Is Your Company Keeping Up in the Human-Centric Era?

How many times have you been told, “the system won’t let me do that”? Whether over the phone, formerly at airports, or at a brick and mortar, our love and passion for digital innovation have triangulated our companies between people, process, and technology. Dare I say our technologies have been personified?

As a result, we’ve built systems that are dehumanizing. With the coronavirus transforming our way of life, customer’s tolerance for being treated inhumanely has dropped significantly and the company’s bottom line is feeling it. Treat a customer as a number and they will treat you like one, too.

How have we gotten here and how do we recover?

Companies have learned processes from the industrial age, attempted to convert them to the information age, and, in turn, became disconnected from the people who built and continue to build the business.

Trends like lean, six sigma, and agile have been distorted and bastardized from their original purpose of improving people’s lives to efficiency and cost-reduction.

We encourage our companies to operate with the same machine-like efficiency of manufacturing processes. We pride ourselves on our short-term productivity. We overprocess so many aspects of our businesses that employees feel detached from the very systems they are responsible for running.

This problem seems like it could be solved by simply recognizing and stopping when we overprocess areas of the business, but the issue is actually incredibly more complex than that.

Fortunately, this pandemic has been a positive catalyst for change. Welcome to the Human-Centric Era. Below, I identify and explain four main causes associated with the problem of overprocessing and why they need to change.

1) The biggest myth in business that has been ingrained in all of us: the Customer-first mindset

One of the dehumanizing processes that is still implemented in business today is the “customers come first” model. This industrial-age idea remains a major problem in businesses today. To continue improving the quality of business and creating an incentive for employees to invest themselves in the company, company’s must abandon this myth and adopt an “employee-first” mindset.

“External success for a business starts with internal success for its employees.” Betsy Raskin Gullickson, editor of the Best Practices section of Strategic Finance magazine, provides insight on this idea through her article titled “A Corporate Virus?”

Although “bringing the human dimension into business isn’t easy,” according to Gullickson, she qualifies that “investment in the people who run the business will pay off in the long run”. She states that “the problem is institutional, but the solution is personal,” which is exactly what the humanizing business hopes to do: find a contemporary solution for industrial-age problems.

Coronavirus elevated the need to be more human in business. Today, we live in a different business environment than that of even one year ago, one that is continuing to evolve, and old-world management principles are no longer working.

John Marshall, Senior Partner and Global Director of Strategy at Lippincott, and Graham Ritchie, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Hill Holiday, co-authored a piece titled “Welcome to the Humans Era” that discusses how brands need to initiate change to appeal not only to the customers, but to the employees as well.

Customers want to invest in the companies they purchase products from, and this is why we see so many startups sharing their brand mission and story with the world. If customers see that companies support a cause or that its employees are proud to associate themselves with that company, they are more likely to pay attention to that business. 

2) A shortsighted focus on results and efficiency instead of actually knowing your audience

Highlighting the need for sharing a business’s story and narrative, Marshall and Ritchie state that “there is great value to be unlocked by identifying and activating valuable connections, inside and outside the company”.

In the past, a business’s mission used to be solely to deliver the service it was advertising and then transition to adding something unique to make it stand out among other companies. Now, customers not only search for companies that deliver the service they are looking for, but they look for a company that speaks to them on another level.

David Aaker, Vice Chairman at Prophet, specializes in brand strategy. He notes that “brands that do [have personality] have a significant advantage in terms of standing out…. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.”

When a business has a personality, it appears less commodified and more humanized, therefore taking that extra step to become more valuable to its customers. The research of Lippincott backed this statement when they identified one of the six traits of Human Era Companies is “They are not boring; they have personality”.

Commodities are replaceable, and businesses that lead with a predominant results and selling mindset often fall into the trap of being viewed as such. We have become the most productive workforce in the world that is also the least engaged. Adding a “human” dimension attracts and retains both employees and customers as they see that the business has a mission and a voice to accomplish a larger goal with the support of its customers.

3) The prioritization of short-term wins over long-term success

 Most of western culture values quick fixes and short wins over long-term thinking. Suzan Lewis, Richenda Gambles and Rhona Rapoport, coauthors of an article published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management, acknowledge that “quick fixes can be appreciated in the short term…. [but] Long term sustainability remains in question” (368–369). This statement presents the problem that while short wins seem acceptable on a surface-level, real issues within a company that run deep will continue to be ignored and pushed back, therefore resulting in even larger problems.

Gullickson also provides more insight on the benefits companies (and individuals) can reap if they start considering long-term effects: “If and when we resist the urge to find a quick fix and stay open, insightful solutions emerge from the collective unconscious” (14). Here, Gullickson’s statement exemplifies the positive possibilities that can originate from patience at the start to get things right the first time. This is a key principle in the Toyota Kaizen philosophy that, in turn, creates efficiency by building a collection of short term wins aligned with the long-term vision.

Additionally, Marshall and Ritchie also shed light on a concept that businesses utilize and should transition to using on a consistent basis: transparency. They state that “they [human communications] involve a willingness to talk about the hard stuff, the ugly stuff. …People demand the same from how brands tell their stories today — transparency, a willingness to engage on their terms and timeline, acknowledging flaws, and putting forth a plan to improve” (Marshall and Ritchie, 9). In this, it is evident that the coauthors identify transparency as one way to initiate a business’s transition from emphasizing short wins to valuing the long-term success — a transition that will culminate by developing beneficial processes for all components of a business.

4) Management either helps a business thrive or turns it toxic

“If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that organisational cultures, and the people we employ and the way we manage them, are critical to the way businesses perform — or, where cultures turn toxic, fail to perform,” said Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD.

Peter accentuates the idea that management will either make or break a company from the inside. Solely focusing on the end-product for customers continues to be a major problem for businesses.

Instead, embodying a more “human” approach to building a company’s culture will increase employee retention and improve business performance simultaneously.

What Cheese warns us about is that if business leaders remain in the past and fail to acknowledge that society is transitioning to become more transparent and empathetic, those businesses that do not change their processes to be more human will not be able to compete.

“Change or Die” is now literal

This phrase has been utilized by business leaders at conferences around the world, and now we’re seeing the transformation occur.

The sudden impact of this pandemic has showcased the true colors of companies. Companies are dying off and there’s no more time to discuss or theorize. We are being called to change for the better. Now is the time for businesses to evolve so they can stay in the game.

Slow down and give everyone a moment to breathe — prioritize the needs of the stakeholders you serve by leading from the inside out with employees, then customers, then society, and invest in the game long-term.

We’re not here to get wrapped up in the abyss of the hustle; we’re here to enjoy life and wake up with ease and joy every day. We’re here to serve and improve the lives of others so that we can realize the ultimate measure of fulfillment and meaning in ours.

May this serve as a message of hope that being human may very well be the best silver lining to all of our current vicissitudes.

In love and respect,

Hilary Corna

Founder & CEO, Corna Partners



Hilary Corna

Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Podcast Host, Founder of the Human Way ™...

Hilary’s favorite title is HUMAN.


I am starting a revolution. One business and one person at a time.



When was the last time your inbox inspired you? Sign up today!

Thank you for subscribing!