We help companies to be more human. So we’ve recently turned to the writings of psychologist Carl R Rogers to help us think about just what this means. Carl had seven different stages of becoming more human, based on his therapeutic experience. We’ve used these to define four different stages that companies go through as they become human. In this article we’ll explore:
- What being human meant to Carl R Rogers
- How we define how human companies are
- How to take your company to the next level of humanness
- Where to go next.
What being human meant to Carl R Rogers
Carl wanted to help people understand who they really were, and then release their true selves in an unforced, natural way. To help his clients do that he invented ‘person-centred therapy’. He saw it as a way of helping people become more human.
In his classic book On Becoming a Person: a Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy he explores how he saw people change while he looked after them.
He felt that being less human meant responding to the world around you in a rigid, unthinking, predetermined way, as a robot might. Becoming more human meant reacting to it in a relaxed, open and spontaneous way.
He broke becoming more human down into seven different stages. Here’s a brief summary of those descriptions – which type are you?
If you’re a first stage person… You don’t like thinking or talking about yourself. You only discuss external things. You look at the world in a very rigid, unchanging way. Close, communicative relationships seem dangerous. You don’t think any of this is a problem, and you don’t want to change.
If you’re a second stage person… You deal with the world in a very inflexible way. You’re very judgemental, and you think those judgements are hard, universal facts, not objective personal opinions. You can see that this causes problems, but those problems are the world’s fault, not yours.
If you’re a third stage person… You’re a bit better at talking about yourself, and you’re beginning to understand how your behaviour affects other people. You’re realising that your worldview is personal, not universal. You might want to change, but feel powerless to do so.
If you’re a fourth stage person… You’re questioning your fixed vision of life. You notice contradictions between what you say and think, and what you do and experience. You’re ready to take full responsibility for any problems you’ve caused. You’re getting less nervous about close relationships.
If you’re a fifth stage person… You’re challenging any rigid ways of understanding the world. You want to become ‘the real you’. You face up to contradictions between who you think you are and how you actually act. You talk openly and confidently about how you’re going to resolve them.
If you’re a sixth stage person… You experience the world as it is in an immediate, rich and open way, without any fear, denial or struggle. You usually respond spontaneously to the moment, rather than judging it according to strict, limiting, predetermined rules.
If you’re a seventh stage person… You completely trust both yourself and your experience of the world. You’re very open to new experiences, and respond to them spontaneously and authentically. You’re happy to change your opinions if life shows you that you need to.
Did you spot yourself somewhere on this scale?
The scale of humanness for businesses
So, as interesting as this is to apply to your own personality, we found it even more fascinating to apply it to companies.
We boiled down these seven stages into four stages of corporate personhood:
1. Rigid companies are the classic corporate monoliths. They’re very hard work to deal with, because they never talk to you in a remotely human way.
2. Inflexible companies feel a little more human, but they’re still pretty forbidding. They give you the occasional flash of genuineness and warmth, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
3. Responsive companies do a pretty good job of building a real, friendly, personal relationship with you. They’re not always perfect, but they’re trying pretty hard.
4. Open companies are the ones that everybody loves. They hardly seem to put a foot wrong, because they’re always completely genuine and true to themselves.
Let’s look at these different types of company in a bit more detail. Which one are you?
If you’re a rigid company…
Your culture’s controlling and unresponsive. People tend to be very jobsworth – they do things the way they’ve always been done, because that’s the only way of doing them.
If someone has a problem with you it’s their problem, not yours. Employees should leave their personalities at home and just do what they’re told. You treat customers who are anything other than meek and passive as an irritating distraction.
There’s no recognition that the way you talk about yourself and the way you act might be completely different. You feel no need to change, whether to serve customers better or to respond to the broader business environment.
If you’re an inflexible company…
You’re trying to be a little more responsive. You at least recognise that there are other ways of doing things, even if your own approach is very fixed.
If your customers have a problem, people are often sympathetic and apologetic, but they usually feel they can’t do much to help. You pay lip service to treating staff as individuals with unique strengths, but you’re not very good at actually doing it.
You’re beginning to realise that there’s a big difference between what you say and how you act. You understand that you need to change, but don’t know how to.
One of our writers had a very ‘inflexible company’ run-in with Virgin Atlantic recently. He brought an upgrade for a flight, and then decided he didn’t really need it. Everyone he spoke to was very concerned, agreed that he really should be able to cancel it and get his money back, wished that they could help, but unfortunately couldn’t do anything about it, as the system wouldn’t allow it. *sigh*
If you’re a responsive company…
You’re quite often genuinely and personally engaged with your customers. You try hard to shape yourself round their real needs. But internal structures often get in the way.
The people who work with you are genuinely aware of those needs, although they sometimes have to work hard to make sure you meet them. They’re treated as valued individuals, and can often (but not always) make their voice heard within the company.
Most of the time, you walk it like you talk it. You’re also pretty good at looking at yourself and seeing where you need to go next. But you don’t always get it right.
Apple’s a great example of a third stage company. Most of the time, it gets things very right indeed. But every so often, there’s a niggling little problem. Apple Maps is a great example. On launch it quickly turned into something of a PR disaster – but Apple listened and took the criticism on the chin.
If you’re an open company…
You’re very responsive to individual customer needs. You’re flexible in the way you understand and respond to them.
People feel empowered to put your customers first, at every level. They have a lot of individual autonomy, so they can tailor their responses to fit the situation pretty much all the time. Your customers love doing business with you, because they’re always treated with warmth and respect, and they always get everything they need.
You almost don’t need branding – your personality shines out in everything you do. You’re also very good at responding quickly and constructively to changes in the broader business climate.
First Direct’s our favourite fourth stage company. They feel like a bank that’s been designed from the ground up with the customer’s needs in mind. We’ve never found them anything less than fantastic to deal with, and we’ve always been very impressed with their call centre peoples’ levels of autonomy and helpfulness.
Taking it to the next level
If you’re a rigid company
You’ve got a tough job ahead of you. The first thing is understand where the blockages are and introduce – in general terms – the possibility of change.
Some questions that will help you understand how to become a little less rigid:
What are we doing right?
- Make a note of any positives (there must be some!)
- Find out what attracts new customers or brings repeat customers back again
What are we doing wrong?
- Find some clearly defined problems that are undeniably the company’s fault
- Pin down what customers should reasonably expect
- Note how you fail to match those expectations
How do we nudge people into thinking about change?
- Target the key influencers within your company
- Start with the positives – it’ll get them in the right frame of mind
- Describe the problems you’ve found in a clear, unemotional way
- Use your competitors’ successes to challenge them to think in new ways
- Remember you’ll have to be patient and determined
- Some specific pointers to help your writing sound more human:
How do we bring our words in line with the best of what we do?
- Highlight the good stuff and make sure you’re describing it accurately
- Don’t try and gloss over the bad stuff – people will see right through it
How do we avoid sounding corporate, stuffy and emotionless?
- Make things as clear and direct as possible – they’re very difficult aspirations for even the most conservative people to argue against
- Carefully vet any company writing for defensiveness or insensitivity
If you’re an inflexible company
Things are a little easier, because at least your company knows it needs to change. You can help it work out how it’s going to do that. So look to pin down specific ways the company can change, then convince people they’re worthwhile.
Some general questions that’ll help you become a little less inflexible:
What are you getting right?
- Dig around for as many examples as you can find
- Find out what customers really like, not what your company thinks they like
- Try and pin down the good things that you company does uniquely well
What are you getting wrong?
- Find specific examples of what makes customers unhappy
- Understand how and why they happened
- Look at how your competitors do it better
Who can help you change things?
- Find the people with authority
- Talk through your examples of what went wrong with them
- Discuss what would have made those customers happy
- Work back from that to think about specific changes the company can make
Some specific pointers to help you sound more human:
What are the best stories you have to tell?
- Make sure any company writing comes out of the good stuff
- Be clear about what’s already working
- Be ready for social media negativity from people frustrated with the way you do business
How do you deal with the bad stuff?
- Again, don’t gloss over any problems
- Make specific promises about what’s going to change
- Make sure you deliver (and let people know you’ve delivered!)
If you’re a responsive company
You probably feel things are already going pretty well. But there’s still room for improvement. Here are a few questions that will help you become even more responsive:
What are you getting right?
- Make sure you understand what customers really like about your company
- Use that to set some clearly defined benchmarks for doing good business
What’s going wrong?
- Dig around for any recurrent customer grumbles or complaints
- Use your benchmarks to work out what you should be doing
- Work with people at every level to make it happen – junior people will be as important as senior people
And here are some pointers on being more human:
Who can best represent us?
- Make the most of your excellent people
- Pick the best of them to represent the company online
- Use social media to seed and join in conversations about what you do
What sort of tone should we adopt?
- Listen to how everyone at the company talks
- Follow their lead – they’ll already be hitting the right tone most of the time
If you’re an open company
You’re already pretty much there. In fact, your company’s probably a blissfully satisfying place both to work and do business with. Your challenge is to work out how to make sure everything stays blissful!
What are you getting right?
- Make a record of great things your company’s done at its best
- Tell those stories internally and externally
- Make those stories part of your induction, so new people get a feel for what you’re like at your best from the start
What if things do start going wrong?
- Draw on your list of great things to remind people how you are at your best
- Try and understand what’s driving any issues as quickly as possible
And here are some pointers on being human:
How should we write?
- Make everything as open as possible
- Pretty much every employee will be able to represent the company
- Get everyone tweeting, Facebooking and whatever else
- See yourself as a curator of a great team of writers
What sort of tone should we adopt?
- Again, write how everyone around you talks
Where do I go next?
Of course, this is only one way of thinking about what makes companies more human – there are many others, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
We like this one because it starts from a very person-centred place. If you’ve found it interesting, then get stuck into On Becoming a Person – it’s a fascinating read.
The trick is learning to see yourself as others see you. Only then will you start getting to know the real personality your company shows the world.
It can be hard to step back from the hurly-burly of business life to get perspective on your company. If you’d like some help to understand where your business is at and what you can do to be more human, give Ben a ring on 07909 221130.