Managing People Using The Value Immersion Process
CHAPTER 2.4

HUMAN AND HUMANE

It is essential to get the best from people we accept that we are all human, and humane treatment is a fundamental value of our organization.

Have you ever heard people talk about their bosses who seem to believe that there is no life outside the job, are completely intolerant of mistakes, and are heartless in the way they deal with their subordinates?  Obviously, these employees are not happy in their jobs.  Do you think they are giving their best?  I don’t!

Managers who operate like this probably think that they have to be that way in order to get the most work done.  After all, if people are always interrupting their work to deal with something in their private life, are having a bad day, or are having trouble concentrating, they aren’t totally engaged in their assigned tasks.  Mistakes cost money and lost time.  If a person is trained to do a job, they should do it flawlessly.  And, why not be tough?  If people fear the consequences of being on the wrong side of the boss, they will work harder to get their jobs done.  This reasoning is profoundly fallacious.

ONLY FOR BOSSES WHO ARE PERFICT

These managers are so very misguided.  I sometimes wonder how people like this can be so blind to the simple fact that we are all human.  To me this means we aren’t always perfect – we make mistakes, are distracted sometimes, have trouble focusing, worry about things going on in our outside lives, have a bad day once in a while, get sick from time to time, maybe get seriously sick, and so-on.

Jesus said:  “…he who is without sin cast the first stone…” I would really like to meet the manager who is both intolerant of humanness in others, and is completely free of those characteristics.  The obvious truth is that there is no such person.  Yes, but, there are many managers who seem to think they are or at least they act as if they are.  They are misguided, because while they are intolerant of the humanness of others, it is in fact impossible for them not to have human characteristics themselves.  After all, they are human.  In fact, one of the most fundamental mistakes a manager can make is being intolerant of others human faults.

There are consequences of letting your ego get in the way of being a humane boss.  The worst consequence of thinking you’re perfect or acting like you think you are is that everyone knows that you aren’t.  They will think you’re a fool or, more than likely, another darker part of the human anatomy.  But, at a minimum their respect, loyalty, and willingness to work hard for you goes right down the drain.

THE INHUMANE BOSS

I have closely watched two leaders who were really “heartless” in the way they deal with their subordinates.  What a truly sad set of circumstances it is that individuals in major executive positions beat up the people around them.  Examples include berating people in meetings, using cruel and demeaning language when expressing displeasure with people’s actions, broadly showing disrespect for people, eliminating the jobs of individuals with decades of exemplary service with no sensitivity, even speaking down to them in the face of broad - based support for the individual from people throughout the organization, and much more.  In the organizations these people head, morale has plummeted, and employees are scared to death of incurring the boss’s wrath.  So much so that they do everything they can to function out of his sight – to hide out and be as invisible as possible.  This means they don’t do anything very good, or very bad, they just exist.  Are these people giving their best? Hardly.

Other than a pathologically overgrown ego, or a Napoleon complex, I frankly don’t know, nor can I begin to explain, why some managers behave in this way.  I just can’t understand how people like this can’t see how their behavior is damaging the organization, not to mention their victims – the people in their organizations.  I am not even sure how these managers got to the positions they occupy.  In one case where a manager like this came into an organization I watched with horror the plummeting of morale, the decline in trust of both management and people’s peers, and the time that is wasted by people worrying that they would incur his wrath.  If there was a way to minimize the commitment, effort, and quality work you get from people, this is it.  And, as in the cases described above, I wonder how these individuals would respond if they were treated in these ways.

THE DOWNRIGHT CRUEL BOSS

There is an annual competition to determine the worst bosses in the country.  People vote, anonymously by writing in stories about their bosses.  I recently saw the results of one year’s competition.

In one case an employee’s wife had a miscarriage at six months.  This far along, a miscarriage is a very serious matter.  The employee rushed his wife to the hospital, and after getting her settled called his boss to say he wouldn’t be in.  The boss didn’t seem to understand why the employee couldn’t come to work, but the employee made it clear he wouldn’t be in.  Just two weeks later that same employee’s older father had a severe heart attack and wasn’t expected to live.  The employee accompanied his father to the hospital, and again called to report that he would not be coming in.  Again, his boss couldn’t understand why his employee wouldn’t come to work.  Later that day, the employee’s father died.  The next day he arrived at work to find that he had been fired for excessive unexcused absences!

In another case, an employee received a frantic phone call from his wife letting him know that his house was on fire.  When the employee went to his boss to tell him he had to go home, the boss asked:  “…is the fire department there?”  The employee responded that they were, so the boss said:  “…then you don’t need to go home…” When the employee protested that his house was on fire and he had to go home, the boss said:  “…ok, if you go, your fired…” As it turns out, that was not necessary, the employee quit on the spot.

These stories are alleged to be true.  While extreme, there are bosses who are cruel to their employees in many ways – sending a letter to the employee’s home informing him he is laid off, not acknowledging successes but instead focusing on dissatisfaction, etc.  How much commitment, loyalty, and hard work do you think these bosses get from their employees?  I bet their people grudgingly do as little as they can to get by, and move to other jobs at the first possible opportunity.

HUMANE LEADERSHIP

I have just spent a lot of time describing the inhumane and downright cruel ways in which managers can behave that eliminate any hope of getting the best from people.  Now, how should we act?  The answer is simple:  first accept that we are all human, and behave in a humane way toward your employees.  I mentioned what being human means above, so what does being humane mean?

It means that we understand the pressures that our people sometimes feel from outside the work place.  We understand, are sympathetic, and give them the slack they need to deal with those issues.  We may even try to find ways that can mitigate the impact of outside situations.

In one place I worked we had a fund to provide temporary loans to staff who might be having financial problems.  We couldn’t do big loans, but they were big enough to help out – pay the rent this month for example.  And, guess what, no one ever defaulted on a loan.  It strengthened the bond between those who directly benefited from this program, and the people around them.  There was a sense of caring that people really appreciated, and believe me, when we needed to call on them to do some extra work, or help with a special project, or… they were right there willing and anxious to help.  A small bit of humaneness had a huge payoff in terms of motivating our staff.  And, this is just one small example, there are a multitude of ways we as managers can demonstrate humaneness, here are a few more:

It means working with people in difficult circumstances by modifying their hours of work.  Maybe a shorter workweek; coming in early or late and leaving early or late; letting them go into a part-time mode if need be; giving them an opportunity to telecommute; whatever works.  The idea is to try to work with them to ease the difficulties they might be having.  This bit of humanity will strengthen their bond and commitment to you and your company.

We even made a policy that woman could bring their babies to work, as long as their presence did not disrupt or bother others (note, we didn’t push them to do this, it was their option).  This also worked like a charm.  We got a lot more work out of these employees than we would have if they were staying home, and they appreciated getting back to work to earn the income they needed.

It means treating people who make mistakes with dignity and support. This is such an important value in the environment we want to create to get the best from people I have devoted a whole chapter to it later in this book, so I will only briefly deal with it here in the context of the humane approach.

There is a level of tolerance, understanding, forgiveness, and learning that will amount to the humane way to treat people when they make a mistake.  When someone makes a mistake, the humane way to respond is to be calm and supportive, accept the circumstance, and work with the person to understand what happened, and then set about fixing the problem. This approach is humane and it reassures both the person making the mistake, and the people around him that they do not have to be afraid of incurring your wrath if they mess up.  It is a comforting feeling for them, and as above, it will cement your relationship, strengthen their loyalty, and motivate them to do their best.

It means avoiding temper tantrums at all costs.  Never criticize or belittle a person in public.  Show respect for every person who works for you.

When it becomes necessary to separate someone such as a layoff, be as gentle as possible.  Don’t just leave people in the lurch, that is cruel, give them long lead times, provide outplacement assistance, help them find a new position, try as hard as you can to find another job for them in your organization, but, if all else fails, make it possible for them to leave with dignity.  This is the humane approach, and even though a layoff makes everyone feel badly or worry, your handling it in this way will reassure your people that if, God forbid, they ever found themselves in this circumstance they will be treated humanly.  These good feelings will translate into their working as hard as they can for you.

So, we must begin by remembering that we are all only human.  With this firmly in mind use the humane approach to handling peoples humanness.  And, as the Golden Rule says, “…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” Don’t treat people badly.  If humanness and humanity are fundamental values of your organization your people will give you their best, and by setting this kind of example, you will find that your subordinates will start treating each other in a humane way as well.
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