I have had a brilliant two day meeting with a brilliant client. One aspect of my work with organizations that I truly enjoy is to help craft the ‘Behavioural DNA’ that shapes the culture of the company. This is a set of actionable behaviours that must be universal, from the CEO to the MRO (Mail Room Officer). They also need to pass the ‘new hire test’: would you put that list in front of a prospect employee and say ‘This is us’?
There was one ‘aspirational’ sentence that I put to the test: ‘Working here makes us better human beings’.
It was met with scepticism by the large group in the meeting, initially mainly manifested through body language including the, difficult to describe, cynical smiles. The rationalists in the group jumped in hard to ‘corporatize’ the sentence. ‘Do you mean better professionals?’ The long discussion had started. Or, perhaps, ‘do you mean…’ – and here the full blown corporate Academy of Language – from anything to do with skills, talent management, empowerment to being better managers, being better leaders, and so on.
‘No, I mean better human beings. Period!’- I pushed back. Silence.
Next stage was the litany of adjectives coming form the collective mental thesaurus: fluffy, fuzzy, soft, vague…
I felt compelled to reframe the question: ‘OK, so who is against working in a place that makes you inhuman? Everybody. OK, ‘ So who is against working in a place that makes you more human? Nobody. But still the defensive smiling.
It went on for a while until the group, ‘organically’, by the collective hearing of pros and cons, turned 180 degrees until everybody agreed that ‘Working in a place that makes you a better human being’ was actually very neat. But – there was a but – ‘Our leadership team wont like it. They will say that its fluffy, fuzzy, soft etc… In the words of the group, it was not ‘them’ anymore who had a problem, it was the infamous ‘they’.
I then continued to push back: ‘Lets test it’. There was a joint meeting with the top leadership team scheduled for later. The statement ‘Working here makes us better human beings’ was, amongst others, for discussion. The leadership team loved it, each and all of them. Permission granted. Now we could say that ‘Working here makes us better human beings.’ Safely.
Its funny how our corporate uniforms make us feel uncomfortable with humanity as if this is beyond the scope of work, outside the job description, in need of top approval. ‘Excuse me, can we say ‘human’ here?’ Yes you can. Thanks!