Book Review: Humanize – How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World

When I opened up Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant’s book Humanize for the first time, I had a good idea of what I could expect. The title alone paints a pretty clear picture, right? This is clearly a text full of tips about creating a more people-friendly presence on social media, and turning that presence to your advantage in an organization. That’s not a bad assumption, but it turns out it’s only partly correct. You see, rather than list out a few dozen ways to be more empathetic or share some how-tos for customer appreciation, Notter and Grant take a hard look at organizations and management today, tear the rulebook to shreds, and break down how to reformulate who you are as an organization. Humanizing, it seems, starts at the core of your company, with your internal culture, structure, and mindset.

My main reason for selecting this book was to try to see what I could take from it and apply to my work as the social media strategist/community manager for Syracuse University’s IT and Services department. I’m in a position where we’re all learning as we develop our strategy, goals, and voice, so I like to look for useful guidance whenever I can. We’re an organization in need of “humanizing,” I feel, so I knew this book would be fruitful for my work.

A more social organization starts with the people inside it.

A more social organization starts with the people inside it.

Notter and Grant start their work off with a bit of a history lesson, covering where organizations and management principles came from, how technology has begun to disrupt the status quo, and how sticking to traditional ways of thinking are stifling some great opportunities for truly innovative growth. They take issue with the adherence to the mysterious act of strategic planning, lament at the barriers of communication erected under the guise of process control, and bury their faces into their palms over the stuffy organizational cultures that seem to be revered today. Organizations are broken, and to repair them means regrouping and crafting a new foundation, to create an adaptive, collaborative, learning organization from the ground up.

After identifying the problems at hand, the authors launch into a structured and consistent presentation of their ideas for becoming a more socially-minded organization. Four thorough chapters each focus on one aspect of humanizing: being open, being trustworthy, being generative, and being courageous. These are not mere lists of tips, but well-reasoned explanations of why and how to bring about change, with looks at real-world cases to highlight both the benefits of being more human, and the pitfalls of failing to adapt. The cards are laid plainly on the table, and I couldn’t help but hunger for more with every turn of the page. I didn’t agree with everything that was written, but I can certainly respect the authors’ viewpoints, as they are backed up with reasoned arguments most every time.

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After closing the back cover and reflecting on what I had read, I knew I had some key takeaways to apply to my organization. In particular, I plan on pursuing some of the penultimate thoughts in the book, on being the catalyst for change in your organization. As a student, I’m not in a great position to command or lead an organizational shakedown, but I can still be an influential voice in the department, and I have some incredible advice to assist me now. The delightful part about this is that Humanize wasn’t written with my position in mind – it was tailored for the association industry. But that’s the beauty of the text: it’s clear, poignant, structured, and reasonable, and thus can easily be applied very broadly. Give it a look, you may be surprised at how relevant it is to your organization, and find yourself pondering how to humanize your work as well.

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