"My strategy is that my people will be happy and have fun."
In Being Human: Why Robots Are Not the Answer to Business Success, Mark LeBusque makes a clear and compelling argument for more human management practices. Too often, organizations reward robotic behavior—follow the policy, hit the numbers, punch in and out on time. This over-reliance on process and control, that was adopted to support antiquated business models, is eroding happiness and productivity in the workplace. LeBusque’s solution is deceptively simple: he treats people like human beings. He tells the reader about how this simple wisdom has helped him lead teams that were smashing through targets (and were happy while doing so).
Be a Human, Not a Robot
"The system that promotes humans based upon technical competence and expects them to inspire and manage other humans is failing to drive up employee engagement and ultimately create an environment for humans to go the extra mile."
The problem is clear—too many organizations rely on outdated models and hierarchies that promote based on technical competence, not management aptitude. Furthermore, within those rigid hierarchies, any team leader who dares to adopt a more human approach, can be viewed with jealousy or suspicion.
LeBusque identifies seven steps to more human management:
- Change walk the plank to provide a safety net
- Change confusion reigns to provide clear purpose
- Change authority rules to create more acts of leadership
- Change speak when asked to listen and learn
- Change work defines you to balance is critical
- Change pigeon-holed to unlock potential
- Change constant state of distress or comfort to stretch to learn
Each of these steps have the same central message at their core: treat people like human beings. Robotic behaviors can be rooted out, but it takes a deliberate effort to build a culture where humanity is embraced. Take the notion of walking the plank: does your culture have a sink or swim mentality? Are your team members so terrified of making an error, and being forced to walk the plank, that they never feel safe to offer new ideas? If so, you likely have a team of robots, not human beings.
Trust is Essential
"You see, many managers have ‘capability’ as their trust killer. This is a selfish view based on how they would be viewed by others if one of the team members failed to deliver due to an issue with capability or competence. It completely removes any form of experimentation, challenge or innovation, as everyone looks to play a safe fame. It produces more robots and fewer humans."
LeBusque identifies three components to a trusting relationship:
- Motive: do you have my back?
- Capability: can you do the job?
- Reliability: do you do what you say you will?
He goes on to explain that motive is his most important element—do you have my back? If this element is not present in a working relationship, the other two components won’t get you very far. When you know, without a doubt, that your manager has your back and is working in your best interest, you have the freedom to offer up new ideas and solutions. If, as a manager, you know that your team supports you, and are motivated to provide great results, you can spend less time monitoring progress on deliverables, and more time soliciting new ideas and creative approaches to solving problems.
I once worked for an organization with a low degree of trust in their employees (and with a low degree of trust in senior leadership). The culture was tight-lipped, and a bit adversarial. At one point, I needed to access a library resource to help me complete a research project. When I asked my managers for permission to work off-site for an afternoon, they approved—but only after double checking that I was telling the truth about the database, and a whole bunch of jokes about how I should enjoy my afternoon off, asking if the library was code for the bar, and letting me know my “little field trip” was a privilege. It was clear that they barely trusted me. Those “jokes” didn’t help my already waning levels of engagement, and let me know that they didn’t really value new ideas.
The exact opposite is true at Actionable—I am trusted to do my work, when and where I will be most effective. I don’t need to ask permission to go to the library (or do my laundry, or go for a run, or take a break), I manage my own schedule. And though there are many factors that contribute, in this environment I am a highly engaged employee. I know that my managers, senior leadership team, and teammates all have my back. And I have theirs.
The First 5 Questions
"The trick to building trust early in the new relationship is to give the floor to an individual to allow them to tell their story before they have to listen to yours."
LeBusque provides a five question framework that he uses to get to know new members of his team. While the questions themselves provide a helpful roadmap for the conversation, the value of this process really lies in the act of making time to really get to know people, before they start changing themselves to fit into a perceived mold, or set of behaviors that are viewed as the norm. You give people space to tell their own story, not to simply tell you what they think you want to hear. The five questions are:
- What do you expect of me?
- What is your work style preference?
- How do you maintain balance?
- What do great leaders do?
- What are your most important values? Why?
LeBusque recommends setting aside 90 minutes, and using the 70/30 ration for this conversation: the leader should listen 70% of the time, and speak 30%. This allows enough room for your team member to take charge of the conversation and share freely about themselves, with enough support and dialogue to keep the conversation moving forward productively. I love this tactic for more human management—it’s simple enough to do today (go and put it in your schedule, I’ll wait), and yet the effects of creating strong bonds, understanding the humans who make up your team, and developing a safe and trusting environment, can be profound and lasting.
Being Human starts with a simple, but profound observation: we call ourselves human beings, but we spend most of our time doing. Robots do things, humans are. It’s time to flip the script, from doing our work (doing performance reviews, doing deals, doing back to back meetings), to being more fully human in our work (being present, being collaborative, being authentic). As LeBusque demonstrates in Being Human, the results from such an approach can come quickly—and he’s not just talking about feeling good at work, he’s talking about improved business outcomes across the organization.
How are you working to be more human at work?