Finance: Survive and succeed with the human touch

MOST OF the attempts to respond to the rapidly changing and increasingly chaotic world brought by technological advances, increased competition and globalisation have focused on the mechanics of business operations and strategy. But it appears that emphasising "the human element" of business might be more successful.

This might sound too "touchy-feely" for many tastes. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest such an approach is already at the root of the success of some organisations, say Roger Lewin and Birute Regine in their book The Soul at Work. They say: "A shift is taking place in the world of business, where valuing people and relationships is not just a good or espoused idea but a conscious management action that has a positive outcome on the economic bottom line."

Studies by Lewin and Regine, respectively a science writer and academic and a developmental psychologist and therapist, checked organisations from a family chain of painting and decorating shops, the St Luke's advertising agency and the industrial company DuPont. They found: "People had become the new bottom line, not simply for humanistic reasons but as a way of promoting adaptability and business success ...

A collective effort - a recognised need for others - becomes the means of survival and success."

If that sounds far-fetched, the authors trace their thinking to the increasingly widely-discussed notion of complexity science. Their book's sub-title is Unleashing the Power of Complexity Science for Business Success. They feel most studies in this developing science concentrate on applying complexity thinking to the operational and strategic planning aspects of business, so they see particular potential for the "organisational dynamics" side.

This is because it is all about people and relationships, or "how people interact with each other, the kinds of relationships they form". Lewin and Regine say in an old-style, linear world, things may exist independently of each other and, when they interact, do so in simple and predictable ways, in a dynamic, non-linear environment, "everything exists only in relation to everything else, and the interactions among agents in the system lead to complex, unpredictable outcomes".

Pretty much like the living organisations the authors and other complexity advocates say businesses and other organisations resemble more than the machines to which they are generally likened. Companies that - wittingly or unwittingly - are managed according to the principles of complexity science tend to be organisationally flat, have fewer levels of hierarchy and promote open and plentiful communication and diversity, suggest Lewin and Regine. They also have greater tolerance of mistakes.

They describe how Mike Ockendon, chief executive of the home finance arm of Barclays reacted when the computer system crashed the Friday before a Bank Holiday, threatening to prevent many homebuyers from moving in as planned. Rather than reprimanding the person identified as responsible for the problem, he thanked the individual, because his action had demonstrated the vulnerability of the system. "If you make a mistake, then it's a learning experience," he is quoted as saying. "It's an opportunity; use it. Don't shy from it."

And Lewin and Regine describe how a West Virginia chemical plant of the mighty US industrial company DuPont, maker of Lycra, was performing so badly it was in danger of being closed.

The manager charged with turning it around was a traditional command- and-control man. But, says the book, he "came to see that the way you get the best out of people is not to bully them but to reach out to them as human beings, to let them see you as a human being". The result, say Lewin and Regine, was that after eight years, in a plant that was physically and psychologically in decay, injury rates dropped 95 per cent, environmental emissions were reduced by 87 per cent, productivity increased by 45 per cent and earnings per employee tripled. The plant is one of the company's stars.

The authors also laud Monsanto for turning itself from a traditional chemicals company into a life sciences organisation, only to see it buffeted by the outcry over genetically-modified foods. Perhaps that proves the point about the unpredictability of the non-linear world.

`The Soul at Work' by Roger Lewin and Birute Regine, Orion Business, pounds 18.99

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Citifocus Ltd: Product Development - Asset Management

£Attractive: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with significant product d...

Citifocus Ltd: Credit Ratings - Banking Sector

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: Leading global bank seeks experienced credit analy...

Citifocus Ltd: Economic Crime Investigation & Analysis

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with a high degree...

Citifocus Ltd: Snr Risk Analyst - Capital & Liquidity

£Attractive: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with superior academics an...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital