This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
Archive for December, 2010
Well, itâs that time of year again.Â Itâs the time of year when institutions of all kindsÂ check-in on their progress against their current strategies and/orÂ announce new ones. Â Itâs the time of year when thoughts will turn inevitably to the 3, 5, or 12 strategic pillars. Â [Just Google âstrategic pillarsâ and youâll see what I mean. Â I got 3,340,000 results.]
Why pillars? Â They are static and heavy.Â They hold something up, but can be knocked down.Â Remember Samson?Â So why do we insist on using this tired clichĂ© to describe something that we want to motivate employees and engage them in action?
Isnât it time we gave a little thought to how weâre communicating organizational strategies?
For those of you who donât live in Canada this headline from this morning’s paperÂ will require a little explanation.Â Freedom 55 is a very successful London Life campaign that encourages people to save and invest using their financial products including life insurance so that they can/ will have the good life of retirement sooner â age 55 not 60.Â The TV and print ads show images of fit and active grey-haired couples in exotic locations, golfing, just sitting looking out on their secluded lake. Free to just have fun.
The good life view of retirement is something relatively new. Â In the west, sometime in the 1930s our governments began designing pension plans and tax laws to encourage the growing numbers of old to get out of the workforce.Â But, by the 1950s it was clear the “old” weren’tÂ interested in retiring to do nothing.Â And so retirement was sold as the fun time we get after the slavery of our life up until then. [source]
Ah retirement! Ah Freedom 55.
Fast forward to todayâs headline which goes on to say:Â â40 per cent of 25-to 34-year-olds concerned about when they can retire.â Â Why are 25 to 34 year olds concerned about when they can retire?Â I donât mean theyÂ shouldn’tÂ be saving or investing or planning for the future.Â They certainly should.Â But what I find discouraging is that instead of demanding more from their work and workplaces theyâre worrying about how soon they can stop, get out.
Retirement.Â First it was a social obligation.Â Then an economic privilege.Â And now a personal entitlement based on a Faustian deal.Â Work hard at something you are neutral to, or dislike, and eventually youâll get the prize.Â Retirement.Â Or maybe not.
And for this 40% who are focused on when they can retire itâs a huge loss – Â for them and for the organizations they work for.
âThe emersive ugliness of our everyday environmentsâŠ is entropy made visible.Â We canât overestimate the despair we are creatingâŠâ
James Howard Kunstler
Wow! Â ”Entropy made visible.” Â ”Despair we are creating.”
Nowhere is that more true than in our places of work. Â These are mostly soullessÂ places. Â Nothing that would build hope or confidence. Nothing of the brand experience we talk about and expect our employees to be so proud of and to deliver to our customers daily. Â Not even a hint of the business youâre in unless the corporate identity on the wall behind the reception desk gives a clue.
And, reception areas where the receptionist is missing.Â They lost their job two rightsizings ago.
Long characterless hallways. Rows of cubicles [no personal items please]. âArtâ that isnât or motivational posters or nothing. Â Overly sterile washrooms.Â Â Kitchens where everything that matters â cups and cutlery are locked up. [You have to pay for your coffee as a cost control measure - my God youâre working 60+ hours a week at wages that were designed when people in your position worked 38.5].
Common areas that arenât.Â No one wants to hang out there.
Boardrooms filled with chairs and designed for PowerPoint presentations not for people Â or work we really do or the collaboration and innovation virtually every organization today is aspiring for.
By the way, this description is focused on white collar environments.Â But I have to say that Iâve been in smelters that were more human and more appropriate than most office spaces Iâve been in.
We say we want to engage employees. Â What is there about the place you work in that is engaging? We say that the employee experience of the brand is a key element of culture.Â How does the design bring your brand to life for employees?Â If itâs not, then isnât it time to get this on the Corporate agenda? Â How?
Thanks to Mitch Joel for reminding me about James Howard Kunstlerâs inspiring and funny TED talk.
This morning thanks to CommScrumâs Kevin Keohane, I read âInternal comms at IBM shift from creation to curationâ. Â Â Itâs an interesting perspective on the changing role of the internal communications function.Â And, IBMs thinking about their intranet would have made the Great Ideas posts here, but for one thingâŠ
âYou cannot remove our share price from the home page,â Ben Edwards, IBMâs vice president of digital strategy and development says, âbecause we believe you should pay attention to our share price.â
Why do they think employees should pay attention to share price?Â I just donât get it.
Employees donât have any direct control over share price [who does?].Â Share price doesnât help employees do a better job.Â It doesnât give them feedback that would help them serve customers better. Â Or become more efficient.Â Or design better products and services.
Itâs another example of the pressure on short-term thinking that isnât connected to vision.Â Â Itâs like asking watching a score board for another game while youâre playing a tennis match [or for my CommScrum friends, playing football].
Why, oh why, do organizations as smart as IBM think that it is the measure that matters for employees?
As those of you who follow this blog know, I studied with Robert Fritz for over 8 years.Â The principles of Structural Dynamics remain the foundation for the work I do in communications and change management.Â Last month, he and the other founding members of Innovation Associates – Peter Senge, Charlie Kiefer, and Peter Stroh â were invited by the Pegasus Systems Thinking in Action Conference to talk about the work that originally inspired them. Robertâs talk – âThe Structural Dynamics of Leadershipâ – is a great primer to the work that has inspired me for years. So, for those of you who are interested, here are some highlights from the talk that may provoke some thinking and questions:
- Leadership is critical
- Leaders are subject to the structures they are in. Structures are created by elements in relation to each other and lead to specific behaviours â oscillating [structural conflict] or resolving [structural tension]
- Without a change in underlying structure change efforts will be reversed [i.e., where the structure is an oscillating one]
- Structural conflicts that drive oscillation can be addressed through hierarchy. The hierarchy is a leadership decision. [i.e., Where there are competing systems there needs to be a decision about what is primary]
- Structural tension can be designed in
- Shared vision is good.Â Shared structural tension is even better
- Structural tension as an object gives direction and coordination.Â Working with structural tension can take the complexity and organize it very simply to a unified and aligned direction while providing for all the freedom in the world to express your talents, creativity and imagination
- Leaders need to think in terms of outcomes not problems
- Workload to capacity is one of the key issues of leaders today. Leaders need to build capacity for the future.
- Leaders are pressured into short-term thinking.Â Short-term thinking without a sense of vision will hurt the organization
- The purpose of a company is not shareholder return on investment.Â Maximizing profits undermines the companyâs ability to grow and better compete in the marketplace
- Business strategy is about generating wealth.Â The key to business strategy is making an offer that canât be refused
- Composing the organization aligns resources and systems to a common direction
- The senior person needs to have an executive team that is aligned and masterful at implementing strategies.Â Too often the executive team is the first to undermine the alignment
- Where senior people are doing their jobs then dissemination, multiplication, amplification of leadership becomes available to the organization.Â That is golden.
And hereâs the full talk [80+mins]. Â It has lots more provocative thinking including some thoughts about the difference between command and control, self-organizing and compositional organizations that are very convincing and worth a listen just for that.
Does success lead to success in your organization?Â If not, why not?Â Iâd love to hear what you think.