This week yet another movie about robots – Age of Ultron, the latest in the Avengers series – opens in theaters. Age of Ultron follows Ex Machina and Chappie, also featuring robots, in just the past 2 months. Usually, the storyline revolves around how ‘human’ the robots have become. They seem to develop feelings that are very human-like. How can you not like the lead robot from WALL-E? It’s understandable that robots are such a popular topic – computing power and artificial intelligence are growing exponentially and there is curiosity, conjecture and concern about what this means for the human race.
For me this brings about the question, ‘Why don’t we have movies about people being human, in a positive way, with each other at work?’
My question reflects my bias of course. Would people actually go to a movie about people being ‘human’, in a positive way, with each other at work? Probably not.
I would maintain though that humankind would benefit more from effectively engaging with each other as humans at work, than from teaching robots to be human.
The Scary Costs of Not Engaging Effectively
The costs of not effectively engaging people as humans at work are huge. The following reflect, in part, our ineffectiveness in managing the human element at work.
These are scary numbers – any robot would say they are ‘illogical.’ Is this enough to convince you that this should be a major focus for employers?
What About Your Company?
How is your own company doing at engaging employees? Consider this:
- Have you defined ‘healthy’ values for your organization?
- Does your hiring process assess candidates’ attitude and fit in the organization?
- Do you select managers on the basis of their ability to build relationships and positively influence?
- Does your organization create an environment that helps meet the basic emotional needs of your employees for safety, connection, growth and control over their work?
- Do you create an environment that enables key teams to develop trusted working relationships that result in healthy conflict, alignment and commitment to the team?
Can you put a YES next to any of these questions?
The reality for most organizations is that they aren’t able to consistently make any of these happen. Remember those scary numbers above?
Why Does This Happen?
If you ask 10 people, you would get 10 different answers. Here are the top three drivers that I believe make it difficult for organizations to effectively engage employees as humans at work.
Reason #1 – Human Nature
When humans work together, it is easier and safer to hide behind the façade of your position. But it is just that – a façade. As humans, we interpret every communication through our emotional filter. For leaders, it is especially hard to let the façade down and be authentically human. To be authentic, you have to be open and honest about your strengths, limitations and how you are feeling. It’s called being vulnerable. One of the biggest fears of those in the highest leadership level is to be found out as incompetent. It’s hard to let your guard down if you can’t face that fear. But, if you can let your guard down in a productive manner, you can develop trust with your team.
There is also the fear of managing people as humans instead of chess pieces. With humans, you get the full gamut of emotions, reactions and sometimes, irrational behavior. Who wants to manage all of that? Most leaders and managers want to deal with people at the task level. Many don’t want to and/or don’t know how to deal with the human side of management.
Reason #2 – Our Legacies
History is powerful. We are, at this moment, a result of everything that happened prior to now. That sounds very simple but the implications are huge. This plays out in several ways:
- The predominant management philosophy is based on breaking work down into collections of roles and tasks in the form of ‘jobs’ with a defined hierarchy. You fill the jobs much like you set up pieces on a chessboard – one king, one queen, two rooks, a bunch of pawns, and other pieces as needed. Many organizations align their management practices around the employees in those roles as if they were chess pieces and not humans.
- History affects how we select leaders and managers. We often base our selection on their performance in their previous role. The classic example is the sales manager who was an excellent sales person, but doesn’t have the skills or preference to relate to, and influence, others to be excellent sales employees. Why don’t organizations make better hiring decisions for leadership positions? One of the biggest is the practical reason that it’s harder to assess influencing skills than it is technical skills.
- On an individual level, if you have never worked for or with an effective manager, how can you learn to effectively manager others? If you have never worked in a healthy work environment, what do you expect and how do you behave when you walk into your next workplace?
- Another aspect of our legacy is how society portrays work. Are there any movies or shows that portray working environments in a positive manner? That would be boring. Instead, the opposite is displayed for its entertainment value. Does that establish the expectation that people should dread going to work?
Reasons #3 – Short Term Focus on Survival
Many companies are focused on survival. The business world is incredibly competitive and it is not uncommon for companies to focus on just meeting their next quarterly numbers. This can result in decisions that may help drive sales or profitability to the detriment of the long-term health of the organization. Layoffs, cutbacks, and reduced spending on training come to mind.
Many companies don’t want to invest the funds, time, and energy into developing positive human relations. Their leaders and managers are working 60+ hours a week and don’t have the time and energy to invest. Also, many don’t place a high value on them, or they don’t see a direct contribution to the bottom line – at least in the short-term. Unfortunately, many have never been in a company or team that values positive employee and team relations. What they miss are the many long-term benefits of these positive human relations at work, which have been well documented.
What Highlights Would You Include in Your Movie?
Robots won’t be the stars – you will be the star of your movie. You have successfully created a positive work environment where employees can be human, have their needs met, and help propel your company to success. Maybe your highlights include:
- Engaged employees with good, if not great, emotional intelligence who put in the extra effort to look out for your company and the customer.
- Top talent striving to get into your company.
- Delighted customers who receive tremendous service from your employees.
- A cohesive leadership team with high trust, open debate, commitment, accountability and outstanding business results.
- A happy you walking into work!
Tell us in the comments, what movie would you want to make?
Join us next week when we discuss ‘Going Up and Down the Ladder of Inference: Dealing with Emotional Reactions and Conflict at Work.’