Monday, January 15, 2007

Managing A 'People' Company: Beyond A Workplace of Robots

At good workplaces, it's common to hear employees talk about working in "a people-oriented company," or to hear them say, "They treat you like a human being around here." Or, "You feel like you can be yourself." Employees of good workplaces assume that it's a normal part of their working environment to feel like a human being.
At the bad workplaces, many people feel their humanity is stolen from them at work. The 'robotic' application of organizational policies, systems, and procedures is becoming more and more a "daily humiliation" in some workplaces. Although talking about the concept of a 'people company' sounds subjective and abstract, scientific research proved that it is an essential approach for building a strong organizational entity and culture. It is a genuine necessity for maintaining the 'human side' of the enterprise. In fact good organizations cannot do otherwise because of the following reasons:
  • Human beings are unique, not applicable. No two human beings are alike. Each person has his or her own personality. Likewise, the organization gets distinctive contributions from its people. So, when an employee talks about being treated like a machine or a robot, he or she means, in part, that the employer doesn't recognize what makes each individual special. The organization cannot apply one relationship with all its employees. It should act in a way that indicate care, respect, and valuing people as people.
  • A human being is self-determining, not programmable. Human being can initiate and control their own actions within the constraints of social or organizational constraints. Both the objectives and priorities of the the organization must be accommodated. A kind of an 'organizational behavior' or rather a 'desired' one is developed. People who feel like a robot are suggesting they feel no latitude for their own initiative. They are merely following orders, with no ability to do tasks as they wish to do them. They are controlled, programmed by others, but a controlled workplace takes its toll, after a while, on the people working for the organization. When people are stifled, even their health suffers.
  • A human being, unlike a robot, is also capable of intelligence and has an emotional life. If people are treated as if they are mindless, their sense of dignity often refuses to let them play the roles they are given. Even though the workplace often dehumanizes people in this way, they find countless means to hold on to their sense of self-worth. Sometimes they do it by inventing games with themselves to make the work itself more interesting. Or they daydream on the job. Or they socialize with others. Or they find ways of subverting the boss.
  • Unlike robots which are limited by their programs, human beings grow and learn. Humans never stop acquiring knowledge and skills. In good workplaces, human growth is part of the system. Jobs are expanded as people gain more skill. People are given more responsibilities as they grow. The best workplace not only treat people as their most important assets, but they also learn how to call forth the best attributes from what a human being is-a creature that flourishes with trust. Conversely, to withhold trust is to dehumanize and to bring out the worst in people.

Having the above in mind, I tend to believe that if an organization wants to breed future leaders, the starting point for it is to build its culture on valuing people as a strategic asset and a competitive advantage. An organization of only managers who are competent in moving day to day business, and are well briefed in policies and procedures, could be 'one of the others,' but establishing market leadership is a completely different ball game.

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