Can you rehumanise the firm?

‘Rehumanising’ is (I’m from the UK, so no humanizzzz’s here, sorry) in. It’s hot. We have rehumanising banks (obviously); rehumanising education (to stop children turning into bankers); we have rehumanising the web and law and technology, even the unemployed or the homeless (or our perceptions of those poor burgeoning precariat ranks – so many welfare queues leading to those pesky good for nothing bankers again).

We also have of course the media/political call to somehow rehumanise the firm. To make it, I’m guessing: more open and transparent, diversely populated, ethically run and socially ended – in short, to make it as people-friendly as it has recently become – for the most part – eco-friendly (by people I mean both in how the firm relates and treats the people who work for it, buy from it, and put up with it). 

Of course, this begs the question: Have all leaders and managers up till now been faced with no choice but to screw dear ole grandma out of her savings and stick a radioactive pipe into the local duck pond? Did the short-term bottom line big business-Wall St-shareholder model (still alive and well) short circuit the right choice, the moral choice, pushing everything and everyone straight past go to risk (or jail)? Does capitalism naturally create mindless dehumanized greed-is-good zombies in the way that totalitarian regimes did/do….ok, analogy too far. But let’s not reimagine the consequences of what’s happening here: just like all all-or-nothing ideologies there are winners and losers: capitalism kills, even if it does so by segregating the dream. And never has that dream been so segregated, or fractured. 

Of course, some people point to India, to worthy brands ‘embedded’ in their local communities and whose health and educational initiatives show that you can be like the Cadbury of old and care for people, raise their boats with yours for the good of all. But then, isn’t this just a common sense business decision? Educate and improve the life of the workforce and they work harder? I never did fall for altruism anyway. 

A lot of people – me included – think that people are just people. Good and bad and all the shades inbetween. Prone to making the wrong choice, happy to be paid to forget the consequences of their action’s fine print, but also capable of extraordinary – but not unselfish (everyone has to eat) – acts of thoughtfulness and kindness. More good than bad, but good that can turn bad fast when influenced by others, by their environment, by power structures and silly clothes and the fictions of office and state, but who given the chance again and a third way might just have done better – or done something that really matters anyway. Just people. Not getting more or less moral or rational. Just people. 

What I do think matters for firms is that they start with that: the reality of what it is to be a firm full of people. Then lock HR and Risk in a room together and ask them to work out what rehumanising their business means to them. What does it mean for the board as well as the shopfloor, and how the two work together. What does it mean to the culture of the business, to the way the business is perceived and run by all stakeholders – presuming for a moment that all those stakeholders ultimately care too, or can be made to. A stretch, but worth the effort. But then, a lot of people scoffed when the first companies went green and now no brand can be green enough.

If you’re interested in this stuff, please download – free (no registration) the white paper, Human Capital Risk – Rehumanising the Firm

And let me know what you think.


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