The world around us is constantly changing, becoming faster, fuller and noisier. We’re conducting our relationships in different ways. Our family structures are shifting. Turbulent economies and new technologies are forcing us to find new ways to live and work. But among all this turmoil one thing stays the same. Our basic human nature.
We all share essential qualities that make us human, whatever our job title or take-home pay. We all like to be treated with respect. To be trusted. To be valued. To be heard and to belong. To laugh. And to connect with and respond to other humans.
In today’s volatile world, trust is the most powerful, valuable and yet elusive business currency. I’m sure this is because we’ve lost our way in terms of how we value people. Not only those who we serve, our customers and our clients, but also those who work with and for us.
Too many businesses have embraced technology at the expense of their people. They now prioritise technology and process over direct human interaction. However, if you want sustainable success, your order of priority should always be people first, with process and technology working to support them.
The change you bring when you focus on people
Let’s look at how a more human-centred approach compares to a more process driven approach. In other words, a relational approach as opposed to a transactional one.
Imagine you’ve just made an online booking for a hotel and receive an automatic email to confirm your booking.
The process-driven response would look something like this:
Your booking has been received. Please check-in at reception when you arrive.
While the human-centred response would look more like this:
Thank you. We’ve received your booking and look forward to welcoming you to our hotel. Please check-in at the reception desk when you arrive where our staff will be happy to help you.
Or perhaps you’re introducing a new piece of technology. The process-driven way you introduce this to your staff would look something like this:
We’re moving to a new computer system to speed up our check-in process. As you work on the front desk, you’re required to attend a training session at 9.00am on 5thJanuary so you can be shown how to operate the new system.
By comparison, the human-centred approach would look more like this:
To help you in your vital role as a member of our check-in team, we’re installing a new check-in system. This system is designed to be more straightforward than the one we use now. So you should find it easier and quicker to use.
We hope this will be good for you and for our guests. To help you get to know the new system please join us at a training session at 9.00am on 5thJanuary. Members of the IT team will be on hand to show you how the system works and make sure you feel comfortable using it.
The way forward
There’s a growing drive to make business more human and as a result more effective. Many businesses have a new focus on working in a way that is good for everyone in the long term. It’s what’s known as the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet.
Virgin is one of the companies leading the way on this, with its 100% Human at Work initiative. They believe that focussing on how they can help people achieve their highest potential and purpose will naturally and positively impact the bottom line. Far more so than if they were to maintain a focus on profits and profitability, where people are seen as resources rather than humans. They say:
‘Our whole purpose at Virgin, the reason we exist, is Changing Business for Good. This encourages us to think about two things – the first is how we can consistently make people’s lives better and the second is what are the long-term impacts of the business decisions that we make today.’
When you prioritize people, your whole business will benefit. You’ll be better able to:
- Attract the best talent
- Retain your staff
- Provide a high-quality service
- Increase productivity
- Achieve sustainable performance
- Develop resilience
Do you have the qualities of a people-focussed leader?
The most effective leaders see the person and the potential in everyone, not just their job title or role as a customer or investor.
They listen, with kindness and care. They’re interested in who people are and in what they have to say.
Because, with the right leadership, businesses do have the power to do good and improve the lives of those who work for them, their customers and wider society.
And, of course, with poor leadership, businesses can do the opposite.
Why we need Innovative Communication
I wrote my book, The Innovative Communicator: putting the soul back into business communication, in 2012. Yet the messages it contains are more pertinent today than they were then. For example, the book opens with this quote from me:
“The soul has been stripped out of the way the business world communicates and it desperately needs putting back. Powerful communication between people plays a critical role in a company’s bottom line. It is not a ‘soft’ skill, a nice to have or a fluffy optional extra. Without it, you’re toast!”
There is absolutely nothing soft about the ability to communicate in a way that inspires others and leads change; that develops consensus and shared understanding; that creates and maintains valuable connections; and that, as a result of all this, drives consistent and sustainable improvements in performance.
You cangenerate lasting success with integrity and humanity. Being human, showing compassion and consideration is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a formidable strength.
It’s what we here at Miticom call Innovative Communication. Its roots are in integrity and humanity. Its purpose is to put people back where they belong, at the heart of every successful business.
The style and tone for how a business communicates is set and led by its leaders and managers – those of you in the C-suite or who aspire to be in the near future. This is why we train forward-thinking global business leaders in Innovative Communication. To help them lead with confidence and drive sustainable growth.
Because the bedrock of every great business is based on human capital. And that capital is built on positive human relationships.
When business leaders get it wrong
Across the world, our view of what work should be is changing. This is partly driven by new technologies and the freedom and flexibility they provide. But also because we recognise that people do their best work when they’re happy in what they do. When they understand how they contribute. When they care about what they’re doing and feel part of something positive.
As I said above, these feelings and the environment they need to thrive are created by the people who lead the business. They set the tone for how a business communicates and operates.
Do you remember the recent crisis that hit RBS? Sylvia De Luca, a grandmother of 97, was refused counter service at her local bank and told to use a cash machine instead.
Sylvia doesn’t know how to use an ATM. And even if she did, because she suffers from Raynaud’s disease, she has limited movement in her fingers so would find it very difficult.
If the culture across the bank had been clearly focussed on people, humanity and compassion I’m certain the member of staff responsible would have behaved very differently. Instead, the bank has suffered a high-profile national embarrassment which people will remember for a long time to come.
Where technology fits
Technology can improve how we work and connect with each other. It can improve the experience you give to your customers. But a fundamental requirement must be that technology is used to enhance human interaction, not replace it.
Stephanie Linnartz, the global chief commercial officer of Marriott International says, ‘Technology coupled with a warm smile is a double win for the company,’ while noting that human interaction will always be at the heart of what Marriott offers. She goes on to say, ‘The human experience will always be the heart of hospitality, but technology can certainly enhance it.’ This approach should serve the company well as it deals with the fallout from the data breach that compromised the records of 500 million customers of its Starwood division.
So please, embrace technology, because it is a powerful and valuable too. But remember, it is just that: a tool. Approach technology by asking how it can enable people across your business.
This is what Unilever do. Their chief digital officer, Peter ter Kulve, says, ‘If you can marry your values and beliefs to that of the organisation you work for, you will be more successful and happier. Everyone wins.’
Put simply, deep, meaningful relationships that work are the key to lasting success. They put people at the centre rather than systems or technology. Without valued and motivated people an organisation, no matter how great its methodologies, processes and number of communication channels, will go nowhere, fast.