We often think about doing the right thing as something that comes with extra cost or added inconvenience or that lowers the short-term gain.

But what if that was wrong?

On the first episode of Human: unlocking workforce potential, Andy Young joins me to explore the exciting idea that building a truly human culture and focussing on traditional measures of growth such as profit and revenue are one and the same for today’s competitive and socio-political climate.

Andy is the head of Accenture’s Talent & Organisation practice across FS globally and leads the cross-industry capability for Agility and Transformation. He works with CEOs and CHROs on leadership, culture, organizational and workforce change, and the future of work.

Our recording with Andy took place in late March 2020. It’s important to call out that since then, not only has the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic increased, but the world has come together in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Investing in an inclusive, open and supportive workplace culture has never been more important. As we move forward with future episodes of the podcast series, we will have dedicated episodes that focus on inclusion and diversity. You can find out more about Accenture’s commitment to fight racism in this statement from our CEO, Julie Sweet.

The status quo is broken

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was ample evidence that many of us were struggling to bring our best selves to work. Accenture research has found that a staggering 27 Million working days worldwide are lost to absenteeism and under-motivated work. Other statistics about the global workplace show a lack of trust in organizations and that too many employees feel they do not have a voice in the workplace. Global productivity is declining.

“A good chunk of this is likely due to people not bringing their full human selves to work,” says Andy.

Of course, no one (I hope) starts a business or founds an organization with the intent of making the people who work there unengaged or unhappy. So how did we get here?

One simple explanation is that organizations—that is, groups of people coming together to achieve something—can be divided into two parts.

The first part is formal: the carefully crafted systems and practices the organization deploys to achieve its goals. The second part is informal. It’s unwritten, unspoken, sometimes unplanned stuff that shapes how the formal stuff gets done.

“The informal side—the human side—I think has been historically forgotten,” says Andy. “Throughout the 20th century, the idea has been to make organizations more bureaucratic and machine-like.”

In response to declining productivity and rising absenteeism, many organizations are starting to search for a different approach.

And they are motivated not just by a sense of altruism (often unceremoniously regarded as soft and fluffy), but by a keen-eyed drive to find competitive advantage and lead their teams to success.

The business case for a truly human workplace

The business case for a truly human workplace starts with the simple idea: the people in your organization are your biggest asset.

“Lots of organizations talk about this, but the way they behave betrays it,” says Andy. “But it’s true! Your costs, your future, your revenue: all are built on people. Your ability to transform your business, to create a future, to be agile—these all stand or fall on people too.”

This is why creating a workplace culture that allows workers to bring their whole selves to work can be a powerful advantage in business.

“This carries even with an old fashioned, shareholder-only view of the world,” says Andy, “because it impacts brand equity. Does the customer come back each time? Many businesses around the world align good employee experience with good customer experience. You can see when that’s not true.

“The founder of Southwest airlines puts it like this: Employees come first. If they are treated right, they make people happy. They use our products again.

“And that makes shareholders happy.”

How does a truly human culture feel?

So what does this look like when we get it right? Andy suggests thinking about truly human culture on three levels.

The first is an employee’s overall relationship with their place of work and their overall working life. Does their work, broadly speaking, fit their life right now?

The second is how the employee feels during key moments in both their life and career—which can be major moments of transition. Our experience over our first week in a new job, or during a medical emergency, or the birth of a child or even adjusting to a post-COVID new normal and other “moments that matter” can set a tone for our relationship with our workplace.

The shocking events in America since our conversation in March, make today a moment that matters for many Black employees, who will turn to their organisations and leaders to take authentic and meaningful action.

Third is the day-to-day experience of work. Does work treat us with decency? Does it feel like a human experience?

A workplace that feels human on all three of these levels is likely to bring out the best in its workforce—and succeed in the marketplace as a result.

Listen to the full episode

This post presents some of the most fascinating parts of my free-ranging conversation with Andy, but there’s really no substitute for listening to the whole episode.

You can hear the full first episode of Human here:

As always, I’d be delighted to hear your feedback on this episode and suggestions for future episodes.

I can be reached here—or you can leave your feedback on the podcasting platform.

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