A Human Business Manifesto

In his online article, Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, suggests eliminating the B2B and B2C marketing labels in favor of a simpler H2H. Human to human. As someone whose personal and professional mission is to reveal our shared humanity, I applaud this suggestion. I’ve made it my professional life’s work to ignore the artificial distinction between business goals, tactics or communication and human ones. This affects the way I engage with C-suite clients (as fellow humans), how I choose to present them on film (as fellow humans) and how I see every potential project (as an opportunity to connect fellow humans!)

Last time I checked, businesses were run by humans, powered by humans and both financially and emotionally supported by humans. Businesses are capable of acts of human compassion and heroism, and they make human mistakes. When we refer to ‘corporate culture’ aren’t we just talking about shared human values? That’s why it’s always made sense to me that the British refer to their institutions in the plural–as in “Unilever have taken a bold step.” The grammatical choice is a signal that the British see their institutions as collectives of human beings. By contrast, our habit of seeing our enterprises as monolithic, singular entities is unproductive at best and dangerous at worst. Not only does it provide an impersonal (inhuman!) cover for questionable behavior and accountability, it doesn’t serve our institutions’ best interest. Here’s why: when we resist exposing our own humanity–especially in business–we limit our ability to connect with those most critical to our success–our peers and colleagues, our current or potential employees, our investors and donors and our consumers. The ability to create connections is at the heart of any successful business strategy. But businesses don’t connect with humans. (All together now…) Humans connect with humans.

Survival of the Human-ist
The ability–the courage–to reveal oneself or one’s company in a human manner is not only rewarding when times are good, it’s critical in times of crisis. It’s been well documented that those companies who most successfully rebounded after the 2008 crash were the ones whose leaders were most connected to their workforce.

Jon Katzenbach, acclaimed business consultant/author, wrote at the time about how the economic crisis left the “human side” of organizations “traumatized.” They needed, he urged, to be healed in a human manner. Katzenbach argued that harnessing the human side of one’s enterprise can mean the difference between eking out incremental improvement and roaring back to life. He pointed to the fact that the successful ‘human’ business needs to engage and mobilize the “informal” dimension of the organization from the bottom up. We call it ‘mobilizing your tribe.’

A Millennial Mandate
For years I’ve urged business leaders and institutions to behave and present themselves in a more human manner. But lately I find myself in good (and numerous!) company. Company that is critically important to the future of business. They’re called Millennials (Yeah. Them.) More than enough has been written about this demographic tsunami–about their habits and mindset, about their work, purchase and communication behaviors. But the attention they receive is justified, not solely because of their size (nearly 100 million strong, they’re the largest single generation in American history) but because their values are bound to forever change the way we all do business–as the Boomers did before them.

One of the core values of Millennials –whether they’re consumers, alums, employees, stock holders or investors–is transparency. To Millennials, this means everything from the language to which they respond (straight, truthful, authentic, human) to their insatiable appetite for the ‘story behind the story’ whether that’s a news event, a company’s history or a leader’s background. Transparency is the key to an authentic connection with this audience. Leaders who speak from a script instead of their heart or hide behind their title, allowing others to speak for them, do so at their peril.

Millennials, and increasingly all of your tribes, demand a more human connection with the people and companies for whom they work or support. They will reward those businesses who provide it. Every interaction with your tribes is an opportunity to do so. It might take some time to get used to this idea. Otherwise fearless CEOs feel very nervous in front of my camera as they reveal a more open, vulnerable side of themselves. I tell them that’s natural. After all, they’re only human.

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