The path to more human friendly organizations can be hazardous. It might have to become a little worse before it gets better.
No sorry, I am pretty sure it has to get worse first.
The choice we have is if we want things to get worse as part of an active scenario for development, or if things get worse because we make ourselves passive bystanders and victims of external changes we don’t understand the implications of. Yes, a tad harsh, I agree. But this is how I read our options. Control your destiny or someone else will.
But either way things will get worse first.
Those that get to work now and boldly move their organizations in direction of becoming more human friendly will have an edge over the others. That is the bet I am making for the coming 10-15 years. The most human friendly wins. The rest might survive. Barely scrape by.
So why is human friendly the best strategy for organizations? I have two main arguments. The waste of human potential in our organizations today is just staggering. Up to 75% of all employees are disengaged at work. Imagine tapping into this enormous opportunity. This would result in:
A. Happier employees. Happier customers. More value. Healthier people. B. Better productivity. More innovative. Better long term financial health.
I have a chosen truth. In the coming decades you don’t get B without delivering on A. A is your strategy. B is the results you reap. When you look too much for B you lose A and then B. So stick to A, but of course keep an eye on B and track development. But targets should be set as functions of A. Management should be about A.
This said, we are increasingly going to manage our organizations without managers. Or at the very least with do away with large numbers of them. And they won’t be missed.
The ones that are left will work differently than today. Very differently.
Russel Ackoff about business schools. His thoughts fit into my exploration of human friendly organizations as one of several clues. In fact we cannot discuss how to make organizations more human friendly without also deconstructing the mental models of our education systems. I hope things have started to shift in business schools since this was written, but I have to admit that I see very little evidence of it.
"I have ‘‘endeared’’ myself to some faculty and business schools by identifying the three things that business schools do for students. First, they provide students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk with authority about subjects they do not understand. Second, they transmit to them a set of principles that have demonstrated an ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence. Third, they provide a ticket of admission to a job where they can learn something about management and business. Around 95 percent of what managers use on the job they learned on the job. The most they get out of business school is connections. Attendance at a business is justified economically in terms of return on investment, but not in terms of providing an education."
(Quote from STRATEGY & LEADERSHIP, VOL. 31 NO. 3 2003, pp. 19-26, MCB UP Limited, ISSN 1087-8572)
It is my conviction that the future of any organization, commercial or non-commercial lies, in becoming human friendly. Organizational life today is mostly a drag. Up to 75% percent of employees are unengaged at work. This represents a huge waste of potential and real value. Social, economic and ecological value. But foremost human value!
In the coming (somewhat irregularly written) posts I'll explore what I mean by being a human friendly organization. I'll show you examples of organizations that are doing good work in this space. I'll visualize the kind of transformation the rest will have to undergo. I'll give you insights into the types of human qualities we need to encourage and build within our organizations. I'll share leadership challenges.
This is all part of my ongoing exploration work so I'm very happy for comments, questions and contributions.
I wrote this on January 2, 2009. After coming back from two days at a conference on innovation in the public sector I was just about to write a rant about the goings on in this field. But something in me said I had already written it... And so I had. Here is a small excerpt:
If you really want your organization to be more innovative, creative and entrepreneurial - go to school and study the best. Steal from them and implement. But foremost understand that this is a process of changing culture that takes time, a long time. And be humble to the fact that you might not succeed. Organizations have been known to resist change...
"The study, called "State of Create," found that eight in 10 people believe that creativity is critical to economic growth. But it also found that only one in four people feel like they are living up to their own creative potential. And 75% of respondents said they feel like their employers put more pressure on them to be productive than to be creative."
"In fact, four out of 10 of the 500 employees surveyed said that innovation is either a long shot for their company or a mere "buzz word" the company would like to embrace."
"According to research carried out in 2010 by the Nielsen Company, organizations with less senior management involvement in the new product development process generate 80 per cent more new product revenue than those with heavy senior management involvement."
"A culture of innovation will support ideas coming from any individual, any level and sometimes from unusual places in the organization."
I rest my case. Do you now get why organizations need to be more human friendly?
A couple of years ago I went to London and participated in the launch of Julian Berkinshaw's book Reinventing Management. That put me on track for his and Gary Hamel's joint work into Management Innovation. As with all new strands of work you see some very interesting stuff and you see some not so impressive stuff. But they have stayed on track and their work has among other things evolved into The Management Exchange or The MiX.
I can recommend that you spend some time at The Mix. Check out what they are doing. See some interesting clips. Read about the different 'hacks' of management that are being tested.
It is work life this that we need to be doing on a wider scale, in each organization. I agree with the basic premise they make. Management as a technology is mature and needs to be innovated, or rather reinvented. 20 years from now we'll be amazed over the progress we've made. For now we're stuck in confusion and frustration over an organizational model that is losing it's ability to deliver what we need. And is step by step draining us of our most precious resource - our dignity and humanity.
Peter Senge shares his thoughts on systems, learning and collaboration vs individuality. See the whole clip. Take a while and reflect. Then think hard about you organization. I hope you see some potential for new perspectives and initiatives ;) If we want our organizations to suck less, this is the kind of thinking we need to put to work.