Does your talk match your walk?

Creating a more ethical and humane workplace is hot topic amongst academics and business leaders. Many HR professionals have been imploring leaders for some time to revisit earlier personnel management practices that treated people more than mere units of production.

In Strategic Human Resource Development: Strategies and Practices I highlighted the real costs to organisations and society if people are seen only as resources to be optimised, exchanged, compared and disposed of. A decade on it would seem that leaders are starting to see the value in this.

With conferences specifically seeking to humanise the workplace and include mindfulness practices, what must managers be aware of as they embrace these changes?

At a recent conference in Sydney I heard leaders speak about humanizing the workplace and how they could bring ‘heart, head and hands together’ in their strategy and operations. As they talked about these ‘feeling, thinking and doing’ aspects of their operations, some of them omitted to see the incongruence arising out of their language. I overhead phrases like:

‘With every move towards excellence, there will be bloodshed’.

‘We have to be better than the best and we are there to win!’

‘It’s all about getting the right people on the bus and there’s not enough room for everyone’.

Such phrases led me to think that we have some way to go to ensure ‘heart, head and hands’ are on the same page. The phrases above are reminiscent of the military style corporations that modern large organisations have been modeled on. These are not without their costs to human beings who must put on a straightjacket of conformity to fit into the command and control style of leadership, despite attempts being made to make them more agile.

With one major organisation I know of priding itself on being called the ‘abattoir of the human soul’, it’s going to take more than a shift in language to truly change the culture of some organisations. However, it’s gratifying to see so many leaders usher in a new more humane style of leadership.

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