There’s a trend for talking about the human side of work. Most of the big consultancies are on to it, whilst the media and the chatter-sphere are proclaiming an allegiance to this human future of work. But get behind the noise and there’s not a huge amount of real change going on. Organisations are fraught with the same dynamics and the same questions. How can we get more from less? How can we “align our people”? How can we realise “synergies” and boost productivity? Not so human.
To become more human, organisations need to grapple with some human fundamentals. Technology changes very fast, human psychology doesn’t. Much of what we know about the human condition now was known by the Ancient Greeks. We’re complex, messy, amazing and glorious. And we can’t become any less messy or complex or become any more amazing or glorious simply by virtue of walking through the doors or an office building, by signing an employment contract or attending a values workshop.
Our messy interiors interrogate, judge and fear the tidy, controlled exteriors of others. And in contemporary working life, “others” can’t be held at bay. Collaboration, partnering and team working are all essential skills for survival.
So, what to do? At the Human Change Agency, we believe that there’s a neglected superpower within all of us. One that has the potential to foster collaboration, to inspire change and enable innovation. It has been somewhat overlooked in leadership development, management training and change management and understanding it is a fundamental building block of a more human world of work. It’s empathy. For organisations to become more human, we have to be prepared to be more human. We have to step into the shoes of others, see the world from where they stand, and never assume that their responses will mirror our own.
This study was commissioned to deepen our understanding of this superpower – to discover what is known, in the management and psychology literature – about empathy in the world of work and particularly its role in decision-making.
The findings cover the two types of empathy, cognitive and affective, and suggest that tuning into, or inspiring, these states in different contexts or scenarios, could positively impact a more “human” approach to strategy and decision-making. The findings confirm that empathy can be developed, and have prompted us to think more deeply about what approaches might support that development in individual leaders and their teams. And most of all, they suggest that we are only scratching the surface of understanding the human side of organisations.
A more human workplace has to be more than a slogan, it has to mean engaging with humans as they are, not as we have conceptualised them, as “assets”, automata, or units of productivity.
At the Human Change Agency, we explore these ideas further, engage with the scientific, ethical and practical questions of what it means to develop more human-friendly workplaces. We hope you’ll come with us on this journey – the destination is surely worth it.
Laura and Sam
Human Change Agents