It’s an exciting time to work in business. Technology is advancing like never before. We have the increased automation of jobs, and the prospect of widespread AI on the horizon. We are able to work faster, smarter, and in more remote locations than ever before, in an increasingly diverse spectrum of roles designed to support the growth of technology.
With all of this going on, it is important that we don’t forget the very human side of our workforces.
For a very, very long time we have been guilty of treating our people as though they are a commodity. The evidence for this is everywhere, whether it’s requiring individuals to clock in and out of the office, insisting that they stick rigidly to an immovable working schedule, or deferring any tasks which result from unpredictable human behaviours to the much unloved and undervalued team formally known as Personnel… now, more commonly, Human Resources.
On a hiding to nothing
Take a look at that phrase for a moment. Human Resources. Its focus very heavily on the ‘resource’ element. A whole team devoted to the purpose of controlling that unruly resource which is essential for business success. If only it wasn’t quite so – you know – human.
Despite the incomparable value we all bring to our organisations – which is the reason we haven’t all simply been replaced by robots, and won’t be either, despite the dire warnings of what AI is likely to bring – our human nature has been treated as really rather inconvenient since the time that industry began. It’s the reason most businesses have so many realms of policy and procedure and red tape in place: an attempt to force that most unpredictable of resources to behave in an orderly and certain manner. They’re on a hiding to nothing you might think… and you would be right.
For a long time, as humans we have kind of accepted our categorisation as simply another resource. The brave or foolish might have rallied against it, but the majority of us have buttoned up our tight and restrictive smart-dress-code-compatible shirts, accepted the restrictions and rules that we are forced to work under, and got on with making the best of an often really rather miserable environment that we possibly could.
Not any more.
Damaging our ability to deliver
It’s well overdue, but finally both organisations and individuals alike are waking up to the fact that our human nature doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That, actually, it’s likely the greatest competitive advantage that our businesses have. Could it be that, all this time, supressing people’s individuality and forcing them to conform could actually be damaging our ability to achieve and deliver?
Turns out, it could. A factory full of robots will get you so far, but it will never get you beyond that point. A robot is not going to turn round one day and tell you: “You know what? If we made these changes to the production line, I reckon we could become twice as efficient.” A robot is not going to bravely summon up the courage to walk up to the CEO’s desk and tell her or him of an idea that they’ve had which will go on to form an entire new stream of revenue for the business.
But people will. When people are allowed to be themselves, are given freedom, are encouraged to treat their organisations as though they were their own… then people thrive. They become unafraid to take risks, and they start to think beyond what is simply being delivered, to what might one day be possible. In short, they are the greatest secret weapon you have, and if you are a business leader who hasn’t already created a working environment where the human nature of people is celebrated, then every day you fail to change that, you are missing out on your organisation ever being able to achieve its true potential.
And so I would encourage every single person reading this to go back to their organisation and to look with fresh eyes. Sure, there are some policies and procedures which will be essential, perhaps for health and safety or data protection reasons. But there will be hundreds more which are not, and which are positively stymieing your people’s individuality and freedom to deliver something amazing. Dress codes, fixed and immoveable working hours, excessively drawn out processes for sign off… all these do is to suggest that we don’t trust our people to behave like adults and make the best decisions for our business.
Our human natures are wonderful, unique, indescribably powerful things. In this age of increased automation and technological advances, let’s not forget that. Technology can deliver incredible things… but it still has nothing on the sheer power, intelligence and creativity of the human mind. Let’s create workplaces where to be human is to be celebrated, not to be stifled. Let’s bring the ‘human’ back into ‘human resources’.