What’s in a name?
Let’s take a moment to breathe, and look back to 2016 when mwah. was just a set of ideals, principles, ideas, and optimism on the possibilities of refocusing the balance of people and business. There was research, many conversations, time spent with vastly different people, thinkers and organisations. We did the due diligence and the groundwork to start our little business based on a big idea.
As much as it was hard work, it was exciting too.
We trained in global corporations, so we did some quality work on strategy, clients, market size, branding, and communications. And then, we almost launched as MWH – Making Work Human.
A humble vision, a tag line that summed it all up nicely. Thankfully, a deeply creative Grace Brighton-Hall, half-jokingly, half-inspiringly said ‘Wow, so close to MWAH, what will the A stand for?”
Then and there, we knew mwah. was the name for us – but again, we almost got it wrong by starting with making work ‘almost’ human, before finding our conviction and finally landing on ‘absolutely’ – and thank goodness we did.
Making work absolutely human is a lofty aspiration, an everyday mantra for our interactions, an unwavering commitment, and a lifetime of passions, all rolled into one.
For the first few months, after our 2017 launch, we were the new kid on the block, and we were teased by the other kids. Our name was fobbed off, spelt incorrectly, mispronounced, and discounted.
Are you serious with that name? …Umm, yes.
How is it pronounced? Is it M–WAH? …Umm, no. It’s just mwah. It stands for Making Work Absolutely Human.
If you do people and culture, why aren’t you called People and Culture Co, so people know what you do? Or even better ‘Serious People and Culture Co’, so people take you seriously. Or if you want to be really clever “Strategic People and Culture Co” or even “Aristotle Consulting” (i.e.,. just insert ‘old timey Greek philosopher’ in front of ‘Consulting’).
Well over four years on, we can now admit that there were times in that first year, when we might have wondered whether we were mad, but not anymore.
Over time, we’ve had increasing opportunities to be true to our name and get great work done that lives the ambition. And every step, has only strengthened our resolve that mwah. Making Work Absolutely Human was (and still is) exactly the right name.
So, what do we do?
Shakespeareans amongst us will quote “What’s in a name?”, but we’d like to think quite a lot!
After all, we’re like Bega Cheese. Cheese from Bega.
We named mwah. after the work we do, and now its crystal clear.
So, what does it mean to ‘make work absolutely human’?
When we started, we spent time trying to understand what was broken in People & Culture.
And that got us thinking a lot about processes. So many of them that didn’t enrich or add value to the people that were using them – leaders, employees, volunteers, business owners.
So, we went to overcome those weaknesses with our strength – and that was the people we had on board.
Between us we had human-centred design, Lean Six Sigma, Process Excellence, systems thinking and design, and a host of other ‘process design expertises’. We have all those under our collective belt. We also love the community we work with to do this stuff well, which is why we’re part of professional bodies looking to move this specialisation forward, plus we teach at universities to share a new way with students.
We know our stuff, but the unique bit is not just about making this work more effective, clear and simple. It’s equally about changing the conversations and interactions people have at work so they are more – no absolutely – human.
Now, we have a track record of changing the conversations that matter most, and the choice of name is obvious. And we love that this name has filtered out into our core work of…
We map, measure and understand culture looking at totally different elements. Not ‘how productive are you’, but who are you, are you confident to thrive, and how are you impacting others.
We’ve implemented zero tolerance to bullying, harassment and discrimination across policies, processes and into culture. Again, unapologetically. After all, what level of bullying, harassment and discrimination, other than zero, is OK if you want people to really thrive and give their best.
Virtual Reality and Empathy
We experimented using technology to drive empathy for years before we built mwah. Once here, we decided on virtual reality as the best tool around. Since then, we’ve partnered all over the world with Equal Reality to open very different conversations, by allowing people to walk in the shoes of others.
Yes, we’re data geeks, but we’re not geeky about any old data, only about the data that matters. We measure identity (simplifying the most complex intersectionalities), Belonging (and whether people are thriving, safe and confident to collaborate and create together) and we created a way to look at Social Maps (those interconnecting networks that make things hum). Plus, we look hard at 12 human capital metrics, that predict the dire and awful, often before it happens, and value the strengths that keep culture humming.
And, what don’t we do?
We don’t ask for your hypotheses, create a high-cost process to validate them, then do photocopied work from other clients, only to tell you what you knew already.
We want to find out what is happening with your people and culture, from a myriad of qualitative and quantitative data points.
And, we want to make your workplace better for you, your team, your customers and your other stakeholders – in fact your whole community. We make well-informed suggestions and recommendations, and we are equally happy to roll our sleeves up alongside you to do the hard work we suggested.
We’re about long-term sustainable change, and earning a great reputation, not a spot of PR that disappears in some initiative du jour.
Why no logos on the website
Ah, yes, this decision. We made it in 2017 and we’ve held it.
The only time we pop a client logo up is when write a case study or co-author research, otherwise, we work quietly in behind our clients. Making a difference, solving hard problems, moving things forward, but not grabbing the microphone.
The work should always speak for itself.
What Matters Most to Us
There are just a few things that really matter in making work absolutely human – we’ve summarised them below.
We believe that work matters – and everyone deserves to matter.
We know, we see, we advocate that work is a fundamental human right. It matters in direct and obvious ways – it provides a pay check, food, water, shelter – the fundamentals. That independence matters, but it goes way deeper. Belonging to, contributing to, being a useful part of a community – well that’s essential for us all. This has been our philosophy since the day we opened the mwah. doors, and not one word has changed.
We are optimistic that people have a big impact on each other at work – and that the impact can be profound. We go to work for those baseline needs, but we also get behind purposeful work and then stay, grow and develop, and build momentum, with the people around us. Sometimes we don’t stop to talk about it, but the impact we have on each other when we create space for others to be safe, open, with appreciation for the richness of their identities and lives, changes everything.
We firmly believe people show up wanting to do great work together. We are not a soloist every day. Work is done by bridging relationships. Sometimes relationships go wrong at work, but that’s in the minority, and when dealt with swiftly, and fairly, they solve pretty quickly. And most of the time, they work well, and most people work hard to make that so.
Most people will inherently do the right thing, if presented with information, understanding and options. Humans are not inherently bad or evil. They are inherently good. Circumstances can drive bad behaviour, a lack of confidence or support will see someone act out. The way to get in front of it is with the right conversations and understanding of how we impact each other.
How do we go about it?
We value people and relationships with the highest care and regard.
We spend (a lot of) time not thinking just what we get from a relationship, but equally what we can give to them – the value we can add – with generously. Work is always about relationships, not trampling over someone to get to someone or somewhere else. We value people and relationships as number one.
We are driven by diagnostics and data.
For too long, People & Culture has been done on a hope and a prayer, by people with varying abilities to read the room or to read data. We’ve decided to balance our abilities to read the room, with serious data and diagnostics to back it up. What we have is game-changing. A totally different way to understand, measure and map culture.
We are unapologetic and serious about the work we do.
We joked a little when talking about the name, but we don’t see this people stuff as an aside to your day job or outside the ‘real business’. It is right there, at the heart of the the organisation, to make a difference to human beings, who are so inherently critical to business success. We are absolutely serious about the work we do. The impact. The possibilities.
We like to laugh – and people (usually) like to laugh with us.
Even when we are busy, we take the time to laugh. None of us are likely to make a career in stand-up comedy, but we do make each other laugh. Big jokes, silly jokes, quick wit, banter. To laugh is to smile, to smile is to connect, to connect is to be human.
Who else does this?
Who do we compete against? Umm, no one. We’re just doing our own thing, our way, running our own race.
If you’re out running too, we wish you well.
We love that more people are starting to say “we could be more human at work”. Maybe we played a small part in that movement…
At the end of the day.
Now our work – and the name that explains it all – has been discussed in Senate Estimates, in Board Rooms of the biggest companies, with CEOS, in the media (even the AICD Company Director Magazine), in big Banks and serious law firms, in police forces and hospitals, in start-ups and not-for-profits, and at conferences and award ceremonies. We no longer get calls saying, “have you finished building that little company yet?” Now, when the phone rings it’s about working with us, from people who know exactly what we do.
So, we are excited to say that means:
We are here to stay. It’s a narrow bridge to walk to make it across the river as a small business to become a bigger bone over just a few years.
We are here to grow. What we are trying to do is being backed by people with impact, who see impact with people. It’s very cool to see this starting to be cool.
We are here to listen. We use data and diagnostics to find the right questions to ask people so we can listen to what they say. We’re always happy to get smarter. To push the envelope to be better.
We are here to make work absolutely human. Unapologetically.
And to that head-hunter guy who calls every few months and says “Are you ready to come back to corporate yet?”, the answer is “No. Not even close. Way too much to do here, making work absolutely human, and no, it’s not pronounced ‘M-WAH’.”