What you’ll learn:
- What’s a human-centric culture?
- Why a human-centric culture is important (especially in manufacturing).
- How to build a human-centric culture.
Along with illness and uncertainty, COVID-19 managed to deliver something rarely seen: A prolonged moment of upheaval across thousands of businesses and numerous industries. Manufacturing is no different. It’s been a time of growth for some organizations and of loss for others, but all face the same question: What does a successful future for manufacturing look like, and how can it be achieved?
Leaving aside the disruption that emergent exponential technologies are poised to create, and looking past the potential long-term effects of a global pandemic, a third ingredient stands out in the recipe for moving forward in our industry—the creation of a human-centric culture in the workplace.
Defining “Human-Centric Culture”
In a human-centric culture, the focus is primarily on people—both customers and employees. In service industries like real estate, retail, and hospitality, this kind of approach might seem like a no-brainer (although, of course, it’s not carried out successfully across the board).
In manufacturing, however, such a culture represents something a little more radical. It’s a far cry from the relentless focus on performance, efficiency improvement, and cost reduction that has traditionally characterized the industry in favor of instead trusting the idea that doing right by customers (and employees) will lead to achieving those very same goals.
The old mindset asked, “How do we get the most out of the people who work for us?” The new mindset asks, “How do we help people become better versions of themselves so that they’re able and inclined to give us more?” The end goal remains unchanged, but an updated strategy for achieving it is proving to be a disruptive force within the companies willing to implement it.
Why Is a Human-Centric Culture Important?
This is the most crucial thing to understand, and luckily, the numbers make it very simple to do just that. Here are a few to consider:
- Over 70% of customers express frustration when their experience with a company is impersonal, and 44% of customers will become repeat buyers following a personalized experience.
- Over 60% of customers say that they will share more information with a company offering a great experience; 86% are willing to pay more in order to get that experience; and one of three customers will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.
- Investing in customer experience has the potential to double a company’s revenue within three years.
The key takeaway here is that customers buy—and buy again—when they receive the best possible customer experience. Price and product are no longer enough to differentiate, and businesses in all sectors are noticing and adapting. But where does that great experience come from? The answer is a human-centric workplace culture, the kind that Gen Y and Z workers are actively seeking out.
The way that people feel inside a company—understood vs. overlooked—means everything to the customer’s experience down the line. Obviously, this makes sense when thinking in terms of direct customer support and contact centers, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In the long run, every person within an organization, down to the least-paid employee, will give back to that organization in a relative proportion to how they’re treated. How they feel—not just about their job, but about the organization’s larger purpose and values—will affect their work, their relationships with colleagues, and ultimately, even the customer.
In case it’s not clear by now, it bears repeating: Human-centricity isn’t just about making people feel good. It’s about the outcomes associated with that achievement. It’s a research-backed pathway to higher productivity and shareholder returns. Ignore the new-age-y connotation, in other words, and focus on the fact that building a workplace culture around people is an exercise in top-line growth and bottom-line profitability. Empowering your employees will increase their commitment to the organization and raise customer satisfaction. It’s just science.
Building a Human-Centric Culture
Despite the sense that human-centricity could be considered a “soft” approach, it’s undoubtedly one of the most difficult aspects of building a highly successful company. Compared to hard data, people are unpredictable. Especially for companies mired in tradition, implementing this kind of culture may seem unfeasible.
Yet any company can take fundamental actions to begin moving toward a human-centric culture now. First and foremost, it requires that we make the effort to see the problem through the eyes of those who are closest to it.
In my own executive role, it has always been tempting to use a top-down approach to prescribe both what and how we should do things. For example, I recently tried implementing a new set of metrics for our customer-support organization to track what I felt would improve our customer experience. I was pretty convinced that my approach was well-thought-out and would be effective. Fortunately, one of our technical support specialists suggested to me that there could be unintended consequences by striving to meet these metrics.
By focusing on improving issue resolution time, for example, we might actually be incentivizing our support engineers to focus more on speed and less on achieving a great outcome for the customer. This led me to throw away my assumptions and engage with the support team to come up with performance metrics that met the true objective of improving our responsiveness without compromising the customer experience.
In allowing myself to see the issue through the eyes of our support engineers, they felt empowered and understood. Ultimately, our customers benefited not only from a better approach overall, but also from a more positive and “can do” demeanor from the employees they interacted with.
I like to think of this concept of seeing things through the lens of employees and customers as the first and most important step in employing Design Thinking towards shaping workplace culture, which is another powerful topic unto itself. Such efforts can appear difficult at the outset, but the long-term results speak for themselves. The critical thing to remember is that implementing a truly human-centric culture takes absolute, top-down commitment to making it a core value of the organization.
Progress toward human-centricity often comes in leaps and bounds followed by periods of uncertainty. It won’t happen overnight, and it must have support at the highest organizational levels. Companies willing to take the plunge, though, will emerge on the other side as industry leaders—and it will be humans, not data, at the heart of that disruption.