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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Sandler

Humanizing Work: 3,000 at a time

I have just returned from a very powerful gathering of almost 3,000 humans. Not powerful in any traditional sense, but because their heads, hearts and energy were connected on one common mission -- to make the workplace more human. These like-minded workplace influencers were brought together by Workhuman®, a very different type of HR Systems provider that I’ll leave you to check out on your own.

The content of the 5th annual WorkhumanLive conference is divided into two broad categories - Main Stage and Breakouts. Below are my key take-aways from the Main Stage speakers which I will cover in order of appearance.

Professor Hamel of LBS and business strategy fame is coming after bureaucracy with vigor and ferocity, making a strong case that corporate survival in the future will require a fundamental shift to what he calls “Humanocracy”, the title of his book due out January 2020. His presentation was passionately delivered at double the average human speed leaving me with far too many nuggets of wisdom from which to choose. But I’ll settle on this: “We have become so immune to the lack of humanity in the workplace that it starts to seem right.” If you read that and it doesn't resonate, then maybe he is right. Read it again.

Yes, that George. A later-in-life husband and father, successful entrepreneur and global humanitarian who also happens to be an accomplished actor sat before us with an ease and charisma that leaves one wondering exactly how he got that way. My key takeaway is not from one of the many poignant and sincere things he told us about that journey nor one of the many personal stories he shared (spanning Kentucky to Lake Como), it was the collection of all of them. George reminded me he is a human. Those of us who have ever allowed any one person to seem larger than life may benefit from such a reminder. Those who have ever thought themselves to be, may need the reminder.

Another presenter said about the 41 year old President and COO of FOCUS Brands (Carvel, Jamba Juice, Aunt Annie's, et. al.), “Kat Cole is what a 21st Century Leader should look like, but doesn’t”. He didn’t mean because Kat is a college drop-out, inked with multiple tattoos who got married at Burning Man, he meant because as a leader she is deeply connected to herself and her team, she is human. Of leading the successful turnaround at Cinnabon Kat said they needed a leader with “fresh eyes and an open heart”. Kat told us that her secret key to continually getting better as a human is to imagine a “Hot Shot” person doing her job. Then she identifies one thing that person does differently than her and tries to do that thing. For starters I'll imagine that I’m Kat.

Brené had her own rack in the conference bookstore and groupies in the front row. She is a prolific author on various topics surrounding rehumanizing work but describes herself as a researcher first. A master at articulating memes I was able to write down such beauties as “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind” a simple reminder for how to communicate with all people. In support of her well researched work on courageous leaders she provided interviews and examples that “Courage doesn’t come without vulnerability”. But since the world is very likely in a crisis of human leadership I’ll pick this as my key takeaway — “Brave leaders are never quiet about hard things.” Of course Brené acknowledged that doing the right thing is difficult and most often uncomfortable. “Comfort comes AFTER doing what is right.”

I am guilty of not realizing everything Geena has been up to since 2004. The Institute that bears her name has extensively researched diversity depictions in film and TV designed for children 11 and under. The data was equal parts eye-opening and atrocious but the net-net is this — fiction, meaning we 100% control the creation, does not even reflect the current diversity of society. It continues to support the message that white males are more important than any other group. But what is truly worrisome is that when shown this data her industry peers are stunned. They thought they were progressing. And they have been, so much so that if the rate of improvement continues, gender parity in children’s programming will be achieved in 700 years. Citing examples of how The Hunger Games and Brave increased the number of girls in archery or the “CSI Effect” increasing the number of women studying forensic science, Geena left me with the clear message that media has the power to create the future we want now - almost instantly. As Geena says, If she can see it, she can be it.™ then maybe “life will imitate art.”

Almost none of us can truly appreciate what abject poverty means nor what it does to the spirit of a black girl born into an abusive, alcoholic South Carolina (and later Rhode Island) household in 1965. Upward Bound was one of many difference-makers that lead to her inevitable“success” as the first African-American woman to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony. But I didn’t see an award-winning persona today, I saw a deeply scarred human who grew up filled with "self-hatred" and just wants to inspire people to make a difference. “A hero recognizes the value of each person, but also fights the people who don’t care”. Viola will tell you, if you’re a leader, who truly cares, be prepared because it will cost you something to really help. Help is not a handout - it requires actually seeing someone. She touched me deeply as she delivered this closing advice “be careful striving to get to the top, or driving your children to, because the top comes at a cost.”

I learned a great deal more than just these takeaways so I encourage you to follow any or all of these speakers to learn more about their individual efforts for humankind. All quotes above are for attribution, other than where they are previously printed by the author, they are not to be considered verbatim.


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