Simon Terry

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Why Work Must Be Human

The future of work must be more human. As we move deeper into a networked knowledge economy we can already see the fractures of the traditional industrial management model.  

Taylorist scientific management that underpins much of traditional management can be so abstract in its consideration of the human role in work that it can border on a psychopathic level of detachment. There are many examples where the parallels between sociopathy and management have been drawn. Some even go far enough as to recommend it.

How to become a corporate sociopath:

  • Lose empathy: refer only to customers and employees as acronyms, abstractions and averages (see FTE, Engagement score, Customer Satisfaction, Average handle-time, NPS, etc)
  • Lose ethics: Compromise your values to maintain your power & your position first in small decisions and then in decisions with larger influence over time (see Management, Hierarchy, Goal-orientation) 
  • Culture: Surround yourself with a culture that glorifies anti-social behaviour and down plays human elements (see Results-focus, Hard management skills, Efficiency, League ladder, Bell-curve, etc)
  • Lose Reality: Learn to withhold information then to spin information to further your agenda. Slowly begin to believe your own spin and create an internal world that shapes your perception and decision making (see Personal Branding, Managing Up, Stakeholder relations, PR, Marketing, Excel model, Corporate Politics, etc)
  • Isolation: Isolate yourself from friends & community and develop an echo chamber for your own views (see Silos, Work/Life Balance, Corporate retreat, Business Networking, Travel, Staff, Yes Men, etc)
  • Paranoia: Develop a healthy sense of paranoia to survive (see Competitive marketplace, Corporate ladder, etc)
  • Be Bold: Start to judge leadership, power and status on absence of fear, willingness to tackle large scale and boldness of action. (see Go Big or Go Home, Burning Platform, BHAG, Too Big to Fail, Bet the business, etc)
  • Narrow Goals: Sacrifice discussion of the diversity of potential goals to chose a single abstract financial measure of success (see EPS, ROI, Make Plan, etc)
  • Power: Begin to see all living things as commodities subject to your power. (see Human Resources, Processes, Policies, Inputs and Outputs, Capital and Labour, GDP, etc)

All in a normal day in many offices…

Making Work More Human

Not all organisations suffer from sociopathy. They balance the inhuman thread in management with other considerations to retain a focus on realising the broadest of social and human outcomes.

Breaking the bubble of sociopathy in dysfunctional organisations takes effort. The steps are not that hard to practice:

  • Listen: Start to listen to the real human voices. Help others to speak and tell their stories. Help others to share their potential and contribute to a better organisation.
  • Engage: Find out other people’s goals. Help them to realise their goals and their potential. Invest time in working for others and understanding their needs more deeply.
  • Immerse: Spend time in the actual environment where work occurs talking to the people doing the work and the customers and community benefiting from the work. See the context and consequences of actions.
  • Reframe: Change the scale of decision making. Look at individual impacts as part of the process. Use names of actual people. Ask ‘what could we do to create more value?’ Ask ‘Is there another way to move forward without these impacts?’
  • Design: Recognise that policies, processes and products are built by and used by real people. Design to their needs and with their involvement.
  • Collaborate: Share your plans with others and allow them input. Let others help shape and improve your work.  Be transparent as to the strengths and weaknesses in this process.
  • Experiment: Test potential decisions. Make room to learn.
  • Lead: Encourage. Enable. Inspire. Don’t impose or impact.

Making work more human does not require us to abandon capitalism, to remove our results focus or be less ambitious. It may make work more challenging but it will also increase our sense of purpose and reward. 

Every employee in an organisation can ask for one or more of these steps to be added to a decision making process. One such request may be novel but it is rarely seen as a challenge to the authority of traditional management approaches. Introducing these techniques acts as a catalyst of change. The impact is to help make work more human. We are all the beneficiary of that action.


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