Why soft values are hard values – and why people-centred management benefits the customer
An open and empathetic corporate culture not only increases employees’ sense of meaning in their work. It also increases a company’s resilience and helps it better serve its customers, write Sofigate’s Aino Kanerva and Marika Mertala.
The working life of the 2020s will increasingly emphasise productivity thinking. Organisations are being made more efficient, and work-life reforms – such as the introduction of artificial intelligence – are primarily justified to increase productivity.
It is clear that every company strives to operate efficiently and effectively. However, it is a mistake for a company to treat its staff as a resource to be exploited and extract as much output as possible.
Seeing people as mere production tools does not motivate modern information workers or encourage them to take the initiative and use their creativity. Therefore, the instrumental view of human beings also easily leads to a situation where even the most efficient processes do not produce the desired results. Even the efficiency gains of technological innovation will be compromised if information workers cannot find their own ways of using, for example, artificial intelligence in a way that suits them best.
Productivity thinking is often based, above all, on a misconception of what the results of modern information work are based on. The added value of contemporary work does not come from technology or processes but from encounters between people within teams, customer relationships and networks across companies.
It all starts with company culture
Encounters are particularly important in service businesses. An expert can only add value to a client if they have a deep understanding not only of the client company’s business but also of the goals and mindset of its people.
Productivity and other “hard” results therefore require more and more “soft” things: empathy and genuine presence. Therefore, achieving the best results and creating added value also requires more people-centred management.
Corporate culture plays a key role. People-centred management can only flourish in a company with a low hierarchy and an emphasis on dialogue between different people. A company where front-line managers listen to the members of their teams and understand their individual needs. Where every employee has the opportunity to be themselves and to be heard. Where team members openly share their experiences and support each other in both professional and personal matters. Where professionals meet their clients not only as clients but also as people.
This often requires a conscious effort on the part of the firm to promote dialogue and encounters. Experts working in digital environments can easily get bogged down in endless Teams meetings, so opportunities for face-to-face meetings must also be provided. Consultants often work long hours at clients’ premises, so they need to be guaranteed the chance to meet members of their own team. Occasional meetings over coffee breaks and other informal occasions also foster an open business culture.
The personal example set by management is particularly important. In a people-centred company, even the top management cannot delegate the management of people to others, as the company’s culture always reflects the values and human perception of its management.
Openness makes a company and people resilient
People-centred management is demanding, but it is also rewarding. For example, being open with customers and how we meet them means we need a more diverse range of people from different educational backgrounds.
Above all, the professionals of the future must be willing to adapt to constant change and be able to absorb and apply new knowledge on an ongoing basis. Without an open and flexible mind, an endless flood of information will overwhelm the employee.
The good news is that people-centred management helps both the organisation and its employees to thrive in the face of change. Genuine encounters and empathy build business resilience, strengthen customer relationships based on partnership and thus contribute to strategic business goals. At the same time, they increase employees’ sense of control and meaning in their work.
Empathy also extends to understanding client companies and the people who work in them – thus helping them do business. And so, the beneficiaries of people-centred management are also the company’s customers.
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Aino Kanerva is responsible for People & Culture in one of Sofigate’s business areas. She is motivated by developing and supporting pre-employment and leadership from a strategic and people-centric angle.
Marika Mertala believes that managing people is, first and foremost, about accountability. As Sofigate’s Employer Branding and Recruiting Lead, she specialises in building work environments and cultures that emphasise employee well-being to achieve results.