What is HumanDebt™?
The concept of HumanDebt was coined by Duena Blomstrom while investigating what organisations need in order to thrive. She wanted to know what stops enterprises from availing themselves from Agile and the concepts of high performance at a team level such as Psychological Safety. What she found was that most – if not all – organisations have amassed a certain amount of Human Debt which is defined as “the Tech Debt equivalent for humans”.
Who Has HumanDebt™?
Everyone. It’s not about size — even start-ups can amass HD. Or industry — there’s plenty in the Silicon Valley darlings – but in different degrees and it is particularly rampant in these types of companies:
- Enterprises that have disengaged and disenfranchised employees
- Command and control centrals
- Places with very low Psychological Safety
- Companies who are operating by employing waterfall methodologies
- Places with a blame culture where fear and dread are institutionalised
- Organisations where the people-work is deprioritised and employees are expected to be “professional” and devoid of emotions
So is HumanDebt an Organisational Issue?
Yes but not exclusively. While all of the instances quoted in the definition and others like them do happen at an enterprise level, there are instances where HumanDebt is created – or at least tolerated – at a team level.
What this means is that while the overall context of these misgivings against the employees exists culturally at the overall institutional layer, there are times when even more HumanDebt is created when teams do not have the right mindset and dynamic.
At the Organisational Level
Examples of HumanDebt that was created by the organisation as a whole are:
- People-work projects started and abandoned
- Lip service from the top
- Frequent management changes and bad leadership
- “Friday initiatives” around the people topics
- Big topics left unclear – D&I, Employee Happiness, Ways of Work, etc.
- Sterile surveys
- Punitive acts
- Culture of fear and avoidance of failure
- Allowing toxic politics and staying silent when there is systemic racism or bullying
- Condoning command & control
- Lip service to Agile with no mindset change
- Unhappy, unengaged employees
At the Team Level
Examples of HumanDebt that was created by the team level in particular are:
- Having a lot of Impression Management
- All the times we felt tension but hoped it would resolve itself
- When we witnessed someone treated unfairly but we didn’t speak up
- When we felt we were brushing big topics under the carpet
- When we know we should have done a team re-launch/team-building exercise and we cancelled
- Undiscussed failures or mistakes
- Any time we de-prioritised the human work in favour of delivery or operational work
- Avoided 1-on-1s
- Lack of investment in an emotional bond with our teammates
- Lack of Emotional Intelligence training
- A team leader that finds Servant Leadership difficult and doesn’t strive to grow
- No interest in measuring and improving the performance of the teams
- Blaming the organisation
Neither of these instances can and should be ignored if organisations want to be healthy, sustainable and competitive in this new age of work.
Come back next week to read about the ways in which we can combat and lower Human Debt and what the necessary people-work consists of.
The 3 “commandments of Psychological Safety” to build high performing teams are: Understand, Measure and Improve.
Read more about our Team Dashboard that measures and improves Psychological Safety at peoplenottech.com, or reach out on our contact page and let’s help your teams become Psychologically Safe, healthy, happy and highly performant.
You can order the book People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age on Amazon.