If you purchased a 100-year old house that had never been rewired, there is a very good chance that it would burn to the ground. Anyone buying an old house would be crazy not to make the rewiring their Number 1 Priority, to ensure they got value and a good return on their investment.

Why is it then that we keep operating a 100-Year Old Management System that desperately needs rewiring, from a Robotic to a more Human approach, and expect that it won’t burn down?

In my work as a consultant, and in my book Being Human, I challenge the notion that technical competence and a Robotic approach to Human Management still has a place in a more Humanistic world. The house has caught fire and those who have been rewarded by the old system are continuing to fuel the fire by:

  • Promoting technical experts and watching them fail miserably at managing another human being.
  • Using short-term tactical actions such as layoffs and “doing more with less” to prop up the profits at the expense of the humans.
  • Striking fear into humans by stifling experimentation, any form of challenge to authority, and making threats about job security through constant restructures, confusing titles and organizational hierarchy with leadership, and stifling those closest to the customers from undertaking leadership acts that will benefit them and the organization.
  • Employing other robots “just like them.”
  • Doing the work of their team members and creating frustration and, eventually, high rates of employee attrition.
  • Espousing that “people matter” and are “our greatest asset” but acting in a totally different way when it comes to protecting themselves i.e. their bonuses, big offices, and position on the org chart.

I propose a simple 7 Step Process to “Rewire Managers” from Robots to Humans.

Being Human

Any house needs a solid foundation to stand on, and wiring that is fireproof. The foundation is trust. In order to be human you must change your mindset to trust others freely, until they give you a reason not to. The current “management house” is devoid of trust, so the foundations are flimsy, and the 100 year old wiring puts the house at risk of burning down (low engagement, high employee attrition, command and control creating fear and lack of development resulting in demotivated employees). By rewiring the house and adding a human element, then and only then can the structure stand the test of time.

This process challenges Managers to look hard into their mirror to understand that they must undergo the process of becoming more human, in order to create differentiation in a world where people are now largely treated as “commoditized robots.” Taking a more human approach means that investment in manager development needs to be repositioned to look inward, rather than outward.

By looking inward I am talking about starting to accept what you are doing that contributes to keeping the old wiring in the house. Blaming others for people issues, basing trust around capability, constantly saying “it’s not me….it’s them,” resisting feedback that doesn’t align with a story you carry about yourself being a brilliant people manager, are all ways to deflect what your part in the mess is. Those who truly look inward have the courage to peel back their own layers and sit with the discomfort that comes with self reflection and introspection. To lead another human you must first lead self. It starts by looking in the mirror.

In a busy world we are all consumed by a “To Do” list in order to feel like we are needed, instead of focusing on a “To Be” list, which reflects our choice about how we will turn up everyday.

Doing is important but it’s all the technical stuff—the stuff that got us all promoted to management positions—but it’s not enough when you’re in charge of another human. Being human is about individual choices, and it’s what inspires those who report to us to go that extra mile. It’s what makes the doing so much easier, because when you turn up and inspire others they respond in kind.

It’s not some wild theory or new management model—it’s an experiment that I undertook when managing a team, and that resulted in significant improvements in employee engagement and business results. This framework has helped leaders and managers be more present with their teams, and focus on the concept of “being”—while enhancing their ability to do work effectively.

As part of my research, I’ve interviewed a wide cross-section of humans, from Senior C-Suite executives to recently employed graduates, to understand why being human is so important regardless of Title, Position, Age and Experience.

It starts with a simple premise:
“I just treat them like Human Beings…”

Managers who can shift their focus, away from robotic outputs, or productivity metrics, toward viewing their teams as human beings (and treating them as such), will enjoy increased productivity and better results. Without burning the house down.