Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Organization, People, Strategy

Humanity and Business

Can an organization be built on individuality with a focus on bringing humanity back to business?

I think so.

The modern day corporation was developed to build ‘stuff’.  To build ‘stuff’, organization was needed.  To keep the organization flowing, management was needed.  Management created processes, procedures, flowcharts, operational efficiencies, human resources, etc etc etc.

Many of these things are necessary to manage production.  To build a car, you have to have an assembly line that is run by processes.

These operational processes were built to take the humanity away from production.  Processes are built to force compliance into an agreed to standard of doing things.

Processes kill individuality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on the production line or in mission critical areas. You wouldn’t want an airline pilot to be flying be the seat of her pants…you want to feel comfortable in the knowledge that they are following a set of procedures.

Processes are a good thing for an airline pilot…but what about someone trying to work in Customer Service or in the marketing team of an organization?

This operational mindset fails when you move into other areas of business.  The people facing areas require a much more humanity driven approach.  In these areas, people should be allowed to be people. Employees should be allowed to speak with their own voice and use their given talents.

Look at Zappos as an example.  Their Customer service reps have the authority to do whatever it takes to make the client happy.  The service reps don’t read from a script or follow a process…they help their customers. They have the authority to recommend their comeptitors if needed.  I’ve even hear that they can buy from their competitors and have the order shipped overnight to the client just to keep them happy.

What does Zappos management tell their reps?  “Use your best judgement“.  Zappos allows their employees to be themselves and USE THEIR JUDGEMENT. That’s what I mean about bringing humanity back into business.

Zappos used this approach to reach $1 billion per year in revenue. That’s BILLION. They’ve gone from zero to $1 Billion in less than 10 years. What are the other shoe companies doing?   Building processes.  Building operational efficiencies.  etc. etc.

Amber Naslund touched on this subject a few days ago.  She asked the question “Why IS it so hard to be human?”  She writes:

We’ve always drawn lines between business and personal. We’ve been told not to cross the streams, that business and personal are expressed in different languages somehow, and as marketers, we sure as hell developed a vocabulary all our own for the “business” application (often whether or not anyone was speaking that way).

Zappos has kept things human and so have a few other companies that understand the power of letting their folks be themselves. By telling their employees to ‘use their best judgement’, Zappos is letting their employees wing it.

Amber touches on this a bit too. She writes:

Winging it makes businesses especially uncomfortable. We have strategic plans, business plans, processes, flowcharts, and procedures all designed to make sure we color inside the lines. That we reduce the variables and mitigate the unexpected.

Exactly.  Businesses have built processes to mitigate risk.  But these same processes mitigate humanity as well. They kill individuality.

Perhaps you’re calling me a knucklehead right now…I am….but that’s beside the point. Processes are OK. Processes are good for certain parts of a business. Just don’t kill individuality by processing it out of your employees.

The only real advantage organizations have today is their people. Technology and processes can be mimicked…people can’t.  If you hire the right people and let them loose to do what they do best, you can bring humanity back to your business.

Give your team some ability to wing it and you’ll see how much they’ll surprise you. They may even stick around after the recession is over if they feel valued and trusted enough….but that’s a post for another day.

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About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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[…] More here:  Humanity and Business […]

Jeff Pitman
Jeff Pitman
15 years ago

Eric, some food for thought .. There is no such thing as an absence of process.

At 3:38 in this video, Tony Hsieh starts with the phrase “Every rep is trained…”

“If we're out of stock, check 3 competitor websites and refer this to the customer.”

This is a process. It's a human-centric process. But, it is a process.

15 years ago

Thanks for that nugget Jeff.

You are correct. I never say get rid of processes…I say let people
be themselves. Process is important.

Zappos uses processes…I know they do. BUT they allow the process to
define the work not the people. That's my argument…don't build a
process that takes the humanity out of your business.

Thanks for stopping by!


[…] it with processes and management…I’ve written about this before in a post titled Humanity and Business“…jump over and read that post for more on the subject of bringing humanity back to […]

14 years ago

Me too! RT @ruisalgado I'm also a believer on bringing humanity back to business

14 years ago

I'm also a believer on bringing humanity back to business (check other great posts at @ericdbrown's blog)

15 years ago

Shared: Humanity and Business

15 years ago

New blog post: Humanity and Business