Governance needs a human-centric approach, not a farming one

Published on Thursday, July 22nd 2021


In enterprises today we expect a lot from employees. As IT allows more and more routine work to be taken out of the human sphere, employers want their people to be creative, proactive and responsible.

This requires making people feel seen and heard, trusted and supported by their management, while giving them the freedom and space to learn by experimenting (and thus making mistakes) - not by slavishly following the rules and objectives set by higher authorities.

Only then can an organisation function optimally in a 'flow'.

How to establish effective governance step by step? Read it in our whitepaper here.

Over time, the enterprise and its workforce achieve a high performance

In order to be in a state of flow, movement within an enterprise has to take place holistically. The people moving the organisation do so by conducting their work based on a shared understanding of the direction of the organisation. Their work is organised and structured around the product portfolio and the substance of the products.

By enabling bi-directional vertical communication and horizontal interaction, the enterprise’s people have the ability to constantly learn from mistakes and continuously identify and lessen constraints. The result is a consistent and steady increase in performance. Over time, the enterprise and its workforce achieve high performance and reach the ultimate state of flow.

When governing an enterprise we need a human-centric approach. The world's largest retailer, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has a slightly more instrumental view of his workforce and people. After years of criticism on the working conditions of the people in his warehouses, he recently announced measures to improve their health.

Amazon has been opening healthcare clinics for its employees as it expands virtual care offerings for enterprise clients. The health of his staff is Bezos’ top priority!

The farmers approach vs. the human-centric approach

But if we look deeper into the procedures Bezos is installing, I notice they sound very similar to the way farmers on Dutch TV talk about how much they care about their cows. They will do whatever they can to keep them healthy, prevent injuries, give them enough daily exercise and fresh air, improve the quality of their food, all to make sure the cows keep producing at a level the farmer needs to survive. One could say: the farming approach to management.

It’s not that those farmers don’t care about their cows. Quite a few of them clearly show they actually care very deeply about their animals. The point is that those cows are fundamentally seen as components in a production facility. There is no consideration of the cows’ emotional wellbeing (other than when it negatively impacts their productivity) and there’s not even the remotest suggestion that what cows want for themselves may be something else entirely.

People certainly have the ability to have wants, desires, goals and ambitions, and to communicate them. Which is essential for the flow of an enterprise. Yet, Amazon’s support for its employees to be as productive as possible (which includes staying healthy, preventing injuries, and taking some breaks) seems to assume their single desire is to live up to what Amazon needs from them.

Open communication and meaningful discussion

Whether we like it or not, we are at the next stage of the industrial revolution. If we take social responsibility seriously, a corporation should be a co-operation between people that voluntarily join to achieve outcomes they can’t achieve individually.

  • There should be open communication and negotiation in both directions - from corporation to employees and back - about the mission, the conditions and the consequences.
  • And there should be a much more meaningful discussion about ‘value’ than the dollars and cents we currently use as the sole expression of value.

In human-centric governance it becomes clear the human aspect adds social complexity, unpredictability and non-rational influences to our organisations. Human-centric governance works when it takes the emotional and social needs of people into account, such as safety, trust and motivation. The cycling approach to human-centric governance is to find the optimal balance step by step.

If you want to read more: download our White-paper on Governance.