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In this blog, I will outline five reasons that we need to help businesspeople respect individuals. While the need to respect individuals is a very important value for me personally, I believe we have an increasing need to promote this value as AI seems to be moving closer to center stage.

Robots, conference rooms, steel, lumber, and technology equipment are all resources. People are not. We used to think of them that way and it’s time to stop. As AI continues to evolve, we will see an increasing number of people working with robots. And leaders need to be careful to build a culture that embraces humanity and values the distinctive and non-replicative contributions that people make to their organizations.

While I understand that an HR department spends time producing resources for people, the term human resources suggests that people are resources. And we need to move away from that paradigm. When we think about people as resources, we lose any sense that people are individuals and not a fungible group.

When we think about people as resources, we lose any sense that people are individuals and not a fungible group. #humanresources #leadership #teamwork #team #projectmanagement #smartprojex Share on X

1. Disrespect sucks the energy out of people – which costs you money

Long ago, I worked in a bank branch. The branch manager was not a very respectful individual. He routinely put people down, both to their face, and behind their back. I’ve lost track of the wasted hours – as people congregated behind closed doors to discuss his behavior. And, as employees, particularly young women, sobbed in the bathroom. I saw people get sick and have to leave for the day because of abusive remarks made in a meeting, or worse yet, in front of customers.

2. People are not fungible

We are all different, and those differences have great value. We need to treat processes for managing resources differently from processes that involve managing humans. And as AI begins to take over menial tasks, we can streamline and simplify those processes.

For example, consider a process for onboarding new employees. You can create streamlined steps in your onboarding process that don’t involve any people – such as automated emails that disseminate policy manuals or product information. But those processes are not likely to engage your new employee, and if you want to do that, people must become part of the process. And once people are part of the process, their individuality will complicate the process.

Humans are simply not a resource that can be cultivated in a lab, squeezed like a grapefruit, or easily understood. But they bring substantial gifts to your organization that AI can never offer. It is critical that leaders respect individuals and build a culture that values respect.

3. Respectful conversations with others builds empathy

If the last thirty plus years of experience with young people engaging with computers tells us anything, it is that people need to be engaging more with humans. Only then can we ensure that people’s empathy grows. And empathy is more and more important in this very divided world.

According to Sherry Turkle, in her book, Reclaiming Conversation, empathy declines when people stop talking to other people face-to-face. If we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of our clients, our bosses, or our teammates, we risk spending time, energy, and money on the wrong activities at the wrong times.

The good news is that people are resilient and spending a few days together without phones and computers quickly improves empathy. Even a silent phone positioned near people changes their conversation. People simply aren’t as inclined to delve deeply into their conversations when they are waiting on or hoping for a call or a message.

While online conversations may be the best that we can do at times, project team conversations are a place where teams need to dig down and find greater efficiencies, discuss risks and lessons learned, and discover solutions to big problems. Doing this in an online chat can deprive participants of complete focus and the honest emotions that arise in complex problem solving.

Empathy declines when people stop talking to other people face-to-face. #empathy #leadership #meetings #teamwork #projectmanagement #sherryturkle #reclaimingconversation #smartprojex Share on X

4. Collaboration is just not fun when respect for individuals is lacking

Who wants to work with colleagues that bad-mouth others, or worse yet, make inappropriate sexual advances? Every time I read another article about employees wanting to work from home, I wonder if they find their work to be fun. I understand the commuting issue and the impact it has on the decision, but I periodically enjoy seeing my colleagues and engaging with them in person.

And the energy boost from constructively engaging with colleagues, even for an introvert, can be helpful sometimes. We are social animals – like it or not. Yes, some of us are more introverted than others. Leaders who don’t respect individuals are likely to be left in the dust as time marches on and people have more and more of a say in how businesses and governments are run.

5. As AI proliferates, it will be the human encounters that distinguish us

One of the major concerns about AI is that it is going to take away our jobs. Creators are warned that AI is going to soon be able to create better than we can. But what it can’t do is tell my story, or your story. And it can’t care about you or the people you work with.

We have an opportunity, as we work with our colleagues, customers, and perhaps, our competition, to offer care, concern, and stories. We have an opportunity to engage more with people and to bring joy into people’s lives, and our own.

As AI continues to improve it will be easier to find ways to cut costs. Business leaders might choose to reevaluate their pricing strategies. Will they decide to pass on all the savings to customers or will they share some of it with employees?

I predict that when customers make future decisions on the vendors they want to do business with, it will be the vendors that they know and like. And so, leaders should encourage their employees to respect individuals. Leaders need to build a culture of mutual respect – for colleagues, customers, and competitors. Trashing others in social media, in the lobby of your building, or behind closed doors is just not acceptable behavior.

If you want to read more about project leadership, I’d love for you to buy my book – Herding Smart Cats: Project Management Reimagined.