What if our humanity could save us?

According to a recent Deloitte report “2021 Global Human Capital Trends”, humans should be at the centre of society to allow the system to “flourish”, rather than to simply survive. We talked about a “return to humanity” at the beginning of 2020. But over the past 18 months, we’ve seen something new. The rules that we have and that govern us today seem to pit our humanity against economics.

In short, human choices aren’t necessarily economic choices. Actually, humanity often offers the least “convenient” choice.

I remember when I was at university, there was an assumption that a solid economy would create more resources for everyone. So, it seemed logical to prioritize choices that maximized the indicators of that value. I graduated in 1997, and the past 25 years have shown me this view doesn’t show us the whole picture. There’s something else that encourages us to choose “economics” even at a micro level. It’s something that Deloitte has also picked up on, and I’ll try to summarize below:

1) For starters, Deloitte calls every company “social”. A few years ago, we started talking about social enterprise as a category of business. But now, every company can be classed as social or not, as the case may be. If a business isn’t “distinctly human at its core” and doesn’t consider a wider view of sustainability in time and space, it doesn’t have a social impact guiding it. It will therefore destroy more than it creates.

It’s the evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility – delegating this responsibility to a particular function within the company. We’re now moving into regulatory mechanisms such as b-corp, demonstrating clear indicators of those who prioritize environmental, human and social sustainability within their businesses. We’ve even coined buzzwords such as  “ESG” which offer new criteria for CEOs to measure their financial success. This conversation accelerated in 2019 with BlackRock CEO’s letter to “Profit and Purpose” CEOs, following a commitment from 189 leading CEOs to put purpose over profit.

We’re starting to talk about it.

2) In their last report, Deloitte insisted on humans being at the centre. They see it as the only chance for us to move beyond survival. That’s because the characteristics that make us human – intuition, flexibility, creativity and imperfection that allows us to constantly learn – go against the economic grain, but can help us manage uncertainty. So Deloitte suggests that companies should put employee wellbeing first to enhance the company’s economics. People know how to take care of themselves and make their own choices. The report suggests that adopting this vision will mark the end of the “work-life balance” concept.

Because we’re starting to understand that it’s all life. Even our work.

3) When we look at things through this lens, things start to change shape. It’s impossible for management to keep deciding who needs which skills. It’s unsustainable to track market changes where everyone’s skills are updating in real time. The only thing we can do is “empower workers with agency and choice”. We need to trust them and their judgements. We need to trust their self-awareness that can be cultivated and nurtured. It’s something that will unleash a great potential in all of us.

We live in an uncertain world, where “the opposite of reactive isn’t proactive, but creative”.

4) These wonderful – and seemingly obvious – indications clash with the economy of “small things”. Or rather the short-term economy. All those choices that we make for a quick win, the consequences of which pile up to put a barrier between us and real change. Deloitte surveyed 3,630 managers about what they had done to make remote working sustainable over the past year. When ranking eight different factors, the human factor and people wellbeing lagged behind. In fact, only 10% mentioned improving their tools centred around people wellbeing. 39% talked about digital collaboration platforms, while 36% mentioned new operational rules and 23% talked about improving technological tools.

So we’re making the cake first before we even think about the icing. But are we really only talking about icing here?

5) The second statistic reveals the direction we’re moving in. Deloitte asked the above executives and 1,108 individual contributors: “What are the most important results in terms of transforming your work that you hope to reach in the next 1-3 years?”. Out of 9 mentioned factors, bosses put the improving customer experience, boosting innovation and reducing costs at the top of the list. Workers wanted to improve their quality, innovation and wellbeing. Interestingly, employee wellbeing slipped to 8th place for managers.

If the first statistic talked about a quick win, helping people to work in the short term, this statistic talks about the priorities that will shape our future. The ability to innovate and employee wellbeing may seem at opposite ends of the spectrum, just like customer experience seems to be disconnected from employee experience. We often but the important things first, the hard results that we can see on our balance sheets, before we move onto the “nice to have” soft factors.

Is it possible to innovate without allowing the people who are creating to flourish? Do we really think that innovation stems solely from technology?

Human beings are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Just like the VUCA world that we live in. It’s almost as though they are made for each other. To activate their potential, all we have to do is see them and trust them more. We need to prioritize this change.

So while we’re on that topic: there’s never a good time to start. Just like when a child grows up, whatever we think we need to do, say to them or teach them, the only time that makes sense to do those things is now. It’s not too early, they’re not too young. Let’s not put things off. Let’s become more aware that starting to do new things doesn’t mean you have to stop doing other things. That’s the hardest part right there.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here