Humanness in Business: A Candid Conversation

About a week ago, I sat down with a good friend of mine, Mal Bass with Global Executive Forum, to talk about a range of issues. Some of the topics we covered were:


  • How the management theories developed in the Industrial Revolution ignored our innate humanness,
  • Why it's important to acknowledge and nurture what makes us human in business management,
  • What lies behind some of the post-covid and pre-covid employee engagement trends,
  • What role all of this plays in managing remote employees post-covid and how Hero's Journey, a fiction-writing formula ties it all together.

Towards the end, Mal even got me to talk about something I don't like to talk about much: my covid story. Hope you find the conversation useful. And let us know below if you have any questions or comments.

"So subconsciously, we create an ideal solution, and that creates a gap between where we are and where we want to be. And that gap, the managing of that gap is... I probably would call it the art of living, art of humanity, art of being a human."

Mal 
Hello to everyone. And it is our great pleasure to have my longtime friend Bhavesh Naik with us this morning. So, how are you today, Bhavesh?

Bhavesh
Hey, Mal! Good to see you. Hi. I'm great. How are you doing?

Mal
I'm okay. I'm okay. So, I know we both started out as engineers.

Bhavesh
Yes, we did.

Mal
Electrical engineers.

Bhavesh
Electrical engineers, yes.

Humans and Machines

Mal
But somehow, I'm doing this. And you're in a different business now. But we always keep an element of that engineering with us. What led to your transition?

Bhavesh
Yeah, well, as you know Mal, I'm a recovering engineer or a recovering techie, as you say. And I sort of got here by accident.

If you remember your college days, I'm sure when you went to college, you had to take these classes. They were humanities classes. There were requirements for, even for the electrical engineering degree, where, you know, we were supposed to... were required to study the history of the world. And there were some electives: psychology and things like that. As you probably remember, most of us didn't want to take them.

We wanted to do the cool techie stuff. We wanted to do the engineering stuff, the hard-core stuff. And we always saw that as sort of a distraction.

Can you identify with this? "The President, the CEO of the business has an issue, which is that they get involved in running every aspect of the business. They get pulled into the minutia of running the business." #awayre

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But I was one of these weird kids. I did like engineering. I liked the technical aspects of things. But I also loved those humanities courses. If you looked at a typical day in my College days, I would be sitting in a technical class like electromechanical systems or probability and statistics and those kinds of things.

And then I would walk over to the next building, and we would study about psychology and history of the world and things like that. The humanities aspect of it fascinated me.

And then my first job was with IBM, and we were working in... Back then. I don't want to date myself. It was a long time ago. Years and years ago, when I started out with IBM, I was in artificial intelligence. And it was a very burgeoning field. It was very new at the time.

I was very fascinated with the human aspect of things, and how the civilization has evolved, and how we ended up dealing with technology, and the human aspect of things, and how they sort of interlaced with each other.

And today, we are in this world where artificial intelligence is on the horizon. Maybe, it's actually here, for all practical purposes. So that brings us at a very interesting juncture. So, the reason why I do what I do..., [let's] backtrack a little bit.

Building a Self-Sustaining, Self-Perpetuating Business on Autopilot

I work with business owners who have built very successful businesses. These are 20 employees, 50 employees, 100, 500 employee companies, and they have... The customers are great. They love them. The community is dazzled. They've done some really great things.

But the owner of the business, the President, the CEO of the business has an issue, which is that they get involved in running every aspect of the business. They get pulled into the minutia of running the business. They get involved in every aspect of running that business.

And it's not always just the lack of delegation and things like that. The roots of that specific problem are very deep.

So, they do a number of things. They implement technology and automate things, and they study leaders and leadership. They read books. They follow gurus and they follow motivational speakers. They take training classes and things like that.

And they get better. All these things help them, really help them.

But that doesn't fix that problem, which is "how do I build a scalable business on autopilot that is self-sustaining, that's self-perpetuating?” so that the business owner can step back and do the higher level of thinking in a real way.

Something Missing in How We Manage People

And so, I help them come up with...

The idea there is that there is something missing in the way that we have been managing our people, for probably thousands of years.

And we've tried to reinvent that in the last couple of hundred years.

But what my studies show and my work in the field, what that shows is that that hasn't worked out too well.

We have built these computers, the giant super computers. You know, the computer like this used to take a football field back in the days, like in the Sixties and Seventies, which is now in the palms of our hands.

And we have put man on the moon and [brought] him back. Now we're talking about going to Mars. So we've done all of these advancements the last couple hundred years.

But we still manage our people the way that we did when we built the pyramids - when the Egyptians built the pyramids - or when the Romans built their cities, which is basically, essentially own those who work for us and use fear to get them to do what we want them to do. So that's how we manage people.

That hasn't changed much.

In fact, that actually, probably got systematized a little bit in the industrial era, about 150 years ago.

Agree or Disagree? "But we still manage our people the way that we did when the Egyptians built the pyramids, or when the Romans built their cities, which is basically, essentially [to] own those who work for us and use fear to get them to do what we want them to do." #awayre

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What I help these business owners do is build what I call a philosophical foundation under the success of their business that would allow them to engage their people in a very meaningful and deep way. And then interlace that with the systems and processes in their business so that they can truly build a scalable organization that they can step back from and watch it grow.

That doesn't mean that... A lot of these people don't want to retire. They don't want to exit. They don't want to just sell.

Some of them want to go IPO, but they don't necessarily want to exit. That's not what drives them. What drives them is to do something meaningful, leave something meaningful for the future generations.

So that's how I got into this. So a simple question from you, Mal. And that's a long answer. Hope that answers some of that. Some of what you were searching for.

The Hero's Journey 

Mal
That was great. You said in a better way some of the things I've thought about. So, I understand. I've heard you use the term "Hero's Journey" and how that might apply to marketing and sales. What do you mean by that?

Bhavesh
Yeah.

The Hero's Journey is... I love that formula because it ties everything in a business. It doesn't matter what size of business it is. It could be Joe the Plumber, or it could be Walmart, but especially the people that I work with, the mid-size business, which I believe is basically the engine that drives the economy.

But Hero's Journey, it actually comes from the world of fictional writing. Hero's Journey is... Us human beings, we all have... we all share something. All 7 billion of us.

There is some aspect of our lives that we're not happy [about]. Something is bothering us. Something is not right. And what we do is we push it down and we kind of ignore it for a long time. And then somehow, somewhere, we are forced to deal with it.

So, Hero's Journey a formula where you have a hero or heroine who is dealing with some issue. And they're basically in a comfort zone.

If you watch some of the movies, whether it's Harry Potter, The Godfather, the opening scenes... in the beginning, everything is in a comfort zone.

Your protagonist... In Godfather, by the way, the protagonist is not necessarily the Godfather himself, it's Michael Corleone. That person is in a sort of a comfort zone.

And there's something deep within them that they haven't dealt with. And they get an invitation to explore that aspect of themselves. And things break loose. And they go on this adventure, this journey - they call it The Hero's Journey - to resolve that. And it takes twists and turns. The invitation comes from either an event, or someone basically approaches them and says, hey, "you’re dealing with this..."

You know, Harry Potter...

He's living in his uncle's closet, right? He's not happy. But he's in a comfort zone. And the invitation comes from an owl who delivers the mail and says, I have something for you that's much better than this. But he says, no, that's okay. I'm fine. He doesn't believe it. He goes back into his cocoon. So, this invitation comes, and the hero goes in this journey to resolve this issue.

And it's a journey within, really.

Agree or Disagree? "There is some aspect of our lives that we're not happy [about]. Something is bothering us. Something is not right. And what we do is we push it down and we kind of ignore it for a long time. And then somehow, somewhere, we are forced to deal with it." #awayre

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They want to make it also a journey, sort of as an analogy. They want to make it a journey that's external to them. They go somewhere and go from here to there. But really, it's an internal journey where they uncover the layers within themselves that they didn't know that they had.

So, for a business, a customer is a hero. I love this analogy of kind of looking at the customer as a hero. And then we are probably that event or that person who kind of approaches them and says, I know you've been dealing with this, and I have a solution for you.

So, it applies with the customer and the vendor type of relationship.

But it also applies with the boss and the employees. You know, every employee is on a Hero's Journey in some way, shape or form. And there's one aspect of their lives that the manager or the boss can kind of help you along and be the coach, be the mentor and be the guide, basically.

So, it brings together a lot of these things in a business. And it goes into marketing, and it goes into sales, and it goes into copywriting, and it goes into developing sales pitches and presentations.

But it also goes into the vision and the mission and the purpose of a company, the collective purpose of the company. And then that can sort of water down - that can trickle down into the rest of the organization.

Modern Management Theories and the Industrial Revolution

Mal
That's interesting. I've also heard you use the phrase human-based management, and it seems to tie right into what you're talking about there.

Bhavesh
I think it does because we love stories.

Our history as human beings is of emotions, not intellect.

So going back to the... We were talking about this idea of the evolution of management philosophy or management theories... Back in probably the 1900s or so there was a major movement. The American civilization went through sort of a revolution.

We call it [the] Industrial Revolution. The whole world went through the industrial revolution. But it was more prominent in the US. And from the US came these philosophies in management. And some of them are called... Most of us have to study this.

MBAs will definitely recognize this. They are called time-motion studies. Some names... One famous name that comes up over and over again is Frederick Taylor.

Mal
Sure.

Bhavesh
And they did these studies and based on that, they built management philosophy, management methods or theories. And what they did, back then, was...

At the time we were fascinated with machines. And what we wanted to do was get the maximum productivity out of the people. And we wanted to make everything work efficiently and smoothly.

So, what we thought, at the time, was any human element that's there gets in the way of efficiency and productivity.

Agree or Disagree? "Our history as human beings is of emotions, not intellect." #awayre

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So, we tried to get rid of that. We tried to basically get rid of emotions. So, you're not supposed to have emotions, right? Because when you are emotional, you're not showing up at work in a kind of state that is productive.

So, we started taking out what makes us human: our desires, our purpose, what we are passionate about. And sometimes we express these things. So, we feel things.

Now, I don't think that you have to commission twelve PhDs or 1200 PhDs to... People have done studies like these. People have put electrodes in people's brains, then say, "Well, do we have emotions?" Well, it's a self... It's a phenomenon that you can actually experiment with yourself and find out for yourself.

Do we feel?

Yes, we do. So then, as a human being, we have emotions.

So, what these early industrial age theories did was they took out what made us human. And we focused on two things, basically, in our management. One was behavior and the second was intellect.

So, there's many faculties in us. And basically, we took out most of them. And we said, "Well, let's keep intellect and keep behaviors and manage our people according to that." Guess what?

What else is there that has only intellect and behavior, but no other dimensions. It's a robot. Right?

So, we basically tried to make our people into robots. If you read books... If you go to Amazon, search for management books, you'll find 300,000, something like that - big number, 100,000 books. So, it's safe to assume that there's a lot of these books out there. A lot of theories, a lot of philosophies, but they all...

Agree or Disagree? "In management, human beings should be, basically, a two-dimensional person, which is intellect and behaviors and just manage those." #awayre

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My study, my research basically tells me that they all agree on this basic principle, which is that a human being should be... In management, human beings should be, basically, a two-dimensional person, which is intellect and behaviors and just manage those. Nothing wrong with that. I think they're important, but there are other aspects of a human being.

And we've taken them out.

Employee Engagement and Post-Covid Trends

Because of that we're not running...

There was a Gallup study that was done. It's a bit old now - 2016. I hope they revised it with this COVID and everything. But they were saying that most organizations run at 33% efficiency.

So, if you have six people working for you, there are two people who are producing well, there are two people who are just kind of coasting and hanging around, and there's two people, two people out of those six, are actively working to undermine the work of the other four people.

Update on Gallup's Employee Engagement Report

Above, I mentioned a 2016 report on employee engagement. Gallup did indeed update that report in year 2021. I mentioned the employee engagement was at 33% in 2016. In 2021, that number improved slightly to 34%. You can get your own copy of the report by following this link

Also note that the 34% engagement is in the United States and Canada. It's much lower globally at 20%.

Gallup State of Workplace Report Updated 2021


We haven't really done a good job managing our people and educating our leaders and our managers in building organizations that manage humans and human aspect of things. And when you actually tap into that, when you engage them… This is more relevant with Covid because people are remote workers now.

This is why some of the people are reversing those trends. They are saying, "No, I want you here because I want to see you. I want to see you type something on the computer."

Because they don't know how to manage them.

So, when we engage them to their depth... In my study, I actually look at... there are seven faculties that we have, each human being. We're ignoring five.

Agree or Disagree? "We haven't really done a good job managing our people and educating our leaders and our managers in building organizations that manage humans and human aspect of things." #awayre

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You only focus on two.

Because of that, they're not engaged.

There is another trend that you might have read Mal, which is that people are quitting in record numbers.

People are not going back to work.

And because of that we have this very strange employment issue where people can't find good employees anymore. Because they just found out - they stayed at home for a year and they found out that, hey, that was a soul-less, horrible work that I was doing.

And why am I doing it?

"The Great Resignation" is Real

The trend I mentioned above is called The Great Resignation where a large number of employees are exiting the workforce voluntarily. 

Here are some further reports on the trend:

The Great Resignation Continues: 55% of Americans Looking for a New Job

The Great Resignation Is Here, and It's Real

As The Pandemic Recedes, Millions Of Workers Are Saying 'I Quit'


So, there is a way to change this, which is to bring the human element back into our management processes.

I call it organizational habits, building habits that involve and integrate, fuse actually, the human aspects into our processes. Because process is a mechanical thing. When I bring in the human being into that - the whole human being, not a fragmented human being - into that process, that comes alive, the process comes alive, and then we become not only efficient, we become a better organization.

For the people that I work with, it makes them scalable. It makes them self-perpetuating. It can go on without one person being at the center all the time. People become more empowered and they take on..., the organization takes on a life of its own. And it can go into directions that the owner didn't think that it could go into.

Mal
Those are great thoughts. It just made me think of a conversation we've had in the past about effective functioning in an organization that has ever-present problems.

Bhavesh
Right.

What Makes Us Human?

Mal
Of course, as engineers, we used to like that. But sometimes the problems are good. Sometimes they're not so good. So how is what you said tie back into that concept?

Bhavesh
Yeah. Well, if you think about it, all engineering problems are really human problems. Isn't it?

So, the idea is that if you have a problem in engineering, it's because it's not solving a problem for someone, because if you take all seven billion of us and put them on Mars, and there's all these machines sitting here, they have no purpose. So, their design... engineering is supposed to...

Engineering is actually about servicing people, and humanity, and organizations, and groups of people - community. And the problem is..., I think it's a wonderful thing because there is this idea that we have a problem.

We all have some aspect of our [lives], whether it's health, whether it's the home that we live in, something is not right. The car is not working, or something is aching. My relationship, something isn't going right. Something at work.

We probably face lots of little issues right across the spectrum of our entire life. And those problems basically kind of compel us. The psychology of us is that most of us, probably all of us, want our life to be better than it is. So, if there is an issue in some aspect of our life, we want a resolution of that issue, and we want to look for a solution.

So subconsciously, we basically create an ideal solution, and that creates a gap between where we are and where we want to be. And that gap, the managing of that gap is... I probably would call it the art of living, art of humanity, art of being a human.

Agree or Disagree? "The psychology of us is that most of us, probably all of us, want our life to be better than it is." #awayre

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How do you manage that? I'm here, in some aspect of my life, and I want to be there. And there is tension between those two. So, if that tension is too much, it causes stress. If you don't believe that there is a solution, or the solution is already there, but we don't believe we can obtain it, it's going to cause a lot of stress in our life.

And if that gap, the tension between the two, isn't great, and if it's not enough, then it causes complacency. And then we just kind of... apathy and what have you.

Managing this - and that goes into Hero's Journey - the hero gets into this comfort zone because... Sometimes they're overwhelmed. All these issues that I have in my life. And someone comes along... Sometimes we have to deal with it because we have to. An event shows up. A health issue, it becomes unbearable.

And then we have to go seek help. Or whatever... Employee issues. I've got six people. Two of them are really not producing, and I ignore it for a long time. And then it gets to a point where you have to deal with that issue. So, you have to either fire them, hire new people, or whatever it is that you need to do... place them.

So that tension is very important to understand from building a business perspective also, because that's what our customers are going through, and that's where we can build our sales habits, our marketing habits and everything kind of comes out of that, understanding that, understanding that hero that we are trying to help.

Mal
That's a great point. That's a great point about it helps you be empathetic towards your customers.

Bhavesh
Absolutely. Yes.

Mal
I actually... In past leadership roles, somebody says, I have a problem. I say, good, we'll get better in the process of solving it. But as you say, there's a crossover point when that might prevent them from being managed.

Bhavesh
Yes.

Mal
That's a great point. I'm going to... As we wrap up here, I'm going to throw a curve at you, there. But we found that in these interviews that we get some really interesting responses when we talk about the pandemic. So, how has the pandemic affected you and your business?

Bhavesh
Well, my pandemic started a month earlier than most people. It was... February 20, 2020. I remember that day very, very clearly because I was sitting watching TV at night and I got a call from India because my mom was in India. It was not COVID related, but she was hospitalized and I had to fly out to India. She basically had a stroke.

And I fly out to India, and I spent about five weeks there. Four, four and a half weeks, something like that. And long story short, we put her in a nursing home. Then I had to fly back. I flew back on April 20. I believe the date is March 25 or March 26. And it was an 11:50 flight. The last flight out of India was at midnight.

So, I made literally the last flight.

If I hadn't made that flight, I would have been still there six months later.

So, I think, Mal, what this brought for us is... Lot of us have gone through a lot of trouble and a lot of heartache. And I think that we... In a way, this is...

I like to think of it as a positive. And if you can't think of it as a positive, for people who are listening, at least it's a cloud with the silver line.

I think that it forced us to get back into... deep within ourselves and forced us to engage with that which is important to us. You know... Who are we? What are my priorities? What am I all about? These are existential questions, and we need to ask them. You know, no one gets out of here alive, at the end of the day. So, what is it that we take with us, if you do take something with us, or what's the point of all this?

And these are big questions. And I love those questions. I actually love answering and entertaining those questions.

Agree or Disagree? "I think that Covid forced us to get back into deep within ourselves and forced us to engage with that which is important to us." #awayre

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What it has done for my business is... One of the things that I did was... I have a slate of clients that I work with. I do a lot of executive coaching and I do group coaching, and things like that.

By the way, my business has been online for about five years now. So, it didn't change things that much. I mean, I've done things on-site and things like that and that got pulled back, but I just went online.

When we were going through the shutdown, I started playing chess. What do you do with the free time, right? And I watched some TV shows.

But then I started just kind of recording some of the things...One of the things I wanted to do is create an Academy of things that I've been teaching.

You know, scaling the business. I help other people scale. But I want to scale my own business, right? The cobbler's kids wear no shoes, right? So, I took the time to... I actually started recording some of the things.

And that's been very interesting. Fun. I actually put my first course out. This is on sales. How do you sell without being a salesperson?

And I put together some strategies that I have taught, about 20 strategies, and put together in a course. There's much more to come. So, I'm kind of excited about that. That's my COVID story.

I was able to take something out of it. There's a loss. Unavoidable loss. We lost a lot of friends in India and our family members, but here we are. But it brings focus to what's important, what's meaningful.

Mal
Well, see, we're near the end, and I think this could go on for maybe another hour. So, we thank you so much. And we wish you the best, and we look forward to a follow up.

Bhavesh
Yes. Thank you. Would love to do it. And I appreciate what you're doing here. I think you're putting a lot of work into this, and I've always enjoyed working with you, Mal. Now we've done this. I remember the time we sat down in Virginia. We had that lunch. Then you came and came out to my office in Rockville, and you know...

Mal
Sure.

Bhavesh
Yeah. I kind of long for those days when we can actually fearlessly move about and sit down and... Simple things - right? - that we used to do and we took it for granted. We would love to do that again.

Mal
Here we are again. So, thank you and look forward to staying permanently connected.

Bhavesh
Yes. Same here. Likewise. Appreciate it.

"There is a way to change this, which is to bring the human element back into our management processes."

Conclusion: How to Increase Employee Engagement and Build a Sustainable Business on Autopilot

If you are a President, CEO or an executive responsible for managing a team of business professionals, you probably get pulled into the minutia of running the day-to-day. This prevents you from creating an organization that can sustain itself without your personal and frequent involvement in the day-to-day of running the business.
 

  • We have missed something crucial in building our existing knowledge base of management philosophies: We see people as machines and manage them accordingly. 
  • Employee engagement has been historically low but is probably worse post-Covid as we experiment with remote work at an unprecedented scale. 
  • To create a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating organization, we need to engage our employees in ways that we have not been able to do thus far in the history of management.
  • When we are able to engage employees at the depth of their humanness, we empower them to build a self-sustaining organization that can scale itself without a direct involvement from its leaders. 

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