The hormonal organisation: 10 chemicals to improve enterprise performance
Here, I would like to get hormonal.
Quick primer: Think of a hormone as a message from one part of the body that triggers action in one or more other parts. Hormones are also used to regulate our behaviour. The body has around 60 hormones. We are finely tuned creatures. Over or under production of hormones can have serious consequences including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
I am going to explore the following ten hormones and how they might support a living enterprise:
- Adrenalin / Epinephrine.
Benefit: Oxytocin creates a sense of kinship and love. It will help your people to socially bond and develop a wider community of customers. Amazon has customers. Harley-Davidson has cult members. Loyalty has its benefits and so building online communities is on the increase.
Source: This is a cultural matter and so will fall to talent management. However it is also a service matter and so product development, services, sales and marketing need to similarly release oxytocin into the market.
Danger: Trying to decouple the organisation from infatuated but high maintenance customers could become an issue.
Benefit: Serotonin cultivates a sense of happiness, satisfaction and status. Competent and respectful service staff can offset issues with product quality. Providing employees with a sense of job security and career direction will also engender serotonin.
Source: Another responsibility for talent management. Again all customer facing staff are potential sources of serotonin.
Danger: In respect of your people, striking the balance between happiness and productivity is key. The former without the latter turns your organisation into a leisure centre / country club.
Benefit: Dopamine induces anticipation and thus motivation. Hence, we get so excited when our devices bleep or when you click the ‘Buy’ button. Both staff and the customer comply best with your business model when they are motivated.
Source: Again talent management and those in the front office are the sources. The leadership team is also an important dispenser of the dopamine pellets that keep the overall organisation / living organism moving forward. A strong sense of organisational purpose helps in this respect.
Danger: Dopamine can lead to addiction. As a boss, you might think that staff addicted to work is a good thing. That’s true if your philosophy is to squeeze them dry and dispense with them. Smarter leaders will regulate dopamine to ensure that staff are not on a dopamine-only diet.
Addicted customers are an issue because they need a bigger hit each time to feel the buzz. Thus your innovation cycle needs to shorten and be more radical.
Benefit: Testosterone can drive risk taking in respect of innovation. It instils confidence and the urge to compete. Clients will no doubt benefit from this if the organisational KPIs are set accordingly (see Dangers below).
Source: This needs to be generated at all levels of management. Staff will benefit from the esprit de corps it generates. The extent to which testosterone is released into the organisation needs to be market appropriate. Fine dining waiters will upset guests if they push too hard on their dining suggestions.
Benefit: Insulin regulates the human metabolism, sugar management being an important element. In corporate terms, insulin helps the regulation of the organisation by metabolising data. The data comes in through various sources and various formats. The role of ‘insulin’ is to metabolise the data into a form that is of value to the organisation.
Source: This is a job for the IT function. I would argue this is the job of the IT function.
Danger: Organisations are often too trusting of their data. Just because the data is served up in a visually appealing manner doesn’t mean its correct. Whilst you might believe that your AI systems are drinking from a serene and glistening data lake, the reality may be more akin to a cesspit.
Benefit: Like insulin, thyroxin has a role to play in human metabolism, specifically in digestion, muscle, skeletal, heart and brain function. Organisationally this might be thought of as process management. Thyroxin is thus key to a well-functioning organisation and thus productivity.
Source: The COO is the best source. Their role is to continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation.
Danger: Too much thyroxin might cause the organisation to overly focus on its existing processes when a changing market requires a different approach.
Benefit: When the body is put under stress, cortisol has the effect of ramping up certain bodily functions and turning off others. When an organisation is facing a major threat, eg. a cyber-attack, the ability to change mode is critical.
Source: Ultimately the CEO will determine when the organisation needs to go into high alert.
Danger: Cortisol is to be used sparingly. Being in a constant state of high alert will cause the organisation to eventually malfunction. Cutting the marketing or learning budget for sustained periods will have a detrimental impact. The impact of chronically stressed organisations on their staff is well documented.
Adrenalin (aka Epinephrine)
Benefit: Like cortisol, the body is flooded with adrenalin when faced with danger. Blood is diverted towards bodily functions that have a role to play in survivability. Adrenalin can also cultivate excitement, rather than fear and so can thus positively impact the innovation process.
Source: Leaders at all levels can use adrenaline to fire up their teams.
Danger: If not used sparingly, you will end up with an army of reckless, agitated adrenalin junkies.
Benefit: Acetylcholine aids restoration. It also helps us to learn from our experiences. Professional athletes build rest into their training regime. Organisations would be wise to follow suit. Ensuring this hormone is released periodically, and particularly after stressful episodes, will ensure the organisation maintains it resiliency.
Source: This needs to come from the leadership. If people are expected to be on call 24-7, they will never have an opportunity for renewal. And even when they are trying to relax, their guilt will diminish its restorative impact.
Danger: Too much restoration will negatively impact productivity. Organisations high on acetylcholine will find it difficult to have their people step-up when demand requires it.
Benefit: This is the vitality hormone. It boosts immunity and slows the aging process. It improves cognition and is responsible for the production of testosterone and oestrogen. DHEA and cortisol sit on either side of the scales. DHEA enables us to channel stress positively and thus leads to high performance.
Source: Again leadership sets the tone here. If they believe the organisation is made up of high performing people, then in conjunction with talent management will put programmes in place to develop staff to perform well under increasingly stressful conditions.
This might sound like a licence to abuse staff. Done properly, it is the path to self-actualisation. Everyone wins.
Danger: Overdoing this will have a negative impact on other hormones and will thus lead to organisation malfunction. Again high performance needs to be counterbalanced with restorative activities.
The skill of leadership is to release these hormones in such a way that they compound effectively. Oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine will make for compelling services.
A strict diet of cortisol and adrenalin will cause your employer brand to plummet.
This post will possibly appal endocrinologists with its oversimplifications. Some important hormones such as oestrogen are too complex to map neatly onto my simplistic model. Nonetheless, I hope you develop a sense of the role of hormones within people. If we are to build people-centric organisations, we need to build hormonal organisations.