How Human Is Your Company?

How Human Is Your Company?

There is a difference between doing the next thing right, and doing the next right thing.”

– Peter F. Drucker

Online quizzes have suddenly become a “cheap – if vexing – form of modern self-analysis,” according to The Wall Street JournalIn a recent 24-hour period, 97 million people took a quiz to determine which Disney Princess “matched” their personality; 41 million people tried to determine which state is best suited for their personal traits; and 20 million sought to find out which city they should live in. As this tsunami of lightweight online quizzes engulfs the world, I think you would agree that it behooves us to try and take one that truly matters.

Let’s take a quiz that pinpoints how human the companies for which we work are.

It’s far from a trivial questionnaire, but rather a meaningful form of organizational analysis that gets to the very core of whether or not our companies and their workers will thrive in the new conditions of the 21st century. Taking the “How Human is Your Company?” quiz has a heck of a lot more at stake than figuring out if we’re more like Cinderella, Snow White or Mulan. That’s because assessing our company’s humanity also tells us about our company’s capacity for performance.

Yes, I said “performance.”

I’ll get to that connection in a moment, but first let’s get into corporate humanity. In the past several years, more and more companies have been asserting their humanity: Ally Bank speaks human; Chevron is the human energy company; Cisco is the human network; Dow is the human element; JetBlue says they “air on the side of humanity”; Samsung is designed for humans, and so on. The trend is so prevalent and so consequential that Ad Age has even pronounced “human” the newest marketing buzzword. What’s more, a recent MarketingWeek article reports on a study that describes a “societal shift in relationships that requires brands to behave like humans in order to connect with consumers and build trust.” (By the way, as more and more companies assert their current humanity it raises a question about their previous behavior – did these companies used to be inhuman, monstrous, or were they just inconsiderate?)

Sure, these proclamations can be casually dismissed as marketing campaigns, but keep in mind that marketers are supremely adept at understanding the current context in which their companies operate and pinpointing society’s social (read: human) nerve. We should celebrate the fact that some marketers have nudged their companies into a promise of humanity from which they cannot retreat. (Some of these efforts have even catalyzed companies into operating in a more human manner, as we have witnessed before. But we can’t stop there. The work of humanizing organizations must spread beyond the marketing department and permeate the whole organization.)

What does it mean for a company to be human? For starters, it means we want our companies to embody the best – not the worst – human capacities and qualities. Peter Drucker’s distinction between “doing the next thing right, and doing the next right thing” nails a profound difference between humans and machines. Getting the “next thing right” is what we program software and robots to do by giving them a script of what they can or cannot do. In the same vein, we have scaled a management model where we “programmed” – and still do in some ways – employees to implement or execute a strategy set by top management.

Doing the “next right thing,” however, is a uniquely human endeavor. It requires pausing – and then using that pause to think beyond what we can or cannot do to grapple with what we should or should not do. This act requires a moral conscience – one of the main differentiators between humans and other life-forms – which enables us to be thoughtfully conscious of all the stakeholders affected by our behaviors. While machines may beat humans in how fast or how much they can process or produce, our humanity is most manifest in how we do things: how we think, imagine, create, collaborate, share information and relate to others.

It is one thing to develop and manifest one’s humanity, but quite another to develop and scale it throughout an entire workforce. The upcoming Global Drucker Forum this November, where I am speaking, will address the responsibility of leaders to transform their companies into more human organizations so as to guide them onto a path of sustainable prosperity. The Forum brings a sharp focus to this critical issue, and in doing so highlights and amplifies the enduring relevance of Drucker’s teachings.

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