The Human Element

We used to build for a certain company which will remain nameless here, but you have heard of them. This company is large and has a well-defined corporate structure. Their construction department may well be bigger than our entire company.

There are lots of humans involved in the construction process, but the human element is missing.

Dealing with this company was like dealing with a company of robots. Emails were terse. Phone calls were blunt commands.

It was more than robotic, though. It was hostile. And just about every interaction was one-sided and in bad faith, with no respect and no regard for our company whatsoever.

Now we are all grown-ups, so we can deal with a little gruffness. We’re in construction, for crying out loud. But this company’s behavior finally got to a level of disrespect that we would no longer tolerate. I decided to do something.

I called one of their construction managers who was one of the worst offenders. I explained to this person that we would not operate with this level of disrespect, and that it ultimately wasn’t helping their projects out either.

They almost fired us.

After a while, though – things softened. And after a while I began to see something. The internal culture of this company was exactly like their external communication. Demanding, disrespectful. Devoid of the human element. The reason construction managers operated so harshly was because their bosses treated them the same way and so it goes up the chain of command. And the toxicity rolled downhill all the way to us. Thus we actually began to feel sorry for the individuals within this company.

Here’s the deal. We’re all warm-blooded human beings. Work relationships do not have to be friendships, but they must be respectful. There must be enough empathy for our colleagues, clients, partners, and vendors for us to consider what situations look like from their perspective. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good business.

In supply chain management, it is crucial for success that all partners in the chain to be healthy. They must all make money. They must all communicate. And I might add, they must respect one another. If not, things get slow, expensive, and frustrating.

Regardless of what you do for a living, it matters how you do it. Our legacy is comprised of a million small interactions, and our careers present countless opportunities to prioritize the human element or to ignore it.

What opportunities do you have today to respect the human element?

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