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Becoming more you: What it means to transform as a human

January 20, 2022 - 13 min read

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What is human transformation?

How do you get human transformation?

What is a radically human organization?

How to take a human approach to digital transformation

Where technology and transformation connect

What is human transformation?

Our lives are about more than just behavior change, continuing education, or going to therapy, even though these can be aspects of — and contribute to — human transformation.

Human transformation is an internal shift that brings us in alignment with our highest potential. It is at the heart of every major aspect of our lives. It affects how we see and relate to the world and how we understand our place in it.

Both systematic and miraculous, there’s no timeline on inner transformation. It can happen in an instant, through a lifetime of development — or, more commonly, through both.

The path includes a wide range of transformative experiences that support the whole person. It means prioritizing and consciously developing physical well-being, mental fitness, emotional health, and cognitive agility.

Psychologist Carl Jung talked often about transformation and the psychology of change. However, the change that Carl Jung described wasn’t related to New Year's resolutions or self-development books. It was about growing closer to the authentic self — becoming more aligned with the person that you want to become. 

Human transformation provides a clear path for each individual to live up to their full potential and to live their lives with greater purpose, clarity, and passion.

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How do you get human transformation? 

Human beings are innately wired for transformation. Perhaps our most extraordinary quality as a species is the ability to learn and adapt to nearly any situation.

Our brains search for patterns, anticipate threats, and problem-solve so we can thrive wherever we find ourselves. It's what enables us to live in extreme cold and extreme heat, to make miraculous advances in technology, and to ponder the meaning of our existence.

What we often don't talk about, though, is the growing pain inherent in transformation. There is loss associated with giving up our attachment to our beliefs and the way we view life.

Any transformation — any aspect of growth — lies outside of our comfort zones. In order to have something new, we often have to say goodbye to what we already have. This attachment to what was, or what we think should be, is often at the root of our psychological pain.

Because we are social creatures, the surest route to human transformation is through connecting with others. People around us inspire us by showing us what we can become. In fact, it’s one of four key components of developing self-efficacy (the belief that you can do something well). Many aspects of learning and growth involve emulating the behaviors that we first see in others.

As BetterUp has grown into the largest mental health and coaching company in the world, we’ve chosen to support people professionally and personally through coaching. Coaching is a unique vehicle that provides the one-on-one support, care, and feedback that empowers people to thrive in all aspects of their lives.

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In over one million coaching sessions, we’ve found some truths about human transformation and learned a lot about what enables it. Here are five key criteria that are essential to human transformation: 

1. Self-reflection

BetterUp’s research found that while mental fitness is an individual journey, people tend to build the skills of mental fitness in a particular order. Introspection is a foundational skill for all other areas of personal development and is the first one to develop in coaching.

2. Agency 

People don't need to be fixed, but they thrive when they are supported. We all have areas of our lives that we want to progress in. Coaching can help us recognize our ability to make positive change in our lives, and to reflect on our transformational journey.

3. Positive example 

When people have others around them to emulate, they feel more capable of reaching for their own goals. This, along with affirmation, emotional well-being, and mastery experiences, helps us to develop self-efficacy. 

4. Safety and security 

The first rung of Maslow's hierarchy demonstrates that without stable support for our basic needs, people will not aspire to self-actualization. When we feel threatened, our creativity, well-being, and relationships suffer.

5. Support of others 

We don't grow in a vacuum. The support of others has a direct and significant impact on our success. Even when people are languishing, we see a 14% improvement in productivity when they feel supported. 

What is a radically human organization?

A "radically human organization" is one where leaders are authentic, people are empowered and supported, and everyone feels a sense of purpose, according to Korn Ferry, the human capital consultancy that has popularized the term. 

For the purposes of human transformation, you can think of a radically human organization simply as one that creates space for people to grow, change, and reach more of their full potential. Such an organization puts people first in a way that recognizes the unique value and contribution of its people. Although the terminology varies,  we see this orientation and commitment to human potential in many of our customer organizations.

Organizations like this understand that there is no “work you” and “home you” — there's just the whole person. Performance, commitment, innovation, motivation all depend upon the fitness of the whole person. With that in mind, they prioritize and design ways to ensure that their employees feel supported, cared for, and valued.

These progressive organizations understand that a business that focuses only on the “bottom line” won't enjoy a healthy bottom line for long. They know that sustained success depends upon the people who deliver value and make growth possible.

They trust that their companies will thrive when, and only if, their people do. Such organizations look at the entire employee experience and embrace doing things differently. They seek less to use people than to support and empower them to do their best work.

Often, these human-centric organizations are mission-driven (startups are a notable example). Because they value the work that they do in the world, they prize the people that fulfill that mission. For the people who work there, it can become more than just a job.

Companies like this are vehicles for personal growth and professional development. These organizations care about leaving their employees better than they found them, and know that they are better as a result of their employees' involvement. Workplaces that attempt to prioritize business outcomes over the human experience often find that their early successes lack sustainability.

Radically human organizations have:

  • High degree of trust
  • Innovation and creativity
  • A strong sense of ownership
  • People-first approach
  • Transparency
  • Clear communication
  • Authenticity and courage 
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How to take a human approach to digital transformation

We can't talk about human transformation in the context of work without also talking about digital transformation in the workplace.

The media is full of conversations about the future of work and what that means for the people — and companies — involved. In 2022, we find ourselves in the midst of a radical shift in how work gets done. In many ways, this is the latest, inevitable step of the compounding changes that we've been seeing for decades

But technology for technology's sake is not the goal. Technology is meant to make human life better, to make it easier to do what we do, and bring our products and services to more people. That means that, at its heart, we have to focus on the human element of digital transformation. Software and tools that don't positively impact people are useless in the workforce.

Although automation is — and will continue to be — a huge part of how we work, it will never replace human innovation. Digital technology aids human beings in doing what they do best. In order to incorporate it successfully into any workplace, you have to take a look at the following:

Understand the problem that you're trying to solve

What do people need help with? How can we make things faster, easier, and more convenient? I'm a big fan of the saying “Do the things only you can do.” If we free up people's time and energy by automating or reorganizing things digitally, what does that mean that they can now focus on? Is that worthwhile?

Focus on user experience

The best way to measure the value of new technology is to interact with the people that will actually be using it and get their feedback. People will tell you what they need. 

The most successful initiatives will focus on key sticking points in an existing, working process and make it more efficient. Think of this like a kitchen mixer. It doesn't replace the entire process, nor does it replace the baker. It complements the baker's skill set, making one laborious part faster so that more cookies can be made.

Prepare for scale

One of the key benefits of digital transformation is the ability to scale access to your products and services. For BetterUp, providing coaching and personalized support through an app has allowed us to reach thousands of people in dozens of countries. With that kind of growth, it's important to keep your eye on where your organization is developing in the long term. Ensure that you're fulfilling on and staying aligned with your core purpose.

Where technology and transformation connect

When we first talked about the idea of radical human transformation earlier in this article, we understood it as a fundamentally internal, human process. As mentioned, human beings have the ability to adapt to nearly any circumstance. However, we're at an unprecedented point in history. As Tom Andrews and Laura Kurtz note in their insight report for Sypartners,

Spend any time looking at the pace of technological progress and global interconnection, and you can see why this era—which Thomas Friedman calls “the era of accelerations”—is so unsettling. Our latent ability to adapt is being overtaken by the increasing pace of technology-driven change, and it is getting much harder for leaders to draw upon past experiences as models of the future.

Technology can provide the tools for us to grow and change, but there's only so much that will happen overnight. It can't, and won't, replace people. We will always rely on each other to contextualize and validate technology-driven change.

As the world of work becomes increasingly remote and digitally based, it allows us to begin to look at other areas of our lives. When we're not working — when we're not busy adapting to survive — what is it that we need to in order to thrive?

I would argue that we naturally begin to shift our focus to Inner Work® — to the internal processes that make our outer work more sustainable and more successful. Or, to put it another way, we begin to reach toward self-actualization and human transformation.

When we understand technology as a tool, we begin to do the real work. That work, in turn, makes us better able to utilize that technology to serve our communities. After all, we are not put on this earth to work indefinitely, but to make it better. That's the real purpose of our lives, our work, and of our inner transformation.

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Published January 20, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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