Delineating the Human Dimension at Work
by Renuka Abraham

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Management – The Human Dimension – a very valid topic of discussion in the face of businesses scrambling to automate, robotize, and optimize. Remember the days when the human dimension was the only dimension! How did we get to the point that we are debating about this? I asked a couple of colleagues what ‘the human dimension’ meant to them and I got surprisingly different interpretations and perspectives. Was this dispersed knowledge or the so-called Rashomon Effect? Either way, it was quite an eye-opener.

Coffee Corner and Watercooler Moments

‘Empathy at the workplace’ was the most common (and obvious) interpretation of the human dimension in management. Often viewed as an antonym of professionalism, empathy has received bad press for a long time. However, with the emergence of employee retention as a success factor in business, empathy is not something to be ashamed of any more. On the contrary – if you, as a manager, can maximize your effectiveness and leadership potential by responding to employees with sensitivity – then empathy will help you to win you that ‘Manager of the Year’ award. Of course, empathy is not limited to managers – it is an expectation from everybody. Fortunately, for those struggling to wear their hearts on their sleeves, empathy covers a huge gamut of easily achievable situations – lending an ear, going to the gemba, or personalizing appreciation and recognition, wherever applicable. A 2018 study conducted by Businessolver says, ‘Empathy has solidified its position as a core workplace value that impacts culture, innovation, productivity, and profit …’ . 

You Got Me Hooked at Hello

I am not sure if I should be surprised that two Gen Y colleagues interpreted ‘the human dimension’ at work as the intuitive experiences in apps and sticky websites. For them, and paradoxically, anything that personalizes their user experience and makes it fun and engaging falls in the category of ‘the human dimension’. For a population spoiled for choice, personalization is a basic given, and the non-availability of custom options is, again ironically, considered impersonal and non-engaging. These options cover friendly bots, custom settings, avatars, skins, themes, filters, reminders, notifications, and ‘shareability’. If an app does not allow you to share your performance (for example, game score or participation) on multiple social media – then the app has left out an important dimension in social engagement – ‘sharing’. As the world conducts creative experiments with Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant – what is really happening is a test of how ‘humanized’ they are.  

100% Automation – Really?

For automation specialists, ‘the human dimension’ is every single ‘non-automatable’ procedure that needs human intervention. Tasked with maximizing on automation and optimization, these specialists also need to ensure accuracy through manual confirmations of system proposals, wherever applicable.

HR vs ‘RR’

Today, despite the indispensability of machines, no one will dispute that the soul of every business is indeed its people. You are whom you hire. Any success that you can boast of, rides on the shoulders of the people who drive innovations, execution, quality, or sales. The human dimension is so critical that you can either win because of it – or lose. This makes one wonder about the challenge of implementing the maxim ‘hire for attitude, train for skills’ in a robot! Maybe this creates a new corporate responsibility ‘robotic resource’ management’.

Sustaining the Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan has popularized our planet as the ‘pale blue dot’ and unfortunately at the rate at which we are destroying and draining the resources of this planet, we are soon heading for a more somber color palette. Recently, news agencies reported that our planet is headed towards an ‘irreversible’ hothouse condition. Since the preservation of our planet is directly proportional to the survival of humanity, businesses do recognize its value beyond the realm of attracting shareholders. They now see the need to incorporate numerous sustainability initiatives. This is indeed the human dimension in corporate social responsibility.

A Question for SpaceX, Mars One, and NASA

My final musing is not based on my unofficial survey with colleagues but is based on something that is definitely around the corner in the upcoming decades – colonizing Mars, which is no longer a question of ‘if’ but of ‘when’. Once ‘manning’ Mars becomes a reality (hopefully in the 2020s) – we will soon be scrambling for a new term to distinguish the ‘humans on Mars’ from the ‘humans on Earth – a new dimension signaling a new era.

This article is one in a series related to the 10th Global Peter Drucker Forum, with the theme management. the human dimension, taking place on November 29 & 30, 2018 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF18

This article first appeared in LinkedIn Pulse

One comment

  1. This is an interesting read. I did not realise different categories of people define the ‘human dimension’ differently, all within the context of automating our workspaces. It is a well-written article.

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