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The Future of Your Organization is Human

People aren’t robots. In a changing environment, companies shouldn’t be robotic, either.

It’s a truth older than Darwin: The ability to adapt grows more valuable whenever uncertainty in the environment increases. With the world’s markets tiptoeing toward recession, companies have the opportunity to make their next evolutionary leap–the chance to become more human.  

We know –”more human” doesn’t exactly sound like how we’ve traditionally been taught to think about organizations. Businesses have spent the last two decades pursuing digital transformation and embracing artificial intelligence and advanced robotics–technologies that generally assume tasks previously reserved for humans. Additionally, business leaders have spent the last two centuries absorbing the Industrial Age organization theory, painting organizations as machines. 

However, enterprises are not machines and people can no longer pretend that they are. Organizations are living organisms with behaviors and abilities like the humans who staff them. 

The last few years have made that clear. Profits, while essential, aren’t all that matter. The market’s definition of success has shifted, and while people still expect organizations to make money, they increasingly value environmental sustainability, social equity and inclusion as well as efficiency. They expect human behavior–that means ethical, compassionate and transparent–from the companies they do business with.  

Organizations can’t behave like single-minded robots to thrive in this new era, marching mindlessly toward the next quarter’s financial results. They need to evolve and become more complex, adaptive and creative organisms.

Three Ways You Can Build an Adaptable Operating Model  

Adaptability is an acquired skill, and enterprises can take inspiration from our own human biology. We see three critical ways companies can evolve their operating model to become more adaptable and flexible, using the human body as a starting point.  

1. Distributed Intelligence 

People’s bodies can react quickly without involving the brain. Think about knee-jerk reflexes or yanking a hand away from a hot fire. 

Organizations do the same thing when they empower people to take action throughout the company instead of having all decisions centrally controlled by a handful of leaders.  

In a pharmaceutical company, for instance, engineers and planners can be embedded into production teams so they can deal with any issues locally, continually improving performance. The production quality gets improved locally and immediately, without involving the company’s central leadership. 

This pivot to decentralization is evident in flexible manufacturing. For the pharmaceutical industry, for example, this concept is increasingly important when using cell and gene therapies to make advanced biologics. Often, these drugs are aimed at small patient populations, especially in oncology. Manufacturing cells need to reconfigure quickly to respond to market needs and be first to market. 

It shouldn’t be local intelligence and action versus global intelligence and action. It’s about both. The human body has neurons in muscles, gut and extremities as well as the brain–and so do organizations.  

2. Learning Through Data 

Our brains learn through external stimuli, and people’s knowledge and capabilities represent everything they’ve individually learned or experienced. In other words, they are built by the data available to them through the senses. That’s why neural networks, modeled on the structures of human brains, can only be as smart as the training data available to the model. 

For organizations to be more nimble, they need better and more frequent access to data of all types. They need to develop robust “sensory organs”–mechanisms to ensure they intimately understand customers’ needs, wants and desires. And they need to feed that data (as real-time as possible) into organizational decision-making.  

That’s especially true for design functions, so that customer and employee experiences adapt to the needs of 21st-century consumers. Many companies believe they already do this, of course. But in adaptive enterprises, it is as natural as the human eye adapting to bright sunlight. 

Samsung has built regional design studios around the world, which leverage design thinking and market knowledge to rapidly innovate. With its main hub in San Francisco, its multidisciplinary designers help it tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. That enables it to reign as Apple’s most formidable competitor.

3. Embrace the Ecosystem 

Humans are exquisitely social animals. Most of us cannot exist independently from one another. Societies are complex ecosystems, with people mutually dependent upon one another for survival. And as environments have changed, new civilizations have grown up in response to new human needs. 

In organizations, this spurs ever-expanding ideas about partnering and collaborating with other organizations. Technology incubation centers have spawned new developments–enabled by these networks and connections in ways that didn’t exist even a decade ago. It’s driven by sharing platforms– companies like Uber and Airbnb–and the subscription economy, led by companies like Salesforce and Apple. 

Thriving in a VUCA World 

There’s no escaping the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world we live in today. Organizations are still scrambling to embrace the changes wrought by the pandemic, including shifting customer values and hybrid workforces. And while the recession is by no means certain, rising inflation, energy costs and interest rates are pressuring consumer and B2B customers.  

But organizations are by no means helpless. These sweeping changes offer opportunities for evolution and adaptation. For some, it may even be the right time for organizational transformation, including a new approach to human-centric operating model design. And no matter what, this uncertainty requires an entirely new approach to collaboration, a holistic view of the organization that takes in a company’s eyes, ears, heart and soul–as well as its brain.  


FINAL THOUGHTS

Companies that want to thrive in a changing environment can do so by being less like the robots they used to be and more like the humans they serve.  

Want to understand how to put your organization on a path to become more human-centered? Get in touch with one of our experts. 

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