As our use of AI becomes more prevalent in supply chain, it is increasingly important that these logical machines have ethical objectives. Broader society is even starting to debate whether AIs should be legally treated as people, similar to corporate personhood law.
The irony in starting to treat machines like people is that, for too long, we have treated our human workers like machines. We have closely managed their presence and activities, and relentlessly driven toward objectives in a way that left little room for the broader lives of the people showing up to work each day.
Gartner’s team supporting COOs and CSCOs regularly pulses this community of leaders. Increasingly, they are telling stories of self-determination in the workforce. Beyond the larger Great Resignation and Great Reflection trend, there is an increase in employee self-organization. In some places, this means new employee unions, but in others it is a proactive shift toward self-forming and self-directed teams. Enlightened leaders are also moving toward human-centric work practices.
What’s Different About Human-Centric Work?
Per a related Gartner report (subscription required), a human-centric design is a model that sees human beings at the center of work, not as secondary components of the work environment. This shift in thinking means designing workflows, business processes and space utilization around human needs — physical, cognitive, emotional — rather than expecting human abilities and behavior to conform to legacy processes or locations.
This research highlights and challenges three — now flawed — organizational work design assumptions. Let’s take a look at the “before” and “after” states:
- From “Consistency is the key ingredient of equity” to “Flexibility drives performance.” A long-standing belief is that employees should have equal experiences when they are at work. HR teams tried to enact policies addressing individual differences to provide the same experience to all employees. The assumption has been that equality means equity. A survey of more than 2,400 hybrid and remote workers shows that 62% of employees with a high degree of flexibility to harmonize work and non-work life are high performing, as compared to only 26% of workers with low flexibility.
- From “Serendipity is the key ingredient of innovation” to “Intentional collaboration.” Work design has long assumed that chance meetings lead to cross-pollination of ideas, which leads to innovation (AKA, “watercooler innovation”). Office spaces are designed to facilitate these unplanned meetings and cross-functional mingling that help efficient and creative problem solving. Intentional collaboration that mixes time spent both on synchronous work (e.g., virtual and in-person team meetings) and asynchronous work (e.g., deep-focus solo work, or a personal jog in nature) is being shown as the most effective driver of innovation and performance. Effective asynchronous work practices have been attributed to nearly half of the variance between teams with high and low levels of innovation. Yet, very few companies are pursuing programs such as no-meeting days (17%) or dedicated mental health days (11%) that enable improved asynchronous work.
- From “Visibility is the key ingredient of performance” to “Empathy-based management.” Traditional leaders assume that workforce visibility is essential to drive high performance. This belief stems from the industrial era and the persistent presence of supervisors on manufacturing assembly lines. In this frame of mind, it is only when people are visible to each other that they hold each other accountable. Simply put, pandemic-era remote working practices proved this assumption to be unfounded. What is needed in this new era of human-centric working is empathy-based management. Leaders must drive performance by outcomes, not inputs. They must equip managers to display empathetic behaviors that help contextualize performance.
A key finding from this research is that trying to replicate an old office-centric work design in our new hybrid-working world, simply adds to more digital distraction, virtual overload and a sense of always being “on.” Unchecked, the resulting employee fatigue is extremely dangerous. Gartner HR research shows that, in the extreme, this fatigue can diminish team innovation and employee performance by a third and decrease employee intent to stay by more than 50%.
Women in the New Hybrid Supply Chain Workplace
A big piece of the future of work puzzle is how women are faring. Gartner’s latest Women in Supply Chain study shows that women’s overall representation in the supply chain workforce decreased from 41% to 39% year-over-year. While female representation in roles spanning front-line supervisor to middle manager ticked up slightly, 43% of respondents said the pandemic had a negative impact on the retention and advancement of women. Lack of career opportunity is the most cited reason for the departure of midcareer women for a second year in a row.
A broader societal study by the UN Women organization shows that women typically carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men, in addition to their paid work. Is it any wonder that women working for companies not embracing human-centric work principles might find it difficult to strike a productive work-life balance allowing for career progression and holistic well-being?
While companies have less influence on the underlying gender imbalance for unpaid work, there are actions they can take, including:
- Offering more flexible work arrangements. Here’s an example where this concept has worked well in a historically male manufacturing environment: ‘We started something new here’: Factory gets influx of workers with unique offer.
- Creating parity of opportunities for growth and career advancement that focus on outcomes, skills and quality of work versus the overall quantity of time spent working.
- Setting goals and applying performance management. 70% of organizations responding to the 2022 Women in Supply Chain survey had a diversity, equity and inclusion objective to attract, develop, retain and advance women, BUT only 28% of those organizations have specific goals and leadership accountability.
We face many challenges in our new hybrid world of work and a human-centric approach is our best bet toward solving them for everyone.
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain