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robots need not apply. we are in the human business...not the virtual

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

I think it is fair to say that most businesses are still run by human beings. There is a lot of chat about generational differences and living in a VUCA world…but I’m not certain things are that different from previous times, it’s just a change in perspective. I am pretty sure every generation has complained about ‘the young ones’ and everyone hates things changing from the ‘good old days’… we are human, after all.

When the industrial revolution happened, there was a feeling that everyone would lose their jobs and the world would never be the same again. We would be living in a real-life Terminator film about to be wiped out by Arnie.

And to a certain extent, yes, people did lose jobs and the world did change. What also happened was that we evolved…people found new jobs to do that couldn’t be replaced by robots at that time…and so life carried on. Different to how we knew it.

We also know that we are preparing our children for careers where their job might not even exist yet. People want more flexible working and to be based anywhere they feel they can do their best. There is a race between communication and transport to win on the future of meetings.

But the truth is, we are still human. We are mammals. Pack animals. Even the most introverted of us craves social interaction from time to time. I don’t know why I am surprised to find that the number 1 reason that go it alone freelancers come to work for us is to feel a sense of belonging as they miss the team spirit.

No one wants to be an island all the time. Let's face it, Hawaii isn’t that fun without sharing it with someone.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when people ask, we tell them we are in the ‘human business’. We help people create an open culture of collaboration, to be brave and have a conversation not an email. To coach and lead, not micro manage. Digital learning has a role to play, especially if you are a reflective learner, but it cannot replace actual human face to face interaction (even if through a virtual platform).

Companies who have brilliant cultures ensure they build people into the hearts of their organisations. And they also happen to be businesses that are hugely successful and high performing (even in today’s uncertainty and disruption). These companies act in a highly emotionally intelligent way, not just being clever (reinforcing the statistic I still love, that people who use EI are 75% more successful versus just 25% who just use their intelligence).

Culture after all, is just a series of relationships…

So, how can you create an authentic culture that gets the best results?


As humans we want to believe in and follow a passion. To have a place in the world. Even large corporates where the reason for being might not be that obvious can have a strong purpose and shared ambition for their people – look at Coca Cola and their drive to create happiness! If you need convincing, you need only watch ‘The Importance of nurturing your first follower’ video on YouTube for an alternative view.


Brand and culture, culture and brand are two sides of the same coin. It is the essence of what makes you special and unique. From how you communicate to the coffee you offer, everything about your organisation is emblematic of your culture and your brand. It will help you make decisions as you grow and evolve. Bottle up who you are, your personality and attitude and build this into everything you do.


Set expectations about what you need from everyone to help achieve your goals. Embed these into everyday life – don’t just pay lip service. Role model them at all levels. If you have to find a presentation to remember the essence of your values then something isn’t working.


Allow people to be themselves. Work shouldn’t be a place where people pretend to be something they are not, or have a work face. Create an environment that allows them to be themselves, work the way that gets their best results and actively encourages people to have a say in the business and they will thrive and you will get the spoils.


Have everyday conversations good and bad. Ditch your annual appraisal and create an open culture where continuous improvement and growth mindset is part of everyday life. There is no hidden agenda other than striving to be our best. No one likes to give or receive news of when things aren’t working, but everyone wants to do their best job and be rewarded. The more often you do it, the easier it will become and the more genuine and effective our conversations will be.


In the words of Richard Branson ‘look after your people, they look after your customers’. Treat your people like your customers by surprising and delighting them and they will fall in love with you and go above and beyond everyday. It doesn’t have to be a big expense. The small things often make more of an impact. Just understand what makes each of your team tick and play to this. Use your brand to create gestures they won’t forget, so when the going gets tough, this and your purpose they share in, will keep resilience high.

Like all good things, creating a truly brilliant culture takes time, thought and effort. Something that digital learning promises to cut, but seldom delivers. Any great culture requires a human touch, something that computers can’t replace. You cultivate a culture, you can’t buy it, tell it or watch it online.

In a society where the only certainty is that you rely on your people to be their absolute best to achieve your goals, and where talent is now a commodity…the winners are those who put human back into the centre of their business. Robots need not apply…

by imogen pudduck

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