Humans in organisations are still humans

Sun, 21 Apr 2013

I’ve recently witnessed a few discussions about the differing roles of companies,  organizations, governments and people, which got me thinking.

  • A friend recommended that I watch Dan Pallotta's TED talk, suggesting that the community has put standards on charities that stop them achieving their potential (most notably, a focus on minimising costs, rather than maximising outcomes and value)

  • A few months ago, on my morning run, I listened to a Planet Money podcast on how the Roman Catholic church should behave like a business.

  • I was watching Zeitgeist Addendum on the weekend, one of several documentaries I’ve seen that portray corporations as inherently evil.

  • I have been getting increasingly tired of the never-ending debate about whether governments or the private sector are best placed to deliver services like health care and education

  • At a more personal level, I'm noticing many people I admire taking charge of their own careers, rather than living for a corporation.  Some still work for a company, just on terms that suit them and their life.  And others are working for themselves (often on multiple projects) or for organisations they care about.

There are a few themes underlying my thoughts on these.  For example, in a future blog post I will explore the relative merits of corporations, charities, organisations and individuals carrying out activities.

In today's post, however, I'd like to pick up the theme of the importance of the humans in thinking about organisations - which I've noticed is often missed in discussions.  It needs to be thought about from a number of perspectives:

Firstly, as individuals, you have to stay human, and accountable to yourself and others for whatever you do. Being part of a company, organisation, or even a religion doesn't excuse you from your obligations as a human.  For example, it is very easy, when talking to colleagues, or customers/clients, to talk to them impersonally, rather than human to human - watch yourself over the course of a day and see how you do.

Next, organisations shouldn't forget that their employees/members are human, not try to stop them from being human.  Anything they can do to support their employees staying human, rather than cogs in a machine, will lead to better engagement, more creative outcomes and less dysfunctional behaviour.

And finally, for society, when judging organisational behaviour, look behind the organisation, at the people involved. A corporate misdeed is ultimately a personal misdeed (if not multiple ones). And similarly, an organisation making a real positive difference is ultimately a group of people making a positive difference - the organisation is just how they do it. We'd make better judgements of organisations, and ultimately create better organisations, if we could stop thinking of organisations as being impersonal (or worse, being their own person).