By Dr. Sunnie Giles —
In the industrial era, what made companies successful was how efficiently they produced physical goods. Those who delivered outputs most cheaply won. It gave rise to bureaucracy and management tools such as time and motion studies, the Balanced Score Card, Six Sigma, Linear Programming, and Enterprise Resource Planning. All of these tools were designed to improve efficiency, solving for known variables in a stable business environment.
In the process, businesses had to optimize all inputs, including raw materials, equipment, and even people. Corporate legal departments systematically tried to eliminate all elements of emotions in the workplace because they are messy and unpredictable. But emotions and touch are the basis of human connection. This has resulted in a loneliness epidemic and the highest suicide rates and prevalence of depression in history.
Today, the business environment changes so rapidly that it is described as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. In this VUCA environment, those who don’t learn and change as fast as the environment are bound to face extinction. The basis of competition has changed from efficiency to learning and innovation.
Humans cannot learn unless and until they feel safe and connect with others first. The best way to stimulate learning and innovation is to provide psychological safety; let people self-organize, maximize their unique talents and ideas, and connect them in a way that produces forward momentum as an organization.
To win in this new environment, businesses must harness our messy idiosyncrasies and emotions to free people to connect with each other as human beings and restore humanity in the workplace. We have extraordinary physiological mechanisms built in our DNA, which are designed to facilitate human connection. Doing so not only makes you successful as a business, it also makes people’s lives so much more meaningful and fulfilling.
The new desired leadership trait is not charisma, vision, or deep technical expertise. It’s about asking questions, providing safety and connection, growing learning, and keeping harmony with the environment, taking into consideration the far-reaching consequences of business decisions on suppliers, partners, the next generation, and the environment.
We have much to make up for the sins of our past generation of leaders. Those who work human, and learn and adapt quickly, will create an ecosystem that will be a radical innovation in their industry.