Building an Organizational Human OS
What is a human OS?
Although every company has a vision, mission, and perhaps a motto, there is another element which seldom takes center stage but is equally, if not more important to its long-term success – its human operating system model. Just like a computer operating system, the human OS embodies the ways of working, the organizational culture, the code of conduct, and all other principles that enable the friction-free operation of human capital. The latter is the term human resource departments like to use when referring to employees, or simply put, people. Whether the preferred term at your organization is human capital, human resources, team members, employees, CAPEX or OPEX, this is your most valuable asset – one that can be very powerful when managed properly, or detrimental to success when it isn’t.
In this article we review the principles that must be observed and carefully applied to construct viable human operating systems that not only deliver value but make companies unique.
Why does your organization need a human OS?
Although it is rarely referred to by this term, every organization has some sort of a human OS already – though, its maturity can vary widely across the board. Often, the elements of what we call a human OS are largely scattered and decentralized – sitting in silos vs. working as an integrated set of values, principles and documentation. In most organizations, attempts to build a human OS often begin by examining its core values: what it’s trying to achieve, why, and perhaps how.
For organizational values to be actionable, they must be concrete, which leads to the development of guiding principles that pertain to various organizational functions, including finance, procurement, supply chain management, and several others. Finally, for these principles to be effective, they must be put into writing, properly communicated to all stakeholders, and tied to an accountability mechanism.
Benefits of adopting a human OS
One of the main benefits of having a working human OS in place is the ability to stay true to company values and goals by preventing arbitrary decisions from affecting the overall course. Human behavior is, by default, complex and subjective – often, we believe we are doing ‘the right thing’ by following our own morals and having good intentions. There is no surer way for organizations to become distracted over time, however.
Just like computer operating systems are not right or wrong – rather, they are toolsets for achieving certain aims – human operating systems are not about individual value frameworks and ways of working. Instead, they are based on the behaviors and codes of conduct that the organization and its stakeholders have agreed are the most helpful in achieving its long-term goals. And just like a computer OS, a human OS can be improved and fine-tuned over time through adoption, usage, testing, and feedback loops.
Types of human operating systems
Although the concept of a human OS encompasses multiple functions in an organization, it’s important to define the sphere of influence that it has. There are several types of systems which can be loosely incorporated into the idea of human OS design, including internal and external communication, work design, change management, decision-making, and talent management systems, to name a few.
Designing the human OS that works and delivers results
A human OS that can survive the demands of an accelerating, increasingly digital world is one that is agile, flexible and open to collaboration with its very beneficiaries: the humans! As the agile manifesto that many developers are familiar with states, in an agile world individuals and interactions trump processes and tools. The latter should either serve the former or be reformed. Often, organizations pay lip service to outdated beliefs, principles or systems, and actions are motivated by the wrong reasons. How often is the answer to ‘why’ questions ‘because that’s just how we do things around here,’ without questioning whether that needs to change?
Surely, it’s often easier to carry on as before, on autopilot, though, we know what can happen when beliefs, attitudes and ways of doing things are seldom examined – mediocrity, rather than greatness, is often the result. Still, for a human OS to function seamlessly and produce tangible benefits to an organization, its building blocks ought to be regularly examined – and if needed, updated. This, too, should be a part of the design and redesign processes, to be feasible.
For starters, organizations can begin by examining the tools and processes that make up their human operating systems today, even if they weren’t considered an integral part of them previously. Are they all fully aligned with your vision, mission, and goals? Do they advance or hinder the execution of your long-term strategy and the attainment of key goals? If they need to be revisited, updated, better integrated, or scrapped altogether the first step towards achieving this is having honest, pointed conversations with key stakeholders. Often, anonymous surveys help vet out important issues that may have been buried for a while. Once this hard work is done, designing or redesigning the tools that empower your human OS will be the fun part – take our word for it.