#211 – Integrity Idea 041: Don’t “Toolify” Humans

Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process.  Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

Don’t Toolify Humans” is more fundamental, because it is a reminder of the most important priority shift needed for an organization to have a bigger WHY aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles, and priorities.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Don’t “Toolify Humans

“Don’t Toolify Humans” is about prioritizing people over profit–treating them as the “end” toward which the organization is managed rather than a tool to help achieve an “end” of profit.

If you have been reading our posts, you will know that “Don’t Toolify Humans” is hardly a new idea. Although we haven’t used the phrase before, the message is at the heart of Integriosity, faithful integrity, business a better way and what we believe is the bigger WHY of an organization aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities—to Humanize People, Beautify the World and Glorify God.

So why are we highlighting it again?  We were inspired by an article in this week’s Wall Street Journal titled “More of Us Will Get Harsh Reviews This Year. Here’s What To Do About It.”  Here are a few key excerpts:

This moment in workplaces is all about efficiency . . . . Trimming costs where they can, they’re not fretting if an underperformer walks away.

Long gone is the pandemic era of work . . . . Back then, hiring, not firing, was the order of the day, and companies feared tough love would drive away stressed-out talent.

In fact, performance management, as it’s known in HR speak, is the priority for nearly 40% of HR professionals this year, the highest share in recent years . . . .

Supervisors are often lousy at delivering candid feedback in the normal course of the job . . . . Among employees who received the worst grade in their reviews last year, 38% had rated themselves as highly valued.

This is the type of shift we pointed out in post #159 (Caring for People—Heart, Hype or Hustle).  When people are “tools”, organizations manage and manipulate how they are treated based upon what is best for the bottom line—just like a natural resource needed in the production process.

“Don’t Toolify Humans” recognizes the Biblical principle that you can’t serve two masters (“No one can serve two masters“, Matthew 6:24), which means that “Profit as Purpose” necessarily leads to “People as Tools” to be manipulated and managed toward that purpose.

If people are not the “end”, they are a tool toward that end.  It is just like online platforms—the user is either the customer or the product.  If the offering is free and profit is the purpose of the organization, then the user is a product (to be sold to third parties) rather than the customer.

We know that many leaders say, “We have several purposes, and profit is just one?” While an organization (or a person) can have “plural” priorities, it can’t have equal priorities.  The nature of something having priority is that it is prior to every other “priority” other than any priority that ranks even higher.  We explored this in more depth in post #172 (“Priority” Problems and Solutions).

What Matthew 6:24 teaches us is that, at the end of the day, there can only be one primary WHY for the organization that will win out— other “purposes” get reduced to being “means” or “strategies.”

Of course, until the “end of the day”, the leader of an organization operating in alignment with business as usual can live the illusion that they care about people as much as they care about profit.  But the “end of the day” can come quickly.  For example:

A 2023 Wall Street Journal headline revealed, “At Salesforce, It Is One Big Family Until Trouble Hits Home“.  Co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff was apparently known for using “the Hawaiian word ‘ohana,’ or familial bonds, to describe the company’s close relationship with employees and customers.”  In announcing the layoff of thousands of employees, Benioff summed up “priority” with one phrase “Ultimately, the success of the business has to be paramount.”  When push comes to shove, the real priority surfaces.

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires “Flourishing as Purpose” rather than “Profit as Purpose”, which requires putting profit in its proper place as a necessary means to that end.  “Necessary” is a very important word when describing the role of profit.

As we have emphasized many times, profit is NOT bad, and the creation by business of economic prosperity is good. Profit in a business is necessary for good stewardship of the business, which means it is necessary for the Creation Mandate, which in turn means it is necessary for business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  Economic prosperity enables families and communities to flourish.

We believe “Toolifying” people is de-humanizing and antithetical to operating with faithful integrity in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.

In the words of Jeff Van Duzer (author of Why Business Matters to God):

When a business perceives its labor force as a mere cost of production, it distorts God’s original intent.  In effect, it denies the humanity of its employees.

In his new book The Song of Significance: A Manifesto for Teams, Seth Godin brilliantly captures the problems of “Toolifying”:

Humans are not a resource. We are not a tool. Humans are the point.

The race to the bottom is won by the manager with the best marionette skills and the lowest moral standards. We’ve added a lot of veneer to the ugly truth of how industrial managers see their employees, but the reality hasn’t changed much: if humans are a resource, then we’re here to squeeze them. This leads to bullying, to burnout, to harassment, and to systems based on injustice and unfairness instead of possibility.

CONTINUUM: People

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Don’t Toolify Humans” is on the People Continuum.  While it will require Prayer, could include Proclamation and may require establishing formal Policies and putting in place organizational Practices, it is about the humans who work for the organization.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Don’t Toolify Humans” can be Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because every organization, secular or faithful, can (and we believe should) make the engagement and welfare of its people the priority.

For secular organizations, caring for employes most likely comes from an explicit or implicit cost-benefit analysis, which will lead to jettisoning human-friendly policies and practices when Profit as Purpose is perceived to be at risk.  For a faithful leader leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing, “Don’t Toolify Humans” must come from heart change—from a bigger WHY that prioritizes people over profit.

“Don’t Toolify Humans” can also be Highly Overt if an organization explains the Biblical basis behind its approach to its people.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

“Don’t Toolify Humans” principally serves employees by prioritizing their flourishing over profit.  It serves employees by prioritizing relationships, dignity and love, which is humanizing because it recognizes and reflects Imago Dei.

Humans are not a resource. We are not a tool. Humans are the point. (Seth Godin)

IMPLEMENTATION

Usually the “Implementation” section of our Integrity Idea posts is quite specific about how a faithful leader can begin thinking and, more importantly, praying about implementing the idea.

For “Don’t Toolify Humans”, we won’t spend many words on “Implementation”, but we will be much more specific than usual.

Implementing “Don’t Toolify Humans” requires transforming the heart of the organization–its WHY–to align with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  It is what our last 210 posts have been about (and hopefully what our next 210 posts will also be about).  We offered a roadmap to the first 200 in post #201.

It starts with The Choice–alignment with the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of the world.  It is a choice every faithful leader makes, whether they realize it or not.  If a faithful leader chooses alignment with the Kingdom of God–faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing–then the next step is RENEW, followed by RE-IMAGINE, RE-ALIGN and RESTORE.  It is the ancient path we call Integriosity.

The choice of the kingdom of the world and business as usual brings with it the “Toolification” and dehumanization of humans.

In the Great Resignation (which we called the Great De-Humanization in post #120), we got a glimpse of how business as usual dehumanizes based on the reasons people cited for leaving.  In an article in MIT Sloan Management Review about the Great Resignation (“Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation”), some of the reasons cited were:

• Workers feeling disrespected

• Unethical behavior

• History of layoffs and reorganizations.

• People overworked and over-stressed with no ability to balance life.

• Workers feeling like their efforts were not recognized.

It fits perfectly with our description of the characteristics of business as usual way back in posts #012-#016:  Profit As Purpose, Scarcity, Self-Interest and Can We” Ethics.

Contrast this with a secular organization we spotlighted in post #104 (Business a Better Way “Without Faith”)SAS Institute is a big company providing data analytics solutions.  It has over 12,500 employees spread across the world with customers in 145 countries SAS is renowned for the benefits it offers its employees and its award-winning culture.

A few quotes from SAS founder, Dr. Jim Goodnight, give insight into his heart and the heart he instilled in SAS:

It turns out that doing the right thing – treating people right – is also the right thing for the company.

Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.

I’ve never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur.  I think of an entrepreneur as someone who wants to make a lot of money.  That has never been at the top of my list.

The fact is that if our profits don’t grow and continue to grow every year so what? We have our comfort level of what our profits should be and we try to maintain about a 15% profit level. That is sufficient growth for us so we don’t have to be draconian and say “Oh my gosh, better go and lay off a 1000 people”. . . .  It makes me really mad when a CEO lays off thousands of workers, and is rewarded with the stock increasing.

We believe that reflects Humanizing over Toolifying.  Now it’s time to choose.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  Although the owner of a business can make the choice of Humanizing over Toolifying–people over profit–a leader of a public company may believe they are legally obligated to choose Toolifying.  Many proponents of the “shareholder primacy” view of governance argue that the board of a public corporation has a legal duty to maximize profits for shareholders, but we believe that is a misunderstanding.  In fact, in 2016 the Modern Corporation Project issued a Statement on Company Law signed by dozens of legal experts refuting the misconception that corporate law requires the maximization of profits for shareholders.  We also recommend The Shareholder Value Myth by the late Lynn Stout (a Professor of Corporate & Business Law at the Cornell Law School) for an excellent legal analysis of the issue.  Stout wrote:

A corporation or a corporate law system designed around the philosophy that “anything that raises share price is good” is likely to produce a firm that cooks its books; that avoids long-term projects that won’t appeal to unsophisticated investors; that chases after investment fads and fancies; that tries to opportunistically exploit creditors, employees, and customers; and that pursues business strategies that harm its diversified shareholders’ other investment interests.

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Don’t “Toolify” Humans

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  People

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  “Don’t Toolify Humans” is more fundamental, because it is a reminder of the most important priority shift needed for an organization to align its culture with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  “Don’t Toolify Humans” is about prioritizing people over profit. It recognizes the Biblical principle that you can’t serve two masters, which means that Profit as Purpose leads to “People as Tools” to be manipulated and managed toward that purpose.  Leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing requires “Flourishing as Purpose”, which necessarily requires putting profit in its proper place as a necessary means to that end.  How to get there has been the focus of our last 210 posts.

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Photo credit: Original photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels (photo cropped)