Humans work. It’s in our DNA – along with obesity, running late to meetings and knowing art when we see it (apparently). Hunting, gathering, farming, crafting and conquering the new world furrowed deep neural pathways to what has become a hard habit to break.
Why then, when most of us would be lost without it, are completely dependent on it – financially, emotionally and socially, and have become consumed by it, do so many people think work sucks.
If you doubt that, a recent study showed:
- 67% of employees aged 18 – 35 are ‘unhappy at work’
- 63% of people aged 30 – 35 feel work is a ‘disappointment’
- 59% said work does not give them the sense of purpose they are looking for.
Work sucks for two reasons:
First, we have managed to extract every ounce of humanity from work. It’s a functional, technical, resource driven, process dominated, task orientated world that can hardly muster a smile for the people that populate it. Humans, it turns out, like humanity.
Second, there’s a myth that the absence of humanity is because work is too focused on performance, but it’s really not. It is too focused on numbers, spreadsheets, emails, reports and meetings – but that has nothing to do with the kind of performance that produces results. And humans really, really like producing a result.
In other words, work today doesn’t give us what we had 200,000 years ago. Then, our ancestors hunted and gathered in tribes – supporting, encouraging and learning together. They knew what they had to achieve (survival), everyone took responsibility for the overall result, success was celebrated and the consequences of failure were clear (death).
Sadly, that kind of humanistic-performance culture is very, very rare in the modern world of work. Organisations just don’t prioritise and encourage support, learning, listening, ownership and caring for the needs of others or, bizarrely, the vigorous pursuit of goals, getting the job done, creativity, courage and a passion for excellence.
How to create a humanistic-performance culture.
The cultural guardians of old were Elders. Today, we call them leaders and they have the biggest impact on the inclusion of humanity and performance at work. Here are 5 practical ways to create a humanistic-performance culture (in a team or across the organisation):
1. Have a cultural vision. Don’t leave it to chance. Have a crystal clear picture of the culture you and your team want. Keep it simple and practical.
2. Talk about it – over and over again. Use multiple forums (big and small) to conduct this conversation. Tell lots of stories that win hearts and minds. Avoid PowerPoint.
3. Celebrate and share small, early wins. If it’s clearly related to your cultural vision make sure the largest possible number of people know what happened and why.
4. Don’t let things fester. Give cynics and non-conformists honest, constructive feedback about their behaviours straight away. Avoid promoting people that haven’t actively promoted your cultural vision – through words and deeds.
5. Get to new recruits early. Share your cultural vision at the interview – ask candidates what they have done – in the last week – to contribute to their teams culture.
At best, 1 in 1000 teams have a well balanced humanistic-performance culture. The overwhelming majority under emphasis humanity and performance at work – which is bad for the people, the institution and its shareholders. Ironically, changing that isn’t contingent on learning anything new – but unlearning new concepts that mask our evolutionary instincts: producing a result, innovating, growing and striving for the highest standard.