Tuesday, August 13, 2013

5 Ways To Crush A People-Hating System

The other day, I was headed out the door when I heard a woman's voice in the hallway. Her voice was muffled but she was clearly yelling. I heard a child's quiet voice in response.

Didn't want any trouble and it did not sound like there was abuse going on, so I quietly left when the hallway got quiet. But there they were, downstairs. A little toddler not more than three, and an angry and frustrated caregiver. "Get off that curb!" "Stop it now!" "I'm warning you!"

They weren't words of love. The woman was spewing hatred at that child and it made me sick to my stomach.

Another time, in the nursing home, I was walking past a semi-closed door. Heard two people talking to each other inside, and a resident talking but being ignored. Stopped and listened, and the employees were talking to each other about other patients. They said almost nothing to the resident at all.

In my heart I felt what was going on - contempt - and again I felt that terrible feeling.

Children and the elderly can't help themselves, and the people they rely on for the most basic things so often treat them without the most basic shred of human decency.

The situation is no different at work. We think that employees are adults and that they should know how to act with basic human decency but unfortunately adults at work often treat one another sadistically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute (carried out by Zogby International) showed that more than 1 in 3 workers, or 35%, have experienced it directly.

And yet - we do not live in a perfect world; there is no such thing. Bullying by caregivers and employers is clearly not the norm. And statistically, any bucket of people will have good apples and bad apples alike.

So what can we do to fix it?

Go a level higher. Go to the social structure within which people operate. Fix the structure and the individual behavior will improve.

For example, corporate America. So far there are 203,000 views of Bruce Kasanoff's slideshow "Profits Before People" on Slideshare. Last week it was among the top 5 presentations viewed. It's nothing new, but it's something to see. The extent to which companies use, churn, and dump people out for the sake of the almighty dollar.

If you set up a structure that puts money first and people second, it is inevitable that the individuals operating within that structure will treat people accordingly.

We can change our social institutions so that it pays to treat people better. Here are 5 principles for change, offered in very general terms:

1) Leadership By The People, For The People and Of The People 
  • Old way: Look to the top for a single leader to set direction.
  • New way: Direction should be distributed among self-organizing cells aligned against a central goal (the mission/brand). 
2)  Embrace Holistic Strategy Through Cross-Sector Integration and Partnerships
  • Old way: Isolate organizational function in one sector (e.g. business, government, education, healthcare)
  • New way: Situate function across multiple sectors of society (e.g. make the workplace child-friendly and make the school system a place for teaching workplace skills from the youngest age)
3) Transparency Through Release Of Data and Key Performance Indicators
  • Old way: Hold, massage, and then release selected "dead" information with your framing of the context or narrative
  • New way: Make the data available for others to consume, absorb and re-display in a way that suits real analysis and customer need
4) Opportunity For Employees To Engage and Be Rewarded
  • Old way: Hire good people and then hold them in place till you need them
  • New way: Hire good people and then get out of the way while they seek opportunities to contribute to the bottom line; point and reward system through 360 peer and customer review
5) Technology To Make It All Possible, Simply
  • Old way:  Buy multiple expensive technology products and services without understanding them, and then avoid training and change so as to use the "old-fashioned" stuff as long as possible
  • New way: Begin with the premise of the automated workplace and hire, train and retain people to use technology simply and intelligently. Reduce clutter and leverage available tools. Set employees up to work independently of supervision as much as possible by collaborating virtually and without undue censorship.
The fundamental problem of society today is the power imbalance between the lone individual and the continued streamlining and consolidation of its "big" institutions, one of which is "big data." Such a system is inevitable for a lot of reasons - cost efficiency and personal security among them. 

But we don't need, don't want and can't allow a system to arise in which the power of the individual is crushed. 

We can use efficiencies of scale to purposefully establish a "big" system that balances the weight of its individual players, promotes individual freedom and development, and institutionalizes accountability. The first step though is to decide on our top priorities for society. 

For most of us, the #1 requirement is that we use the power we have to take care of each other.

* As always all opinions are my own.