After Covid, cos will search for the label of the best place to be human


During the last month, the epidemic has brought humankind to its knees as it has never done anything before, not even the two world wars, seen in context. Once this is over (and it surely will be), there will be autopsy, analysis, flashback, guesswork, and definitely one or two blockbuster movies. And the world will lick its wounds and limp to normal.

the human spirit has levels of resilience that stretch in direct proportion to the challenge they are tested with. the key word to note here is ‘ human ’ and that will need to be brought out of mothballed corporate cupboards.

Physics defines the concept of ‘work’ as the measure of energy transfer as an object is moved over a distance by an external force, at least part of which is applied in the direction of the displacement. Embedded here may lie the clues to some of the fundamental shifts we need to make to first understand that organisations are not ruled by physics but by human ities. Here are some guidelines that we will now ignore to our own peril as, potentially, a Covid-20 will not take any prisoners:

* Not capital, but energy: Organisations don’t run on capital — their essential lifeblood is the ‘energy’ that the employees bring with them and convert into something of value to the organisation’s clients. Yes, to an extent it mirrors part of the physics definition of energy transfer. the missing part is the understanding around ‘how’ this energy is created. the conventional party-time corporate phrase that ‘command and control of employees is dead’ is as clear a lie as there ever was.

Ask any junior-level employee what's going on in his head the day he wants to leave a little early because it's his son's first birthday. If you want this to happen, you need to know how to fix the command-and-control reality, rather than mistakenly assuming it's dead.

* Not objects: the next reality that must change is about the understanding of employees as objects and the sharpest proof of that is the existence of human resources as a business function itself. Objects do break, get lost, get stolen, get rusted, become obsolete. Similarly, resources get depleted, dissipate, depreciate and, ultimately, are destroyed. Do we now have a case to (if not to formally re-label this part of an organisation) at least start believing that we don’t have thousands of ‘objects’ in the organisation — we have thousands of ‘ human s’? Hopefully, the award to be coveted by corporations may well then be ‘A Great Place to Be Human’.

* No need to shout: the third hangover of the physics definition that needs to be thrown out of the window is the part about ‘moving the object over a distance by an external force’. Think about it — very simply, the manager (it’s just wrong to use the word leader here) who shouts at and pushes his team hardest is the one who wins the promotions, the bonuses and the awards.

This continues even as we get busy with power point slides quoting, ‘People don’t leave companies, they leave managers’. Don’t make any mistake here: Those managers still get promoted. This will now compulsorily call for a total overhaul to help managers transition into leaders by unlearning the physics way of creating energy/results of ‘pushing objects’ and learning the human ities way of creating energy/results by ‘engaging the human ’s potential’. So, the ‘external force’ will not work any longer. Managers will have to learn the new skills of engaging human s.

* Redefine work: the final part that brings this all together — or apart — is the physics notion, at least part of which is applied in the direction of the displacement. In the human ities context, the question is, ‘How aligned are an organisation’s employees towards pulling (remember, not pushing) in the same direction?’ Even the physics definition provides for ‘at least partial alignment’.

Global studies around employee (redefined as human now) engagement point to low double-digits, possibly around 15% at best. There is no way 15 out of every 100 human s in an organisation will be able to pull the firm back from the devastating impact of Covid-19, no matter how loud the managers shout or threaten or push.

We tried that for Covid-19, and finally retreated into our own personal spaces and hunkered down to sit quietly and allow it to pass on. the organisations that understand this reality must start setting the scale back to zero now, in multiple ways, and the re-definition of ‘work’ is the beginning.

the existing calendar we all grew up following in the corporate world was BC and AD. the new one will now be BC and AC — before and after . the beauty is that it’s possible, if we want to.

( the writer is managing partner at )