Close article 11th April 2016

Individuals in Business: Radar Roundtable

We recently hosted a roundtable to discuss with some of our network the Radar theme ‘Being Human’ and better understand what it means to be human in an increasingly technological and systemised world.

At SustainAbility, we recognise that making swift progress towards better business and a better world requires inspiration, collaboration and trust, and a stronger emotional connection with our planet and each other. Yet such human qualities are increasingly under pressure in the global economy.

“A lot of organisations don’t incentivise us to be our full selves. Often they ask us to bring ourselves to the workplace, but it is only done in a formalistic and inauthentic way.” Sustainable Finance & Investment Executive

Working from this assumption we asked participants from business, academia, NGOs and social enterprises to think about how human qualities can continue to flourish in business.

The important human qualities identified included creativity, curiosity, and empathy as well as passion and humour. And while these qualities were seen across business to some degree, when we tried to unpick what this all meant for our working lives, the complexities of this topic became apparent.

It was felt that workplaces and the wider economic system focus on efficiency, removing the value of essential human elements and qualities. Organisations are slow to change because they operate within the existing system that, it was argued, is itself a corrupted and dysfunctional model.

As one participant observed, dominant business practices often remove the space we need as humans to create and to connect. A ‘let’s just get through the agenda’ mindset means we skip over or ignore creating the space to meet each other on a human level. Paradoxically, it is when we connect at a deeper and more honest human level that the rest of the ‘agenda items’ can get sorted and progress is made.

“We have a system designed to be efficient in a certain way, which is removing the space we require to create, to connect. There is a culture of ‘let’s just get through the agenda’ and we skip over or ignore creating the space to meet each other on a human level.” Strategist & Change Agent

Taking all of this into account, one contributor identified a set of three initial system controls that we can start by addressing; specifically, the leadership, structures and incentives that currently drive negative behaviours in the workplace. There was the view that by first focusing on these elements it is possible to positively reinforce the qualities first identified around the room.

“I think we may all have different interpretations of what humanity is. But the question is also, how do you respect the humanity in others? How do you not only respect it but also help it to grow it in others?” Academic

Fundamentally though, many in the room felt that simplicity is the key – showing up and meeting people as they are and where they are at and creating a space for that, before the agenda takes over. We are often so busy to get things done applauding a superficial efficiency that we can miss the valuable meaning found in meeting each other.


Originally posted on Radar, Issue 10 

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