Real People in the Information Age

I’ve been thinking about our need to demonstrate more empathy, especially in large organizations and workplaces. I see this in the work I do coaching and consulting .

Most organizations over-rely on data, to the exclusion of face-to-face customer contact. It’s important to remember that we are intrinsically social animals, with an innate ability to sense what others are thinking and feeling.

We rely on our intuition to help us make decisions. But we lose touch with our intuition when we are over busy and just in the doing mode. We need to take the time to stay in touch with colleagues and customers, to have a better sense of what’s going on in their world.

Large institutions often choose to rely on data and market research for information on customer experiences, abandoning face-to-face interactions that preserve relationships. These businesses invariably become far removed from their customers’ day-to-day lives.

In the words of Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski, the map is not the territory.

Harley-Davidson is one notable exception, its office a shrine to the motorcycle culture the company helped create. Offices display photos, memorabilia and banners from rallies. Customers and employees ride together. Engineers, accountants and administrative staff acquire an intuitive understanding of the customers who buy their products.

Harley-Davidson’s leaders mandate that company executives spend measurable time on the streets with motorcycle riders. While many employees don’t ride, the company nonetheless instills its lifestyle and values. Empathy is a key element of this corporate strategy.

In many workplaces, however, this is not the case. Instead of opportunities to mingle with customers, marketing departments rely on data to identify the demographics of their customers. Personas are created from marketing research and internet data to represent groups of customers.

How about in your place of work? In what ways are there missed opportunities to connect with colleagues or real clients? I’d love to hear from you.

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