Nothing personal

What does the phrase Don’t take this personally bring to mind?

Being fired?

Not being selected for the new project team?

Being assigned a task you don’t want to do?

Who’s kidding whom? These things are very personal.

I’ll never forget the time I had to lay off half my team. The personnel manager and I went through our routine. We put a large size box of Kleenex on the desk. One-by-one we called in half a dozen people, all close friends, and told them they were great, this was not about them, it was nothing personal, but they had the rest of the day to clean out their desks and depart.

People are emotional beings. We take everything personally.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, business has tried to cover this up. Management by spreadsheet is easier if workers are interchangeable parts. No messy emotions to get in the way.

But the business world is embroiled in great change. At the Stoos Gathering and other efforts to humanize management, participants are concluding that machines work well when you need to do the same thing over and over, but they’re not so hot when doing different things is required. Denser interconnections have transformed the world into a vast complex system. The past is no longer a guide to the future. Small things have enormous consequences. Logic breaks down. Shit happens. Everything’s different.

These days it’s more productive to think of organizations as organisms. Managers become stewards of the living. Their role is to energize people, empower teams, foster continuous improvement, develop competence, leverage collective knowledge, coach workers, encourage collaboration, remove barriers to progress, and kill off obsolete practices.

Living systems thrive on values that go far beyond the machine era’s dogged pursuit of efficiency through control. Living systems are networks. Optimal networks run on such values as respect for people, trust, continuous learning, transparency, openness, engagement, integrity, and meaning.

Business is emotional and is becoming more so. I aim to help corporations bring emotions out of the closet. Our forthcoming mobile app is part of that effort.

Business managers have a lousy time even talking about emotions and “the soft stuff” because they don’t know how to measure it. This has made it difficult to show the financial impact of having happy or languishing work teams. Even though it’s obvious that happy workers make customers happy, skeptics want “proof.”

Our app, Blips, measures happiness, satisfaction with life, and optimism by individual over time. This enables us to correlate changes in happiness to business results. Investing in the happiness of workers becomes a sound business investment. The app will debut at Online Educa in Berlin next month.

Now in its 18th year, Online Educa is the largest international e-learning event for the corporate, education and public service sectors, with over 2000 delegates from 100 countries. I’ll be back for the tenth year because this is the networking event where high-level decision makers shaping the industry come together.  Fittingly, this year’s theme is Reaching beyond tomorrow.

We will encourage Educa participants to record their happiness on their iPhones several times a day. A large monitor in the Marlene Bar will display aggregate statistics in real time. It might show the happiness of business people vs. academics, German women as opposed to British men, or married people and singles. (All individual data will be anonymized to protect individual privacy.)

We’ll also have a discussion about bringing emotion into business, how individuals can become more emotionally intelligent, pinpointing stress and wellbeing in teams, and the politics of making major changes in organizations.

“Personal business” usually describes what you do when not at work. We’ll need a new term soon, because we’re finding that all business is personal.


Latest research on happiness and well-being

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