As a consultant, I hear people talk about other people as resources, as human capital, as skill sets, as a set of competencies.
When I hear these terms, I want to run the other way and yell, “what has work become”?
Thankfully when companies hire me to work with them, they tell me they want someone who can get people excited, someone authentic, someone who can listen, someone who can bring people together. Chemistry is important they tell me, and not the test tube kind.
I like to talk with people in terms of the contribution they make, how their personalities made the team come together, the value they add, the quality of their work, the energy that they bring to their work, their enthusiasm. I like to talk about the fun of doing business with them.
I’ve never been excited by anyone’s skill set, but I have been impressed with people’s ability to get a job done quickly, or their ability to reach out to other divisions to create a new product.
How about you? Have you met any interesting skill sets recently? I doubt it. But I’m sure you’ve met some interesting people.
Do you want to work with “skill sets”? How do you talk about others?
I like the approach of Zappos, the on-line retailer run by Tony Hsieh. I write about them in my book. One reason I like Zappos is that they are not obsessed with measurement. They measure sales and profitability, but they don’t run the company “by the numbers”. They don’t look at people as skill sets and competencies. They don’t give people a bunch of tests before they get hired.
Zappos creates an atmosphere where people can show their humanity and be people: people with the need to grow, laugh, breathe, cry and be themselves. All meetings include an element of fun and a way to get to know each other. The first item on the agenda is people talking about something that they had done outside of work. Everyone gets a few minutes to talk about a museum visit or their sister’s wedding or their mother’s new handsome husband. BTW, there are no extra points for saying, “I worked all weekend.”
What a waste of time, you might think [I hope you don’t] but if you can suspend that belief for a minute, think about how it brings people together and how it manages to bring some humanity to the meeting. Think about the human connections that develop.
People at Zappos don’t check into their cubicles at 9 AM and come out just for bathroom breaks. They develop a community with others who work there, and with the customers. Their calls are never “monitored for quality assurances”. They can take as long as necessary to help the customer. The enjoyment people have at work comes across to the customers who keep on coming back. You might think Zappos is a small company, but their annual sales are over $1 Billion USD.
If you say that Zappos is a special kind of company, you’d be right. Zappos and other companies like GoreTex or Semco run by Ricardo Semler, really do treat people differently. They don’t treat them as a set of skills or competencies. They don’t repeatedly measure what they do. They take the radical approach of treating people like the adults they are.
What does it take to run a company like this?
It means spending more time talking with each other and less time measuring others. And above all, it means having the courage to chart a course of action to do things differently.
It can start with something as simple as using a different language in talking about people.