You might not know it from the way we sometimes talk, but business is all about people. In the spirit of keeping that in focus, here are some of the human-centered trends that we can expect to see in 2015.
Customer, Customer, Customer
British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said that his top three priorities were education, education and education. In a similar way, if we really want to work well then the customer should be our first, second and third priority, with everything else following along behind.
Customer focus is hardly a new trend, but as social media empowers customers to become our best advocates or our greatest critics, customers should appear in all of our discussions.
For many businesses this will be a matter of smoothing out the wrinkles in their processes, making customer service extra smooth or resolving complaints with speed and a smile. But for others it may go deeper, using customer-focused models such as lean process improvement to redesign ways of working from customer needs up.
The most visible arena for customer focus is social media. As we leave behind old mass advertising trends we move into an age of personalized messages and ongoing interaction, in which our work truly revolves around the customer.
From work tracking software to wearable gadgets, technology is giving us ever greater opportunities to measure what employees are doing. This has the potentially to be enormously liberating or terribly oppressive, depending upon who it empowers. But for better or for worse, it will be centered on people.
The University of Notre Dame recently listed wearable technology among the top ethical dilemmas for the coming year. It creates greater opportunities than ever to track what work is being done, when, where and how. It could provide valuable information about the flow of activity around offices and factory floors, and so allow ever more efficient work. But it also opens up the risk that employers will use the technology to infringe upon the privacy of employees, to leave them feeling watched and controlled, and to micromanage them in wasteful and restrictive ways.
The best use of this technology may be to use it to empower employees themselves, keeping them informed about their own working practices, providing data to use in self-improvement. The potential is huge, and the coming year will doubtless provide examples we can’t even imagine yet.
Gaining by Giving
Our economy is so built around taking for ourselves, whether as individuals or businesses, that the power of giving and the human connection it makes has often been forgotten. Yet anthropologists and historians such as Henri Pirenne long ago showed that this is far from the only model, and that giving goods away can be the most powerful tool in growing your own status.
This principle is re-emerging in the information age, as digital products make it possible to give away products at no cost, and to use this to grow a customer base. It lets customers see you as a person with ideas and values, not just a name. Giving something away is incredibly powerful in building brand power, and is the basis of the best social marketing, in which articles and information are given out to draw in attention. It’s growing into a common strategy for authors, giving away the first e-book in a series to hook readers on the rest.
Giving things away to grow your influence is a principle that can be expanded into other areas of business, such as HR. As we find new ways to use it, it will help to add the human touch over the coming year.