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Optimize Your Humans, Optimize Your Business

My personal quest to understand and articulate the facets of socially-enabled business has been nearly as changing as the shift itself. I can think of only a handful of messages that I’ve seen grow increasingly relevant with time, my favorite being a part of the Enterprise 2.0 keynote in 2011:

“The smarter organizations that I know realize that relationships and people are now going to be their competitive differentiator,” said Community Roundtable Principal Rachel Happe. “But I think we’re still just at the beginning of learning how to optimize groups of people. And it introduces many things into organizational framework that organizations are not comfortable with. It emphasizes connection and caring and empathy and vulnerability and all of these things that cause us to have good relationships. We don’t have processes for that. We don’t put those values on the corporate spreadsheet. We don’t account for that. We don’t do gap analysis charts around that, and what I’m telling you today is that you need to start figuring out how to account for that value.”

Soft Values Yield Hard Returns

Naturally, now the question on everyone’s mind is: so how do you optimize people? For a long time it was thought that the bigger the paycheck, the happier the person. And while a good salary is certainly something to write home about, happiness at work also requires meaningful work, and soft actions like empathy, listening, caring, and flexibility. “All these soft things, they have hard returns in terms of our business,” continued Happe, citing loyalty, time, forgiveness (that’s a big one!) and peer support.

It’s not a new idea by any means, but social platforms are breathing welcome life into it. In 1998, FastCompany reviewed the then radical viewpoint of AES. When the data management company went public in 1991, the following was declared in its IPO:

“If the Company perceives a conflict between [its] values and profits, the Company will try to adhere to its values – even though doing so might result in diminished profits or foregone opportunities.”

Maybe there were less financial worries smack in the middle of the dot-com boom, but AES founder Dennis Bakke’s beliefs were nonetheless admirable — and perhaps a few steps ahead. Today, another statement of his (also found in the company’s IPO prospectus) hits much closer to home than it would have two decades ago: “Mistakes are inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we abandon our values. We’re going to continue to strive to live by them, even though we’re going to fail sometimes.”

Look, Ma! I’m Relevant!

In the end we all just want to feel like we can be ourselves, and that that self will be relevant and accepted even when we stumble. We’re seeing this kind of honesty on social platforms of all sizes, in advertising, in the business of storytelling — we’re seeing bits and pieces of it everywhere.

Rachel is right to say that we’re still just at the beginning of learning how to optimize groups of people, but I think we’re in better shape to do so than ever before. What do you think? And how are you optimizing yourself and others?

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