Bringing the Human Being Back to Work

An organization—any organization—is a bunch of people working together towards a common goal. We often lose sight of this simple idea. Managers become obsessed with processes, procedures, methods, and systems. We’ve dehumanized the workplace. Although many would argue that the workplace was never humanized. We’ve learnt to systematize, homogenize, process, and mechanize human work. We’ve forgotten that the human being is at the center of work.

Consequently, we performance manage people at work. They receive a job specification and job description, submit to a performance appraisal once or twice a year, all in the name of performance management. In between these performance management rituals, the employee is expected to follow instructions, not upset the apple cart, and stick to the straight and narrow. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, people are viewed as a resource; a small cog in a large wheel of production.

We label people at work, “human capital,” or worse: “human resources.” These labels dehumanize people and turn them into an abstract piece of the machinery of production. There are technological resources, administrative resources, financial resources, and human resources. Human beings are expected to leave their humanness at the door of the business and become a business resource to be manipulated to achieve certain business outcomes.  

The business world is a cold, clinical, rational domain, devoid of humanness. Human resources—which has become an industry in its own right—has complicated things in their attempt to legitimize its existence. We have downsized, upsized, and rightsized the workforce. We have upskilling and multiskilling our human resources. We have function-based work, project-based work, key performance indicators, and key result areas. And so on. Where is the human in all this jargon?

But at one level, we sense this dehumanization process. It leads to Dilbert-like jokes and parodies such as the Office on TV. We’ve lost sight of the fundamentals. Organizations need to be consistently high performing, maneuverable, and agile. To achieve this, we need to get the best from people. Enterprises need—more than ever—a competitive or adaptive advantage in a hyper-competitive and warp speed marketplace. The cliché we keep hearing and using is that people are our competitive advantage. But we make the workplace less human, not more human.

My quest is to bring the human being back to work. How can the human being we put front and center of organizational life? How can we get people to act as they would outside the workplace? What do leaders need to do to make this happen? Why isn’t it happening now? What are the roadblocks? These are the big questions I explore .

This isn’t necessarily about being caring, gentle, and kind. Although more of that wouldn’t go astray! There’s a pragmatic rationale to this. The aim is to get the best from people; to invite their human spirit into the workplace. The enterprise and uniqueness of humankind is what’s missing in our work settings. Why is it, for instance, that people act differently at work from home? And what can we do to break down these barriers?

Conversation: The most powerful and most underestimated tool we have to humanize work, holds the answer. We aren’t having conversations anymore at work. And I’m not necessarily referring to the tough conversations; I’m referring to ANY conversations. Far easier to press a button and send a text or email. We rationalize that it’s faster, and easier; it saves time. And “time is money.” But is it necessary effective?

Free Webinar - Performance Conversations that Make a Difference

I'd like to continue this conversation with you. Join me on Friday 27th  of May at 9:30am (AEST) for Performance Conversations that Make a Difference.  You can register here.

Typically, managers don’t spend enough time having performance conversations with their team members. This is largely because they perceive it taking too much time, making little difference, and ‘not wanting to open a can of worms.’ This presentation looks at some simple—but effective—conversation frameworks that make a significant difference in performance. These conversations are practical, easy to use and highly effective. Simply register here.

Get your signed copy of Conversations at Work here.

Dr Tim Baker is a thought leader in organisational change and leadership development, bestselling author, and international consultant. Having consulted across 21 industries in 11 countries over 18 years, Tim has discovered what makes people tick. To find out more, go to WINNERS-at-WORK Pty Ltd.

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