"It is ironic that a significant advance in technology . . . would shine a light on our need to have more human organizations, but that’s exactly what’s happening."

- Humanize, page 91

We live in a social world, now even more so as a result of the dramatic increase in social media.  Technology has changed every aspect of our lives, and yet we continue to work in organizations with processes and policies that have not changed in decades.  The authors of the book Humanize, Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, argue convincingly that organizations must completely redesign the way they operate, so the social way they connect externally with their customers is aligned with how they connect internally with their employees as well.

“…until we understand how our organizational cultures are often incompatible with the principles behind social media, we are destined for failure.”

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Command and Control is Over

"Social media . . . was born out of a culture that was almost diametrically opposed from command and control. Its basis of power is the distributed end user, [not] the centralized author of the software."
- Humanize, page 71

With distributed power in the hands of all users, interactions become one-to-one, not one-to-many. The same is true in organizations who want to thrive in the social media world – creating environments which are open and based on trust means not every tweet requires approval, and employees have much greater say in how their work is defined and implemented. The authors are careful to say that this isn’t a free-for-all – targets and metrics are still required – but the days of annual strategy meetings and power from the top need to be set aside in favour of dynamic organizational structures, perpetual planning and greater involvement from employees in defining how work is done.

“We need to create organizations that people are eager to join . . . where people will invest the same kind of energy, time and passion, quite frankly, that they put into interacting through social media.”

So where do we begin? How do we tackle this daunting prospect of completely revolutionizing the way we work?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Allow Leaders to Be Human

"Social media is teaching us that building relationships means sharing some of our true selves."
- Humanize, page 112

Past models of leadership encourage leaders to be inspirational, but many have interpreted this as a need to convey almost unrealistic images of power, strength and invincibility.  Organizations would be far better off being able to openly talk about failure and how to recover from it, than trying to maintain a perfect front.

Social leadership requires a willingness to be vulnerable, because taking risks involves failure, and learning from those failures can only happen if we openly acknowledge and discuss what happened.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Open, Trustworthy, Generative, and Courageous

"Organizations need candour the way the heart needs oxygen."
- Warren Bennis, quoted in Humanize, page 167

Being open, trustworthy, generative (or capable for perpetual production) and courageous – these elements are chosen by the authors as critical components for social leaders because they believe they are the highest aspirational components of what it means to be human, as well as being “at the heart of the unbelievable growth of social media.”

These four tenants are further defined by the authors in their “Trellis for Humanizing

Organizations”, which are then applied across culture, process and organizational behaviours.

The four elements translate into specific changes within organizations. For example, the authors talk about increasing access to information through data sharing and strategic conversations at all levels, as well as moving to dynamic, perpetual planning cycles, with processes that have broader employee input. The authors encourage us to be transparent in how these ideas are developed and incorporated into project plans for implementation.  Employees don’t expect every idea to be implemented, but want to understand and influence how those decisions are made.

The book also discusses the importance of building true learning organizations – where personal growth and development is expected and nurtured, again where failure is acknowledged and openly discussed, both in terms of encouraging risk taking as well as making iterative changes to enhance the organization and its outcomes.

There are so many ideas from this book, and it would be impossible to summarize all of them here. The book is packed with examples of organizations and leaders who already “get it”, as well as links to checklists and referrals to other great books recommended by the authors.

I believe many organizations are trying to figure out how to treat employees as people, not simply as other capitalized commodities, but it will be a long process unless passionate individuals at all levels lead the way. Organizations need to move beyond treating employees as “human resources” and instead, treat them as people. I’m not sure the term HR will be able to survive long-term, and certainly not in its current form. Dramatic changes are needed there too if organizations truly want to embrace the human elements of being social.

Organizations have talked about the need to improve employee engagement for years. Humanize shows us that the rules of engagement have changed, and we need to use the lessons learned from social media to finally create organizations that inspire us and engage us as human beings.

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Alyssa Burkus

ABOUT Alyssa Burkus

As a consultant, I work with entrepreneurs and senior leaders through periods of significant change in their organizations, by delivering strategies, new programs, and coaching to build the workplace foundation they need to shift their company to new levels...
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