies within a business can be useful for linking expertise with responsibility. This said, someone’s position in a hierarchy should not determine who that person really is. Looking down at a junior employee will massively disrupt and impede their potential.
A human-centric organisation should always evaluate its staff’s potential, ambitions, and possible pathways. To make employees grow and blossom, companies should provide learning opportunities for everyone – irrespective of whether they are senior managers or apprentices. By treating everyone as equal human beings, rather than depending on their role title, companies will allow people to grow and significantly improve their performance.
In this respect, this short video provides a perfect example of how you should view a person, rather than their label or position in a hierarchy.
So, what are your thoughts? By understanding these principles and putting them into practise, we can gradually transform organisations into places that nurture people. With all we have learnt from the challenging pandemic years, it is time to take action. Value staff as human beings, pursue trust, and promote relationships and interaction – employee development is what every human-centric organisation should aim for.