Word to the Wise: Building a Human Company in a Machine Age
Artificial intelligence. Robots. Smart automation. A World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs” report predicts that machines will perform more than half of all labor by 2025.
But machines can’t replace humans. In fact, the jobs that machines can’t do are those that rely on the judgment, capability, talent, and experience only humans can offer—and these are the same qualities that make a company an interesting place to work.
In one of his well-known TED Talks, consultant and author Tim Lebrecht suggests that organizations must focus on building a “radical new humanism” to accommodate employees’ needs for what he calls a “beautiful” rather than purely efficient organization.
Lebrecht offers four principles to help business owners do so:
1. Do the Unnecessary
Lebrecht’s premise is that going beyond what is merely necessary creates joy. Lebrecht cites the example of Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s giving company stock to all of Chobani’s 2,000 employees. This surprise decision fostered a culture of connection and loyalty between the company and its employees.
As a business owner, perhaps there are ways to “do the unnecessary” at your company—ways that would surprise and delight your employees, customers, vendors, and others. Even small, unexpected gestures have an impact.
2. Create Intimacy
A recent Harvard Business Review article suggests that finding purpose and satisfaction at work depends as much on relationships as it does on the job itself. Lebrecht agrees, advising that relationships with coworkers are key to how employees feel about their jobs.
To foster relationships requires intimacy, Lebrecht says, promoted through “small moments of attachment.” Erasing hierarchy, taking risks, and sharing stories—including disappointments—breaks down barriers and creates bonds.
How would this work in your company? Consider ways to strengthen relationships through small moments shared between various levels of management and disparate coworkers. This will require deliberately organized opportunities for interaction, whether on a retreat or at other company gatherings designed to encourage connection and communication.
3. Be Ugly
In Lebrecht’s view, ugliness involves authenticity. It includes speaking the “ugly truth” and bringing unpleasant issues and difficult problems to light. This truth-telling requires executive confidence, strength, and good listening.
For example, one company created an “ugly room” with a wall dedicated to the problems involved in overhauling one of its business units. Employees were invited to name and ask questions about the challenges of improving the unit’s performance. Only then, with all the issues uncovered, could they move on to solutions.
It’s likely that your company has a problem that could benefit from such harsh scrutiny. What’s standing in the way of improved performance? You might want to invite analysis of such “ugly” issues—even those deemed beyond criticism due to company politics and tradition.
4. Remain Incomplete
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” What Lebrecht is getting at in this principle is the idea that uncertainty isn’t bad. Indeed, it is the essence of experimentation, which drives innovation, which in turn propels organizational success and increases value.
In practice, this means that you don’t need all the answers to move in a new direction. Remaining incomplete leaves room for creative solutions and novel thinking—the kind of advanced ideas only humans can contribute.
Keep It Interesting
Consider these four principles and how implementing them in your business could make your company a more engaging place to work. Do what you can to keep your company “human” in face of increased automation.