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A human-centric organization is a productive organization

Katie Luby SFMBA ’18

Katie Luby, SFMBA ’18, believes that employees are more motivated and invested when they know their work will make a person’s life better. Director of the Customer Success Group at Salesforce, Luby has learned over the course of her career that innovating in a vacuum does not engender the visceral satisfaction of creating an improvement to human quality of life.

 That connection—the employee’s task and the human impact—is not always straightforward, so Luby believes it’s essential for managers to make clear how a worker is improving the human condition. Most organizations serve people in some capacity, whether providing a product or service, and a customer-centric workplace is a human-centric workplace. “When you are focused on making life better for the customer, you are part of something bigger than yourself. It humanizes the work. Burn out and ennui are less likely. Workers are excited to think they are doing something that will change how people can be successful.”

Luby adds that customer service has evolved accordingly. “Customer service equals all the ways a customer deals with a brand. It’s not how long a customer is on the phone with the call center. It’s about quality, about truly satisfying the customer, not meeting artificial metrics.” Customers, she notes, are continually creating data, and workers need to be responsive to that data and communicate in an authentic way. “The goal is not to sell them something. Where do they need help…or want to be delighted? Data can be vivid if you know how to interpret it and roll it into a customer-centric strategy.” Luby adds, “When, as workers, we know more about the customer through extensive data collection, they become more human to us, and we care more about their needs. That ultimately makes for happier employees who are more committed to their work, more intent upon getting it right.”

Cross-functional teams are the most creative
The structure of how people work in a human-centric company, Luby points out, is necessarily different from one that isn’t. To meet the needs of customers, she points out, teams are formed around outcomes, not functions. “We form teams to create value for customers. That means that rather than being organized by business need or technology, we bring together teammates from different functions who can introduce a distinct and valuable perspective to a solution.”

For Luby, a human-centric workplace also means giving workers the freedom to create—and to fail. “Iterating is crucial to finding a successful solution. We need to offer a judgment-free path to getting to that solution. Teams must have room to experiment and to fail, to test things in the marketplace, get feedback, and adjust as necessary. In the past, workers were expected to bring only proven winners to market, so they had to be very sure of any new product before releasing it.”

A setback in this innovation culture, Luby says, is a step on the road to winning—and successful products get to the marketplace sooner. It also creates a culture where employees are invested and excited to experiment. Not long ago, she notes, a large corporation would segregate its innovation arm to an offsite skunk works with its own free culture—a freedom that the C-suite didn’t want to contaminate the rest of the operation. Luby says that rather than segregating the innovators, the entire operation should share this culture of creativity. “To keep organizations nimble, these innovation practices need to be more core.”

Luby notes that lessons learned from failures and successes alike should be rolled into a company’s overall strategy. “That practice is not only important for the success of the company. It’s good for morale. With rapid results, data-driven decision-making, and a culture of human-centric innovation, teams see that the impact of their work has actually guided the direction of the company, giving them a true sense of being invested in the organization’s success.”


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