[Guy St. Clair: This post is co-authored with colleague Jake Gach, Consultant at Accenture. Jake’s insight for this post is particularly appreciated. The post was first published on September 14, 2020 in SMR’s Knowledge Services Blog.]
In today’s society, especially in the United States but equally in many other parts of the world, much thought is being given to defining and building – or strengthening – a humane society. In his column in the New York Times reacting to the protests following the murder of George Floyd, Roger Cohen raised the topic of humanism. “The question of course is whether this awakening [the protests] can achieve what even the Civil Rights Movement could not: the full humanization of Black Americans.”
Yes, of course. And as we go in this direction, let’s take into the workplace the suggestion of “full humanization” as a goal. Let’s bring it into our working lives and figure out how we can connect management, leadership, and knowledge services to pave the way. All three have qualities that, when put together, enable the larger organization to accomplish its highest levels of success. So if for no other reason, a humane workplace becomes a driver in the achievement of our own goals as knowledge strategists.
If that’s what we want to achieve, what are we talking about when we ask if an organization, community, or other group is “humanistic” or “humanist?” In one way, it might be just a question of semantics, perhaps even only of preference. There seems to be a pretty strong movement afoot in the academic management community and – in the “practitioner” side of management theory as well. For the past few years, a leader in this effort has been Domènec Melé, who lectures frequently on the subject and writes for both The Journal of Business Ethics (https://bit.ly/32qOFRd) and The Humanistic Management Journal (https://bit.ly/3hr65Bn).
In a first approximation, both “humanistic” and “humanist” might seem to mean the same thing, but there is a distinction. “Humanism,” for example, is generally defined as a socio-political philosophy, and someone who adheres to that philosophy is considered a “humanist.” So that word might be used to refer to a person or to their philosophy, while “humanistic” is a more general term referring to less dogmatic concepts or tendencies. More conversationally, “humanism” seems to be about a way of thinking that views us, both as human beings and as workers, in our development as individuals and, at the same time, with a concern about how we – as members of society – think about ourselves and others in relation to the larger world or society.
For us, that’s what happens when people in the organization are being managed so that they (and we) can move toward success with organizational efforts. And that question leads us to ask: are organizations, communities, and all kinds of groups that work together to achieve a common goal managing toward the humanization (using Cohen’s word) of the group? Is the management humane?
If it is, well and good. If it is not, what can we do in knowledge services to make management in our employing organizations more humane? To get us started, we might begin to think of “humane management” as a fusion of a humanistic philosophy and a strategic management style. In other words, the organization’s core vision and leadership approach are rooted in the success of its members and customers. And then, of course, as knowledge strategists, we ask if – in the workplace – management can better utilize knowledge services to become a more humanistic organization? If we can, how do we do this? What’s the connection?
In many ways, knowledge services is strongly tied to the concept of “humane management,” and there are good examples, especially in promoting a humane culture that can help the organization enable the exchange of ideas and information (and vice versa). Moreover, by focusing on its people, management creates a more open environment, one in which individual success is aligned with the organization’s success.
A great recent example of “humane management” is Danny Meyer’s management strategy. Meyer is the CEO and Founder of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) and Shake Shack, and, as it turns out, two of his core values are rooted in his humanistic education when he was growing up: “putting your employees first” and “care for the community.” Meyer’s management perspectives have been described in two popular interviews, in both Strategy + Business (https://bit.ly/2ZAFgV9) and in Female Founders Fund (https://bit.ly/2GXokSp). By valuing their employees as individual people (rather than as the lowest on the hierarchical totem pole) and establishing a meaningful connection with local communities and customers, Meyer and USHG have been able to create a strong presence in the restaurant business.
While expanding to new restaurants, Meyer’s humanistic approach has been deemed successful, as he was able to cultivate a similar culture by dispersing leadership and star performers across his restaurants, and by using previous lessons learned. This innovative approach, focusing on a strong local culture while strategically managing the organization’s intellectual capital, truly embodies the fusion between humanistic management and knowledge services.