in relentless optimism

being more human at work

I went to see Steve Hilton talk about his new book, More Human at the RSA last night. I was sufficiently inspired to buy his book and I’ve just finished the chapter on government – so only just started really.

As I read it I keep flip flopping between feeling hopeless and excited. Hopeless because the future he imagines requires such enormous changes in both government and society that – as good as they may be – how will they ever happen? And excited that there is someone who is as relentlessly optimistic as me, who seems to think that if you just say it often enough and clearly enough, perhaps enough of the right people will listen and do something sensible to radically change the world we live in so that it is fit for purpose for now and the future.

Then I thought about my little personal rule:

If the process insists that humans act more like machines/robots/spreadsheets than real human beings, challenge that process.

Don’t just accept that the process is right. That the way you’re doing your business planning and budgeting (something that’s on my mind at the moment) is actually sensible just because it has a form you fill out and makes numbers in the spreadsheet that create the impression that we have a process that ensures the most important things get funded.

Don’t just accept that the performance review process is right just because it appears to enact a policy that is theoretically designed to be fair and equitable and that gives the managers graphs that makes them feel as though they understand how people in their organisation are performing.

Just because it appears to be rational doesn’t mean that it is not entirely insane – and the best predictor of insanity in business process is a person who is still thinking and behaving like a human being. (Too many of us get trained out of keeping our humanness in the workplace – I’ve heard it’s a good way to get promoted.)

Consider every business process as a (usually) poorly solved design problem and approach it like a design team should – firstly understanding the what the actual problem is then thinking about different ways it could be solved, and then choosing the one that actually solves the problem – remembering that businesses are really nothing but groups of humans trying to work together to do something great. (There’s that relentless optimism again)

Insist on speaking and acting like a human being, especially in the workplace. Any time you’re not listening or not being heard, or being forced to communicate in a method or manner that doesn’t feel natural, throw up the red flags.

It will make you a right pain in the arse to work with, just ask any of my colleagues, especially my bosses. But it is the right thing to do.

If more of us challenged and fixed small things to make them more human then I’d have a lot more hope that the world that Steve Hilton envisages – a world where people come first – might ever come into being.