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Are We Numbed By Work?

by David Brock on November 10th, 2021

I watched a fascinating short film, “Work, I Think It Numbs You, Somehow.” It got me reflecting on much of what I see when working with executives and sales people. Add onto that, all the we read about the Great Resignation.

About two minutes into the film, a factory worker is interviewed. He talks about how so much of work causes you to stop thinking, we go through the motions and don’t have to make decisions. The most startling thing was his statement about how that carries over when we leave work, we tend not to force ourselves to think, engaging in mindless things.

In a sense, being numbed by work has a tendency to numb us to everything else.

I suspect, much of what we are seeing in the Great Resignation is a result of this. People want more out of life and work than being numbed and going through the motions. And it’s this shift that makes the future of selling, business, and work so exciting, yet, also, so challenging.

Over the past 15 plus years, in selling, the pendulum has swung very far in a direction to remove the “humanity” out of sales and selling. We’ve shifted many of our engagement strategies, focusing on our efficiency and less on the quality of the customer engagement. We make our numbers simply by increasing the volume and the amount of work we do, not rethinking what and how we do things to have greater impact and meaning.

This mechanization of selling has created intriguing, hopefully unintended consequences, both for buyers and sellers. Each becomes a “widget” in the process. We’ve seem to have lost sight of the human being, both the buyer and the seller. We define personas rather than persons. We script the engagement process, looking at compliance.

None of this is new, for years we’ve seen declines in employee engagement, declines in the percent of people meeting goals, plummeting tenure–increases in voluntary attrition. Our customers want to minimize their interactions with us, because we aren’t being helpful. Yet they struggle through their change/buying process, plagued with uncertainty, often having decision remorse (or perhaps second guessing themselves).

Some would “blame” technology for this, yet there is little inherent in the technology that removes “caring” from the process. It’s how we implement the technology that drives this.

Likewise, some claim it’s a “Gen Z” thing. That Gen Z will constantly move from job to job, but when I talk to many Gen Zers, they are looking for meaning, as other Gen’s are, they don’t want to be numbed by work.

Perhaps, the pandemic has accelerated this, but we’re seeing people rejecting this. They want more out of work, they want more out of the engagement process with colleagues and customers. Our people and customers, alike, want to know they matter, that they are being heard, that people care.

The good news is we see great examples from great organizations every day. We see organizations with purpose, missions, values, and cultures that create places where people want to work, where they are heard, valued, can learn and grow.

We see organizations that see the customer as something more than a transaction, creating value for the customer, caring for what they do and their success. And these organizations are the consistent long term high performers. There is something right in what they are doing.

The signals have been there for years–both with sellers and buyers. The research has been showing us this for years. We are now seeing “forcing functions,” that will drive the pendulum in the other direction.

I can’t think of a more exciting change. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be working, to be in business, to be selling.

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