Surveys indicate traditional methods of managing people are increasing the amount of stress in the workplace. Something needs to change. Stress absorbs otherwise productive energy, representing a hidden overhead and drag on performance. In addition to competitive and investor pressures, newer challenges such as hybrid work, employee expectations, politics, layoffs, and technological disruptions such as Gen AI are building up stress levels. Stress release will not come from incremental solutions that address the symptoms such as engagement feedback, happiness or wellness apps, or more guidelines and policies. The time has come to seek clarity regarding the root causes of organizational stress and invent fresh approaches that measurably benefit BOTH the individual and the organization. This is the mission of HumanCentric Labs. HumanCentric methods of managing work and leading people. Humancentriclabs.io
Kindly walk us through the inception of HumanCentric Labs and how you expect to fulfill your mission?
HumanCenric Labs (HCL) is a future-of-work (FOW) thought leadership community including an ecosystem of well-known speakers, authors, practitioners, and very experienced consultants. The individuals composing the group are independent and their HCL commitment is to share their insights and foster innovation that support a humancentric approach to managing. Individuals of the community can collaborate on projects and clients – retaining their relationship with customers.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by humancentric managing?
Traditional managing assumes that it is management’s job to get the right work done and the employee’s job is to do the work assigned by management. In short, a “we” and ”they” approach which is a cause of many disengagement issues. Humancentric managing begins with the value creation of the work. The right work done creates more value. It is the customer who benefits from the work that attributes value. In a strategic sense the customer can be senior executives or major external customers; the majority of the work is tactical, and the beneficiaries of the work can be a peer, a team, a group, other groups, and through a value chain the external end customer. In this way, everyone manages their customer’s experience of value. There is no “we” and “they. Everyone owns and manages their work for the purpose of creating value. Managers as part of their value may provide focus and prioritize the work to others but, without taking ownership of the work. Perceived ownership of the customer relationship is key to employee engagement and innovation.
How does your approach to managing impact the organizational stress you highlighted earlier?
Distrust and fear correlate to stress – organizations are composed of humans. For example, the root cause of stress related to hybrid work is a lack of trust by management – that employees are not doing enough work. Distrust can demoralize an employee who is producing. No doubt that some employees need an office to be productive while others perform much better outside the many interruptions of the office. To capture the best performance requires understanding and supporting relationships that work best for both the individual and the organization. This is the humancentric sweet spot for performance. Humancentric managing places the ownership of the work and delivering performance on the individual. It is their role to communicate with clarity outcomes that reinforce trust that performance is being achieved.
Does HCL provide clients coaching and support to organizations that want to benefit from humancentric managing?
The short answer is yes. The HCL ecosystem has developed powerful transformation processes and tools. Community participants offer their own assessments, coaching, and business processes in support of humancentric managing. These solutions vary from creating principles and norms to guide a culture of sustainable trust – to streamlining organizations by distributing decision making. One solution co-created by the HCL community is called Four Quadrant Transformation or 4Q. These reinforcing quadrants are:
1. Alignment – trusted behaviors that benefit both the individual and the organization;
2. Transparency – provides the clarity to align decisions to achieve best performance;
3. Ownership – leads actions to benefit customers and deliver performance;
4. Feedback – – provides the leadership and commitment to deliver desired outcomes.
Can you elaborate more how your community co-created the 4Q transformation?
Stemming from monthly HCL community events, there came a desire to focus on a simple thesis that if validated would go a long way in reducing the stress brewing from hybrid or office only work. The thesis needed to start with the human, the individual, and their needs while exchanging executive fear for confidence that the right work is producing the desired performance. The thesis we nicknamed “give choice and get performance”. More than 40 thought leaders brainstormed and co-created in a series of 30 minutes virtual sessions that examined several tests of the thesis. Creating a culture of sustainable trust rose to the top as the most important factor in reducing organizational stress. Trust unlocks energy. It requires intentional and authentic communication. The highly diverse expertise of the HCL community led to the creation of the 4Q transformation process.
Many attempts have been made to improve the effectiveness of managing, what is different about your approach?
Humancentric managing begins the managing process where the value of work is produced – those doing work to benefit their customers. In this model the goal is the least amount of managing to get the right work done. Time spent managing is overhead. It is the source of most complexity and disengagement. Yes, management is needed to provide focus, direction, and coaching support – but not owning the work. Those doing the work, own the value benefited by their customers. It is their commitment and delivery that produces the trust business needs to be confident in their performance. The result is less effort and more innovation to deliver both strategy and goals.
What role does technology play in humancentric managing?
Technology can either limit or reinforce humancentric managing. Much of the current talent related software produces data and track activities yet adds process complexity and application silos that continuously need to be fed with activity that produces diminishing value. Applications continue to proliferate while not improving overall productivity.
What is needed is less software and more focus on problem solving and innovation. Technology is needed to support humancentric managing that promotes change, continuous improvement, and adaptability. HCL is embracing new technology and processes through its ecosystem that addresses unlocking the value and creative ability of the individual to manage and better serve their customers.
Can you say more about specific customer use cases?
HCL has achieved a broad variety of successful client engagements. Applications include outcomes from rapidly growing startups to major functions of global 2000 companies. Examples include: An IT organization of large consumer products company reduced complexity by reducing the language describing jobs of from 160,000 words to service-oriented data composed of 1600 words that describe the actual work performed. An engineering organization belonging to a Fortune 50 high-tech company used humancentric managing principles and improved productivity by 12.9 % and increased engagement by 32% during an 18- month period.A rapid growth startup needed to significantly re-scale and reduced 87 job titles to 7 core services.
Change frequently introduces risk. Given the paradigm shift in managing promoted by HCL, how do customers transform while avoiding performance risks?
About two-thirds of change management processes fail to meet their objectives. Many of the remaining initial successes struggle to demonstrate benefits over the long run. The primary reason is the method of managing – top-down control as a means of achieving value is not part of the change. The actual work and its value remain not clear or predictable, relying on managers and their judgment. The humancentric approach to managing transformation is evolutionary and can be applied to existing organizations with no required changes in strategy or current operating methods. Instead, the focus is on making the work, who benefits (customers), and its value visible. Then empowering those who own their work to improve it as individuals, teams, and functions. The relative value of work is quantified, and transformations are established to replace lower value work such as meetings and excess decisions with higher value work such as software architecture. Fewer processes and less complexity is rewarded by greater adaptability. Changes are made in the context of existing business priorities and commitments.
Is there anything else that you want us to highlight in this article we might have missed in the questions?
Future organizations will start by harnessing the talent and building trust from the ground floor. They will scale by the demand for services as part of a clear value chain of customer needs. Deep skills will be more rare while problem solving and adaptability become more desirable for full time and contingent talent. The use of talent and technology will be central to workforce planning. Headcount planning will be ancient except for those more isolated from competitors’ forces. Achieving the least managing and most employee ownership of the customer value exchange will yield superior performance. Most important is a clear transparent feedback loop. Hierarchy will exist as proven by value creation, not title or org chart. The shift is coming because generations Y and Z want a better life, they want balance. It will be more about why and what than about who and how.
Know More: Humancentric