Where does your company rank in the echelons of “best employer” or “best company to work for”? After all the likelihood is that, even if it is not ranked, it will have taken, or considered taking, part in the evaluation. Ranking has become ubiquitous. We have league tables for schools, universities, hospitals and who knows what else. Perhaps the time has come to question whether we have taken this competitiveness too far, and to recognize the practice as counter-productive, insidious and invidious.
Happiness at work
Last Saturday I was privileged to be part of my niece’s wedding. It was a memorable occasion, on a beautiful sun-drenched day with joy, love, and fun extending throughout the day and the late-night dancing and celebration. Sunday, however, was different, despite being just as beautiful a day. It was as though the goodness had gone on honeymoon with the bride and groom, and, the weeks’ of planning and preparations now over, the rest of us were left feeling unfocused, flat and purposeless.
This contrast exemplifies the way our attitudes and expectations shape our experience. Nothing had really changed, yet the world felt different. It is undoubtedly a better place when love is prevalent.
Reflecting on this I started questioning why it takes a wedding to bring out all that latent goodwill, fellowship and friendship. Yes, a wedding is a formal declaration of love and common purpose between two people, but it is merely symbolic. The substance exists without it and, apart from formalising it and providing a legal and/or moral framework for the union, the ceremony intrinsically changes nothing. So why isn’t it more evident in everyday life?
“It's happening. In the last three weeks alone, Foxconn announced it will replace 60,000 factory workers with robots, a former CEO of McDonald’s said given rising wages, the same would happen throughout their franchises, Walmart announced plans to start testing drones in its warehouses, and Elon Musk predicted fully autonomous car technology would arrive within two years.
Whether it's worker displacement, the skills gap, youth unemployment, or socio-economic stratification, the impact on society will be staggering. I’ve said it on multiple occasions and believe it even more so every day: creating economic opportunity will be the defining issue of our time.”
Those are the words of Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, taken from his publication of his email to all LinkedIn employees announcing the company’s acquisition by Microsoft. Like Weiner, I am concerned about the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) and its implications. Thus I am delighted by his recognition of the phenomenon and its impact. It is undoubtedly the defining issue of our time, not only because of the need to create economic opportunity but because of the dangers inherent in failing to do so effectively.
The whole conundrum around the struggle between selfishness and selflessness, with its biological roots – or what Simon Sinek calls “The Paradox of Being Human” – gives us so much more to ponder than just the innate conflict between individual and organisational objectives for which I proposed a solution last week. The biology – summarised again in the table below – is also significant because it suggests happiness or satisfaction is situational and is therefore transient, which implies that “the pursuit of happiness” is a futile exercise: at best a fleeting goal.
In his book, “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek expounds on how the human species has been biologically programmed for survival. He describes the chemical stimulants that the body produces under different circumstances. He identifies 6 different chemical reactions and the situations in which they are produced. These are, briefly, as follows:
Having long championed the idea of organisations as organisms – as living entities rather than as machines – I have lately become increasingly aware that this is the key to eliminating hierarchy and burying command and control. It also demands a fresh approach to change and is essential for the innovation so vital for commercial – and economic – success. Because organisms only change through evolutionary process.
In fact, if you accept revolutionary change to be any non-evolutionary change, historically, most effective change has happened through evolution rather than revolution. Even the agricultural and industrial revolutions were more evolutionary changes than revolutionary. Most revolutions that can be identified as occurring at a specific time – e.g. the French and Russian Revolutions – could be said to be revolts against a very unsatisfactory status quo rather than specific efforts to introduce pre-designed, and tested, new models.
Consequently it seems logical that embracing change as an evolutionary process will enhance change management initiatives and help any organisation survive and thrive in our fast-changing world. It is, therefore, encouraging to find so many others are thinking along the same lines.
“It takes a lot of learning to keep something stuck.” That was what Nora Bateson said at a recent development session I attended. Only a single sentence – one of literally thousands in a mind-stretching day. Yet it stood out and continues to haunt me days afterwards. Why?
Perhaps because it opens passages of possibilities. What is stuck? What is learning? Why would learning prevent release? It certainly hints at an unrecognised paradox. How can learning keep you stuck when we all know that learning is the solution: the way to move beyond most sticking points? Those were some of the avenues that my mind started to wonder down. The paradox path is particularly rewarding.
Etymologically the term “stuck” implies a stasis: a situation in which movement has ground to a halt or in which thinking has reached an impasse. Often, however, it is used more loosely to describe a lack of progress; where things continue in the same manner they always have. Either would be a state where Einstein would say you need to change your consciousness in order to change your experience.
This is particularly significant when it comes to organisational change, for to shift the thinking of the organisation you have to change the thinking of the people who work in it. It is possibly the failure to recognise this that leads to the failure of the large majority of change initiatives. Too often we see organisations as machines and the people in them as cogs and so consider change as a mechanical process: an attitude typified by the term ‘business process re-engineering’ to frame efforts to design change and “unstick” an organisation. As a result we issue instructions and simply expect change to follow.
By definition, people are all that can change an organisation and the way it operates. And people are biological animals. Consequently you would accomplish organisational change far more readily if you look upon your organisation as an organism rather than a machine. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t have a whole army of change agents and business process engineers on call to project manage progress. Life is perpetuated by a permanent capability to adapt. It is called ‘evolution’.
In her formal talk, Nora showed a slide with two trees. The same species and apparently only a few feet apart, they had grown differently and had very different branches, heights and shapes. This illustrated how they had each interacted differently with their environment, adapting to their respective situations, and the different needs their relative positions had demanded. Organisations should be just as adaptable to their environments. After all, change is just as much of a constant in business as it is in life.
For me this example highlighted the paradox of our approach to change. We regard it is unnatural rather than natural. As a result, instead of letting organisational change just evolve, shaped only by life and our overarching purpose, we try to impose it. And when we do that we significantly constrain our efforts and ultimately jeopardise our prospects of success.
As human beings we are distinguished by our superior intelligence and our ability to apply it. This places us above any other life-form. It means we have to be just as capable as a tree – if not more so – of adapting to our environment. So not putting this to ability to use in organisations is wilfully stupid and wasteful. We need to use every ounce of intelligence available to ensure an organisation responds to ever-changing conditions and adapts and thrives. This means every individual matters and we need to ensure that every individual is in that position.
Leonardo da Vinci said “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” If you accept the logical premise that knowledge is accumulated learning, then our learning has to be founded on our perceptions. This means:
- It is our learning to date that keeps us stuck.
- We need to learn more to move beyond our current situation.
- To learn more we have to change our perceptions.
For any organisation it is therefore axiomatic that the more people are involved, and the better they communicate, the more perceptions will change and the quicker the organisation will adapt. The following diagram, which I have used before illustrates this point and underpins the argument for a biological or organic approach.
It has become fashionable to talk about the need for unlearning as the way to get unstuck and move ahead. And this is certainly one way to look at things. This, however, tends to diminish what people have already learned and the foundation on which they need to build. It may be better to simply recognise what is inhibiting movement. The “filters” can help here. They graphically depict the barriers to learning that can keep people stuck.
Purpose, context and relationships push people to move beyond the constraints historic learning can impose. This enables them to progress and thrive. And our organisations should provide these essential ingredients. It is a reciprocal need, for our organisations need people who are sensitive enough to what is happening around them to change their perceptions in order to progress, develop and grow. Releasing control and letting people respond in the appropriate way to what they see is the only way to create a learning organisation, where evolutionary change prevails and ensures its ability to survive, adapt and grow.
If you like what you have read contact me today for a free 30 minute conversation about how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model can provide the catalyst to help you create an organisational culture of ‘Love at Work’ : one where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, so embracing change and transforming – and sustaining – organisational performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.
It has been an extraordinary week. It is as though the whole world has aligned with my endeavours. New light has radiantly illuminated my inner convictions while the echoes of my expression have reverberated through everything I have heard. This powerful cornucopia of sight and sound has fired the furnace that has recharged my purpose, reinvigorated my hopes and re-energised my actions. Let me share the details in the hope that you will experience the same thing.
It didn’t look special or anything out of the ordinary. Just another piece of internal mail. But it turned out to be very different.
You would think most people recognise the difference between management and leadership. After all they are two entirely separate things. Yet I find myself questioning whether they do. Even worse, I wonder if it is our organisational leaders themselves who are most guilty of confusing the two.
This line of thinking was precipitated by reading the results of the Borderless "2016 Survey on Leadership Development." As I did I found myself substituting “leadership” for “liberty” in Madame Roland’s lament for liberty en-route to the guillotine; “Oh Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name?” And the link is perhaps not as far-fetched as it may seem.