Skip to content

Designing a Human-Centered Organization with John Foster

, | Feb 28, 2023 2:15:00 AM | By

In an ideal world, every organization would be human-centered. But despite lofty missions, visions and values, many organizations have come short of achieving true human centricity.

On the latest episode of High Growth Matters, we spoke with John Foster, Founder and Principal at Gamut Labs. John has a track record as an executive who has led leadership development, talent, organizational design, and people teams at public companies like Charles Schwab, HP, and IDEO, and then startups like Hulu and TrueCar and TruePill.

This blog is adapted from that conversation and covers:

  • What makes an organization human-centered 
  • Organizational culture gaps and how to address them
  • Standards of excellence and how to measure them

To hear the full episode, visit this page, or subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Don’t miss the full episode: Designing a Human-Centered Organization

The essential ingredients of a human-centered organization

The corporate monolith no longer applies to modern society's needs and standards. What once worked well in standardized human-powered industrial work no longer serves the workforce on a large scale. People need something more.

According to John, this is where human-centricity comes in.

Human-centered organizations focus on providing people with the best platform to do the best work possible. These companies think about creating conditions that enable all human traits to become unlocked and fully accessible, says John.

After having helped foster human-centered design in several industries, John identifies the four essential ingredients of successful human-centered organizations as:

  1. Culture
  2. Leadership
  3. Dialogue
  4. Talent

These four essential elements are the foundation of a human-centered organization, though several other secondary elements differentiate businesses.

“Underneath these four are even more simple elements like self-determination, theory, human development and maturity,” John says. “Those aren't considered in most traditional organizations.”

When modern organizations focus their intention and efforts on the four essential elements, a human-centered environment can emerge. But building a healthy, sustainable environment requires intention-driven movements and systems to assess success.

Want to learn more about what each of these elements entails? Tune into the latest episode of High Growth Matters where John breaks past traditional limitations to define each element and explains how you can establish them.


Organizational culture gaps and how to address them

Year over year, culture is climbing the trends list. More and more companies value cultivating a great culture — or at least they say they do.

Unfortunately, many leaders claim specific values or focus without supporting evidence. In fact, some of the values proclaimed by organizations are those that they struggle with most deeply. Most often, organizational culture gaps are rooted in good intentions. But failure to meet clearly proclaimed focuses can hurt overall culture and reputation.

According to John, one of the best things that a business can do is claim only one or two major value statements to focus on.

“There are only seven different cultural values you can align behind,” John says. “Most of the high-performing cultures are aligned around one or two. It creates a clear commitment.”


Standards of excellence and how to measure them

When building a human-centric business, there are five standards of excellence you can measure, according to John. Each is based on what is known about human behavior and what is necessary to enable performance. 

1. Safety

People cannot work well if they do not feel safe. Lack of psychological safety will keep people, cultures and companies from reaching their full potential. 

2. Productivity

Organizations are concerned with how to be more efficient and effective, regardless of industry or focus. While this looks different across every business, productivity is a shared metric by that excellence can be measured. 

3. Engagement

Although engagement can be difficult to measure, it’s essential to determining success. According to John, this metric goes beyond specific workplace roles and responsibilities.

“It's about feeling aligned with your work, getting feedback and having developmental opportunities,” he says. “It's higher order than productivity — it's more about personal growth.”

4. Sustainability

Sustainability concerns the ability of individuals to continue serving in their position in the same ways long term. To determine whether a position, process or system is sustainable it must be something that can be done regularly in the same way. This is a concern across all levels, from individual to corporate.

5. Transcendence

Most people have to feel a level of alignment and purpose to show up daily and provide value. Arguably, this should be a focus on each level of every existing organization as well.

“People also have to feel like they're doing something that's impacting the world in a way that's bigger than an exchange of money — like they're having a positive effect on society.”


If you enjoyed this post, you’d appreciate our conversation, where we take a deep dive into the topics covered here today and beyond. Take a moment to listen to the full High Growth Matters episode. If you like what you hear, please consider leaving us a rating and bookmarking the podcast to be notified each time we publish a new episode.

Did you enjoy the content? Listen to the full High Growth Matters episode.

Don’t forget to give us a five-star rating, and email if you have ideas for topics or guests.

To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The High Growth Matters Podcast on our website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or just search for The High Growth Matters Podcast in your favorite podcast player.