The History of Work and Business
Let’s start with a flashback to the origins. Before the Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing work was done by small organizations of talented and mainly perfectly trained crafts people. They really “owned” their entire businesses, did whatever needed to thrive and depended on it to survive. After the Revolution, illustrated best by Henry Ford’s auto assembly line, work has changed a lot. People were expected to concentrate just on their narrow job and were involved in the entire business only very little. The literal cog in the machine. They brought their brawn to work, but their brains were not needed and sometimes not even welcomed. They were “efficient,” at least at that time, when the focus was on producing large quantities as cheap as possible for the growing market of consumers.
We have to admit that even if no longer on an assembly line, this is still the underlying mindset in the management of many organizations, even those that appear to be digital and “modern” from the outside:
- We need your hands, not your brains.
- You are not here to think, you are here to execute.
Shape the Future of Business – New Work. →
During the past 20 years, we have been lucky to learn by doing in leading organizations, such as Angelini Pharma, Danone, Unilever and many more, how to organize work best. We have learned that people are much more satisfied with their work, achieve a higher productivity and quality, and thus companies are more successful when they treat employees like business partners rather than just cogs in the machine to be discarded when they are worn out.
WOW – that would seem to be pretty ideal!! However, it really comes down to management’s fundamental beliefs about people and the way to organize collective work.
Much has been written about this, but fundamentally New Work is built on 2 key beliefs – Respect for the Capability of All Employees and Common OKR.
Respect means we value all the talents of every person and seek to develop them to their full potential. Though different people may have different skills and responsibilities, everyone is valued as a true partner and each one will grow and contribute. Respect for the distinctive human capability to continuously anticipate and shape the next is the key. Respect and trust play an even greater role when it comes to hiring new talents.
The emerging workforce generations demand flexibility, independence and a sense of purpose in what they do. They take on responsibility. With a good idea, they want to offer meaningful added value. Not easy to accept for leaders since they give away responsibility, power and take risks. They even have to take one step further. They also have to support their long-standing associates to try new ways and find meaning in their work.
We of ActioGlobal certainly don’t mean to imply that everyone can do whatever they feel like. In order to unite the talents and skills of all employees to achieve the common purpose, our second belief must be lived.
A year ago we began working with ActioGlobal on the great challenge of changing the way we work. Today, after several months of intense work, I am very proud to see how this new cultural system has managed to bring together and give a logical shape to all the initiatives we were carrying out to gradually change our mindset from outputs to outcomes, using OKR, and other Agile methodologies within the ActioGlobal PEAK framework.”Juan Elías, Yapo
If there are Common OKR in our business, we’re all working for the same purpose, instead of everyone working in their own silos. Sometimes it is easier to understand if sports analogies are used. Think of any team in sports whose triumphs you have witnessed. They clearly had a common goal and persevered through lots of adversities and even fighting to gain that victory. They have only been able to make it by respecting, developing and using the skills of every single member of the organization.
Additionally, we of ActioGlobal have developed our Drumbeat model. Like a sports team, it is based on alliance and partnership, moving in a flexible rhythm instead of following rigid structures to meet the agreed OKR. Synchronized rituals are developed that provide transparency and alignment for the teams and their members. They get self-sufficient, can expect common radical candor and a shared discipline is developed. The Drumbeat of the OKR makes everyone feel, understand and follow the heartbeat of the organization.
Both principles in place – a lot of things will happen that characterize an Agile High Performance Organization. Here are just a few examples:
- There is a great deal of trust in each other. Put the problems on the table, analyze and solve them together, everyone puts his skills and experience at the service of the common objectives, it is allowed to experiment and to fail. But the organization moves closer and closer to its purpose.
- People think and act like owners and do whatever it takes to win the company’s victories. Keywords are: outcome over output, placing the customers/consumers at the center, adapting to unexpectedly and quickly changing needs of customers and markets.
- They work in teams and these teams are responsible for achieving their mutually agreed OKRs and the way to reach them. They have all the skills needed and achieve the best with their own decisions.
It´s your responsibility to achieve the mutually agreed OKRs, and we provide you with the tool to plan and execute them.
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- Everyone is focused on the core business, which for many organizations is to deliver the products that the customers need (although the latter do not even know yet that they need them). Though there may be supporting organizations like Finance or HR for example, they only exist to deliver the core process, not to meet their own functional goals only.
- Decisions are made by the people who are closest to the issue having the best data to make that decision, rather than by the people on top of the organization. Another keyword here: the Gemba Walk.
- Business information is shared with everyone. Transparent communication is the key word.
- People learn and use new skills all the time and flow to the most critical work. They are developed by their team and mentored by their leaders.
- Continuous improvement is a vital part both of operations and administration. People know their ability to be the best at meeting the organization’s business purpose is the only way to survive and thrive and in turn meet some of their own personal needs.
- People can follow and see the impact of their work and its link to the business purpose.
- There is very little distinction between people at different hierarchical levels – you can’t tell managers from non-managers, and no one wants to. There are no hierarchies of the old kind any longer. New leadership does not cling to positions, they pursue the MTP together with their people by following the jointly agreed OKRs to make their company lead its sector. Accumulating power was yesterday.
- People tend to be multi-skilled versus having narrow job descriptions. Everyone in the organization operates and maintains processes and equipment, though some people have advanced and more specialized skills. Great! Leaders will take care that the teams they form are cross-functional and multi-skilled so the consequence is a living evolving organism. In times of phygital working, why not also include professionals from outside – from all over the world – to provide new learnings, ideas and perspectives.
- The priorities of leaders and managers have changed. To develop their people has become their main task. Leaders and managers no longer rule, they teach, mentor and make their people learn, work in a self-responsible way and grow both for the benefit of the organization and themselves. Self-actualization is what the new generations of employees are striving for.
We could go on at length about both of these concepts and sometimes we do and make it all way too complicated. But let’s focus on the essence of Agility and High Performance in combination with the New Work model.
Why not let your people work in small organizations – teams – within the huge organization. No one wants the so-called “good old days” back but the idea of talented and highly skilled professionals working in small organizations, who feel like they really “own” their entire businesses, do whatever needed to thrive and create an impact. Mini-startups set out to gain the victories both for themselves and the company.
It’s about bringing out the best in people and unleashing them to make themselves and the customers happy. In the end, that’s how we get ahead i.e. leading our business, experiment and learn, grow, and enjoy what we all do every day. This is how our work and life take on a meaning.
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