The Human-Centred Organization
There is growing international recognition that corporate (and indeed national) success
should be measured in terms which go beyond profit and productivity. Organisations are
being assessed not just on their return on the investment of their owners but also on much
broader issues, such as how well they fulfil their responsibility to society, and the impact
they have on the environment in both the short and long term. In those areas, organisations
often turn to high level standards, such as ISO 26000 Guidance on social responsibility,
published by the International Organization for Standardization (www.iso.org/). One area
that has recently received particular attention from the G8 (the world’s biggest economies)
is human well-being as an economic measure in addition to traditional measures of national
output. Human well-being is the focus of the scientific discipline of ergonomics but most
ergonomics standards are aimed at experts.
This article describes a new International Standard on The Human-Centred Organisation,
which is being developed to provide guidance on maximising wellbeing and minimising
human-based risks for the organisation. This high level standard explains to executive
board members the values and beliefs that make an organisation human-centred, the
significant business benefits and what policies they need to put in place to achieve this.
The purpose of this article is to seek feedback from executives and other stakeholders to
help us ensure that the final document builds on what has already been done and has
ISO/TC159 the ISO technical committee that deals with ergonomics defines it as “the
scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and
other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and
methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance”.
Another name for ergonomics is human factors. There are a number of detailed ergonomics
and human factors standards, which can be used by managers and engineers in selecting
and designing products, systems and services. ISO 9241-210, for example specifies the
human-centred design process, which project managers should follow in order to ensure
that interactive systems are effective, efficient and satisfying for their users. This standard
has been influential in the digital world but the human-centred approach can reach much
further into the organisation, for the benefit of all.
The Human-Centred Organisation standard sets out high-level principles and approaches to
human-based risk and wellbeing, which executive board members should endorse and implement in their organisations. The standard identifies the key criteria which demonstrate
that each principle has been met, the implications for the organisation of failing to meet the
criteria and what steps can be taken to minimise the risks of such failure.
Principles of the human-centred approach
The human-centred approach works at every level in the organisation, starting at the top,
with the executive board. Some of the following principles are already well established and
addressed by standards and accepted best practice, for example social responsibility, but
others need far more work to elaborate fully. We welcome input, not just from the
standards community, especially examples and case studies of good practice.
Turn individual differences into an organisational strength
The organisation acknowledges that people differ in their capabilities and needs, uses
ergonomics data on the nature and extent of these differences, recognises this as a
strength rather than a problem and takes this into account in all areas of its business.
Make usability and accessibility strategic business objectives
The organisation uses international standards and best practices to ensure that
products, systems and services are accessible and usable (effective, efficient and
satisfying to use) both by employees and by customers.
Adopt a systems approach
The organisation recognises that people are part of a wider system which includes the
equipment, workspace, physical, social and organisational environment in which they
work and live. It follows a socio-technical approach to the design and implementation of new systems.
Ensure health, safety and wellbeing are business priorities
The organisation takes the necessary steps to protect individuals (both inside and
outside the organisation) from health, safety and wellbeing risks. It is proactive in its
approach to workplace health and goes beyond the minimum required by legislation.
The organisation provides individuals with meaningful work and with opportunities to
use and develop their skills in a stable employment environment.
Create a meaningful work environment
The organisation values and acknowledges the contribution that employees make both
financially and through other forms of recognition. It works to ensure that employees
at all levels share the vision of the organisation and are encouraged to contribute at an
The organisation communicates openly and effectively to staff and to the outside world.
When difficult decisions are necessary, they are addressed in a timely and equitable
The organisation behaves ethically and instils pride and confidence in its employees,
The Human-centred organization standard will provide guidance on human-based risks, their
complexity and the need to measure and manage these risks effectively. It will also discuss
the consequences of failing to address these needs both for the individual and for the
The main body of the standard will offer high level guidance on implementing these human-
centred principles and minimising risk. Where possible, it will refer to existing International
Standards and other international guidance, such as ISO 26000 (social responsibility).
How to get involved
International Standards are developed by ISO following a well-tried international consensus
process. However, as Project Editors for this standard, we would also like to get input from
people who are not normally interested in standards – board executives. We have therefore
written this article to provide advance information on the standard, to seek feedback from
the business community and to ensure that what is developed has maximum impact.
This article may be distributed widely, both electronically and in print.
If you would like to comment, please contact:
Tom is Founder of System Concepts Limited, London and Chair of the British Standards
Tomas is Founder of Ergolab AB Stockholm and Chair of the Swedish Standards Ergonomi
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