The Humaneering Institute's vision for humaneering technology is for it to become a universal applied human science, much as engineering technology has evolved into a universal applied physical science.
The first step in this development journey has been to apply humaneering to the design and management of work performed by people. Early field-application trials demonstrate that a more deliberate and conscientious application of human science to human work quickly and substantially increases work performance and productivity, resolves many of today's persistent workforce management challenges (e.g., low engagement, lackluster performance, high turnover), and increases the job satisfaction of both workers and managers.
When first learning about humaneering technology, it is helpful to contrast humaneering with engineering. First, let's clarify what engineering is so as to make its contrast with humaneering even clearer.
Engineering technology is based on the physical sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry), which reveal the principles and characteristics of physical nature. Engineering application focuses this validated knowledge on the design and development of physical systems like roads, buildings, machines, and other physical creations. To engineer is to standardize in order to control physical nature, and thus to create from nature's physical attributes.
Humaneering technology is based on human sciences (e.g., biology, sociology, psychology), which reveal the principles and characteristics of human nature. Humaneering application focuses this validated knowledge on the design and development of human systems like societies, markets, organizations, and other human creations. To humaneer is to adapt (or customize) in order to unleash human nature, and thus to create from nature's human attributes.
When people are involved, relying on engineering alone will diminish what's possible. Both engineering and humaneering provide essential guidance, and applied together increase what could be achieved with only engineering.
Consider that the practice of engineering arts is over two million years old, even though the licensed professional practice of chemical, mechanical, electrical, industrial and other engineering disciplines that we know today is less than a century old. This institutionalization of science-based engineering during the 20th century resulted in innumerable contributions to society.
In contrast, the first notable application of human science to human work occurred in the 1930s, and even today the better know human-science-based practice disciplines (e.g., leadership, organization development, organization behavior) are treated by many as little more than ideas to consider. Humaneering technology was first conceived in the late 1930s, yet only now is it possible to develop a humaneering technology for the design and management of work performed by people.
Humaneering technology will in time advance the way people work and are managed. And like all technological advances, pioneers and early adoptors will lead the way.
Humaneering's ongoing field-application trials (i.e., alpha 2005-2009, private-beta 2009-2012, and open-beta 2013-20XX) demonstrate this principle. They also reveal, not just humaneering's substantial potential, but also specific application strategies and practices that yield the quickest improvements and greatest cost-benefit. These strategies and practices guided the development of DesignedWORK's program of client services for companies interested in experimenting with and learning to use humaneering technology.
Three of these strategies are further discussed here. First is the strategy of designing work. Today, in most organizations, the work performed by people is conceived without much thought for its design. Organizations that extend their design of business processes to include design of the human-work roles (or jobs) within these processes are highly rewarded for the effort.
Second is the strategy of challenging current experience- and intuition-based beliefs about work design with a deeper understanding of relevant scientific findings. While the fragmentation and conflicts within this knowledge have made an evidence-based approach to work design impractical in the past, humaneering synthesizes this knowledge for easy access and practical application.
Last is the strategy of managing with design. Humaneering makes it possible to manage work through its design. Humaneering reveals that common performance and behavior failures such as missed performance targets, low engagement, and workforce problems are actually failures in work design. The (re)design of work can largely resolve these failures.
NEXT: Designed Work
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This 2002 article by our managing partner is credited as the "tipping point" in securing financial support for institutional development of humaneering technology.