Getting the Most from the Human Element

February 16, 2015 — Leave a comment

If you’ve been responsible for delivering business results for any length of time, you’ve probably hit a wall once or twice with people. Someone’s feelings got hurt, another manager is difficult to work with, company politics create unseen landmines, some colleagues disagrees with you and a couple may be out to get you. As often as not, we may be the problem. Additionally, we humans are the ones causing the accidents, forgetting key dates or deliverables, creating ambiguity, making mistakes and communicating poorly. Getting results are tough enough as it is, before we introduce people into the mix!

Automation has added enormous business efficiency over the years and will continue. But it’s important to keep in mind that whatever business we’re in, we’re ultimately in the people business. Since we can’t eliminate the human element (besides, would we really want to?), we’ll have to figure out how to capitalize on it.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

Here are some of the ways each of us can win with people at work.

Built Trust with Results AND Relationships

Trust isn’t just a two-way street. It’s a converging superhighway. So many factors come into play. Here’s an example: what comes to mind when you think about a century old world-class financial institution? Large stone buildings with Corinthian columns? Dark suits? No nonsense serif fonts? All of those are just images. But what makes long-term trust possible are attention to both results and relationships. The results create confidence in future performance. The relationships enable commitment.

Trust is at the core of the human element – it’s intensely personal. Just ask someone who has had a trust broken (whether a person or brand). They usually aren’t happy. But trust isn’t a destination. It’s an ongoing process.

Use Stories to Connect

In my opinion, the world of advertising has taken some tremendous leaps in the last decade. Sure, there are still some television commercials that make us want to stab our eyes out, but for the most part, campaigns have shifted from “proving” that their product is the best to “telling” how it makes a difference. Social media has obviously played a role. And it’s not just advertising. Some of the most popular business books are written in fable form.

Stories are uniquely human – people connect with them. Facts and figures will always be important, but the power of narrative is as strong as it’s ever been. So find the story in the details and make it part of the advertising campaign, shareholder report, corporate policy or boardroom presentation.

Create Brand Ambassadors

People go from not knowing you to being acquainted enough to form an opinion. And that opinion can either be a great one or a terrible one. Here’s why you should care: you don’t just want customers – you want customers who will recruit (rather than repel) other customers on their own initiative. You don’t just want employee applicants – you want ones who already love your business. Have a strategy for your customer experience, employee engagement and community outreach that gives you an opportunity to deliver a good impression – in addition to the value your business creates in the day-to-day.

Find Creative Solutions

At a recent training event, we decided to let new managers work together to come up with solutions to problems they were facing. The risk was that they might come up with lousy ideas based on their limited experience so far. Instead, they generated many good ideas with several worth considering as we work to continuously improve the organizational system. It’s quicker, easier and cheaper to tell others what to do. But you’ll get more creative solutions (not to mention buy-in) when you make them part of the process.

Connect with Your Purpose

At the end of the day, we all serve a purpose. The tragedy is that both people and organization’s are often unsure exactly what it is. That’s why purpose statements are so important – ones that speak to the beliefs, the bottom line, the “why this even matters” that keeps people coming back each day. Unfortunately, corporate purpose statements can be extremely “corporate” and not very human at all. The silver lining is that it’s easy for the good ones to stand out. Think about it. No one wants to work only to create shareholder value. We want to make a difference in the process.

At the end of the day, people are here to stay. We’re not going anywhere. Our organizations, titles and roles may change, but we’ll still be around. So let’s win with people.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.