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The Art and Magic of Making Joy the Driver of Your Business



Inside a Human Business.  An interview with Richard Sheridan, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Menlo Innovations


Menlo Innovations is not yet another software development company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is unique in many aspects. Face this, every year more than 3.000 people visit this firm to watch how it works. They are inspired by the people, the environment and the way Menlo work. Co-founder, CEO and Chief Storyteller Richard Sheridan writes about this unique place in his bestselling books Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love (2015) and Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear (2018).

Richard Sheridan is co-founder and co-CEO of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Photo © by Menlo Innovations

I first met Richard in 2015 as we both participated in the Learning Consortium for the Creative Economy. We shared ideas and stories of how joy, happiness and humanity make huge differences in our world of work.- 

In an interview for my new book “Being Human in a Digital Age” (to be published in Germany in 2020) I asked Richard to share his insights about a human business, the Menlo Magic, their way of work, and how to develop an environment where joy and work fit together. In the interview you learn more about

  • the driver of Menlo Innovations,
  • how striving to end human suffering can motivate you,
  • Menlo Magic,
  • why trying to scale Menlo’s model can be misleading,
  • the importance of a human and creative working space,
  • how Menlo communicates with its customers and end users,
  • how Menlo cultivates an environment of continuous learning and innovation,
  • why structure and discipline are prerequisites for creativity,
  • how a human touch can change the overall work atmosphere,
  • why and how joy and work fit together.

Menlo’s Driver

Thomas: What’s the driver of Menlo Innovations? What are you pursuing?

Richard: You know, I think, obviously, the word joy always enters into our world here, and, so, what we talk about is that we’ve created an intentionally joyful culture
To us, all of the words that people might ascribe to us like Agile or lean, that sort of thing, we look at those things through a lens of a simple question: what problem are we trying to solve? 
So, rather than pursuing Agile or lean as a goal, we look at it through this lens of problems we’re trying to solve and how this helps end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.

And so, we look at the tools of Agile and the tools of lean as helping us do that. 
Certainly, people who come here who know us well could easily describe us as an Agile organization. Linda Rising called us the most Agile organization in the world. I appreciate Linda’s support when she says those things, but it isn’t the thing we are pursuing. 
We are pursuing this idea that we can one day delight the people we intend to serve — and that is our definition of joy — and we’re going to do it by ending human suffering.

Ending human suffering

Thomas: What do you mean by ending human suffering?

Richard: Part of this is born out of my own personal story. I’ve been doing Menlo now with my co-founder for 18 years. 2 years before that, James and I came together to reinvent a public company to something that looks like Menlo today. So, for the last 20 years, I have been living in an environment like Menlo. The 20 years before that, it wasn’t like that at all. I was suffering. I was personally watching projects I was leading miss deadlines, blow budgets, deliver poor quality, work their teams to death, you know, your 24-hour, around the clock, work 7 days a week, people pulling all-nighters, staying all weekend, only to watch projects be cancelled before they actually get delivered. Or if they ever did get delivered, the users would throw up their hands and say, “Well, why doesn’t it work like this? This isn’t what we needed. Why…?” and, of course, the engineering teams would say, “Well, they’re just stupid users. They don’t understand our beautiful designs.” 
I watched all of this pain for a good portion of my career, and I thought I don’t want that. I don’t want that for the people who pay for software to be built. That’s one form of suffering. People who don’t know technology, but they need it. And so, they pay a team like mine to build it for them, and, often, executive sponsors of projects get very frustrated with the work of software teams. We have a lot of code words in our world. When we something like, “Well, it’s done but it’s not done done,” and those kinds of things. So, I didn’t want that for them. 

I wanted people who were paying for software to be built to feel like they were in control, that they had a voice, that they had a healthy interaction with the technical team that was building it.

So, that was the first form of suffering is for the, what I call, the sponsors of software projects. 

The second kind of suffering we really took aim at is for the end users, the people we ultimately intend to serve with the work that we do. 
Too often, our industry has learned to call the people we serve stupid users. We thought, no, it doesn’t have to be that way. If we actually take a different approach to what the users’ experience will be, we can delight them. We can have software work the way they need it to work. 
Too often, software teams might be tempted to say, “You know, if you learn to think like me, the software will make sense,” and the question is, why would a normal, regular, non-technological human being need to think like the programmers? Why can’t we make the computer and the software that runs on it think like the humans? 
We want to end that kind of suffering, that suffering of the people who use software that teams like ours builds every single day.

And then finally we wanted to end the suffering for the people who do the work. 
Our industry, coined the term “death march”, 24/7, teams of people burning themselves out, and the trouble with that kind of burnout is, our fundamental view is, tired people make bad software. We don’t want to make bad software so we’re not going to have tired people. 

So, those are the three pillars of suffering we wanted to end.

But we didn’t want to characterize it only as suffering. We wanted to characterize it in terms of a more noble goal. And this idea is of returning joy to technology for the people who do the work, for the people who pay for the work, and for people who use the work.

Menlo Magic

Thomas: What is the Menlo Magic? How does it work? And, why does it work every single day?

Richard: I think there’s two fundamental pieces to why Menlo works as well as it does. 
Number one, the people who come in our door every day, the people who work here, actually believe in how we approach what we do. This isn’t cow towing to a mantra or a discipline or methodology or process or, you know, a religion, if you will, that I think a lot of times software teams end up in. The team believes in the process we use here.

And then the second part is, and this will sound a little bit funny, the people who work here actually want Menlo to survive to see another day. They don’t want to go back out into the real world. They actually want to work here.

Scaling Menlo’s model

Thomas: Would it be possible to scale your model?

Richard: First of all, we’re about 60 people right now, and a lot of people look at us and say, “Oh, I see it works for 60 but it couldn’t work for 90 or 200 or 2000,” but we have found examples of companies that work a lot like us — … companies, for example, who work at a much larger scale but still quite decentralized, still very purpose-driven. 

I remind organizations that even if you’re a large organization, you are typically composed of 50- to 100-person teams, no matter how big the company is, and so if you’re thinking of pursuing some version of what we’ve created here — which I would certainly encourage you to think about that — don’t think you have to change the whole world. You don’t have to change your entire organization. You can just change the part around you, because, in some ways, Menlo is much, much, much, much bigger than what first comes to mind because we are plugging Menlo as a company into some of the largest organizations on the planet. We’ve done work for Ford. We’ve done work for General Motors. We’ve done work for Pfizer. All of these enormous corporations are using our team. They didn’t have to change their corporation to work with us and we didn’t have to change how we worked in order to work with them. 
So, in some ways, you’re seeing the example of how a small cohesive team can create a particular culture and serve others who don’t necessarily subscribe to all those same cultural elements you do. And then I think this is scaling and we’ve seen this happen, too.

We have created our own interesting environment. It is interesting enough that people actually want to come see it. We get about 3000 people a year come through our doors from all over the world and they just want to see how we operate. We do about 1 to 3 tours a day here. And, so, now what happens is people come here and visit and they take some piece back with them. 
We don’t tell them we found the one true way that, you know, you should work like Menlo or it won’t work at all, but they’ll take something back with them and they’ll start to improve their lives, their world, their work world. 
Imagine if you were inside of a large corporation — pick your favourite large corporation — and your team within that company is operating differently, so differently that other people within the corporation are coming to visit you, see how you work, and you share with them what you’ve learned, and they start taking pieces and parts back to their organization to try it out.

I think this is one of the challenges of scaling where people think, “Oh we have to replicate it. It must be identical in every place you go,” and I just don’t think that’s true. 
Menlo doesn’t have to be the same even in every client project, and we certainly don’t have to have the same types of customers that we plug Menlo into.

What I don’t want to do is let your readers off the hook here. What I mean by that is they might come and look at Menlo or they read our interview or maybe they read my books and they say, “Oh, Rich and his team, they’re so lucky. I wish I could be them, you know, but I can’t be because our organization is too big, it’s too small, it’s too old, it’s too new, it’s too governmental.” I’m not going to let them off the hook because I have seen so many examples of big corporations that have taken some piece of what they have learned from us and bring it home for their teams and improve their work world. My challenge to your readers is, you can create change within your organization, you just have to choose to do it.

Thomas: So true. It’s also my philosophy. I believe in smaller projects rather than huge corporate programs which can easily become death march projects trying to save the world or the whole organization. Instead I’m proposing to do one project at a time. A project is like a microcosm which the team can control. We can shape it, we can design it the way we like it, and we can change it if we have to. It’s much more complicated on a corporate level with all the politics and bureaucracy. It’s a different story.

The meaning of a human working space

Thomas: How does your working space affect the team productivity? What kind of impact does it have on the atmosphere, the performance, and the results?

Richard: I think for us it’s, as Dickens would say, A Tale of Two Cities.

You know, we are in a former mall. Actually, the space behind me is a former food court. … It is in fact in the basement of a parking structure and there is no sunlight whatsoever. So it’s all electric light that lights the space. 
And so, maybe my challenge to your readers is if we can create joy in the windowless basement of a parking structure with concrete floors and so on, you can do it where you are too.

Menlo’s office space in a former food court of an old mall in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo © by Menlo Innovations

A lot of people ask us, “Oh, you didn’t want sunlight?” No, we wanted sunlight, but we wanted three other things more. We wanted one big open room. We wanted to be in the downtown Ann Arbor area because the physical surroundings we think actually improve our thoughts about work because people can leave the building, go out onto the street, go to restaurants and bars in the local area here. There are little parks nearby, and so on. So, there’s a lot of amenities to being in a downtown area, and we wanted to be able to afford it. And so we lost natural light in that process. 
But yet when people walk in our door for the first time, almost universally the first word out of their mouths is, “Wow,” because they can actually feel the human energy of our space. I think that is so important. They can hear laughter, they can hear conversations, they can see people working together.
And suddenly it strikes them, oh my gosh, there are no walls, there are no offices, there are no cubes, there are no doors, and then they begin to question us. 
They’re like, “Oh, this is one of those open office environments, isn’t it?” and they say, “Those don’t work, you know. There’s research that proves that these environments don’t work,” and yet they’re confronted with this paradox because they can see it working, and they ask us, “Rich, why does it work for you and it seemingly doesn’t work anywhere else?”
And I say, “well, it’s very simple. 

We didn’t create an open office. We created an open culture. Our physical space is a reflection of some of our deepest held cultural beliefs about creating great teams: openness, transparency, collaboration, teamwork, work done together, flexibility and scalability.”

Everything we’ve done here says to the team, make the space work for you. You don’t have to go ask permission. You don’t have to go check in with the space police. You just simply make the space work for you. 
So, our space changes in small ways every single day. Every once in a while, the team just get bored with the setup and they tear the whole thing down and put it back together in a completely different configuration. And I will tell you those small changes, and sometimes those big ones, are energizing. You know, we become a product of our physical space after a while. I think it was a Churchill quote that said first we form our spaces and then our spaces form us.

And if we put all these walls and corridors up and doors that close, you can’t move them and then your organization gets stuck in a rut, and communication starts to fall down and, you know, mindsets set in concrete. We want people to always be in this adaptable mindset.

What if we move things around this way? How does that feel and could it change our energy? And I will tell you. I sit out in the room with everybody else. There’s no corner office for me, and every once in a while, they move me. I don’t actually choose where I sit. They put me somewhere. Right now, I’ve been in the same table spot for several months, which is a little bit unusual for me.
So then they’ll move me. There’s usually an actual reason behind the move. They don’t just do it randomly. Then I come in the next morning and my table isn’t where it used to be, and I go to where my table used to be and my mind kind of like, “where did my table go?”, and I have to go find it, and probably for the next several days, I am going back to the old spot before I go to the new spot. And it’s literally bumping my brain, right? 
It’s creating what was this passive sort of beta thinking process into more of an alpha mode of just I’m now aware. I’m now very aware of my physical surroundings once again and I can feel it. It’s frustrating because I’m used to going to the same spot but it’s also energizing because I have to think differently. I can’t think the same thoughts I thought the day before because I’m now in a new space. I’m probably surrounded by different people, different interactions, different conversations that I’m overhearing by different people because I’m sitting near different people now. 
And that, I think, awakens our humanity when we do those kinds of things.

Customer and user interaction

Thomas: You talk about delighting your customers. Given that the prerequisite for doing so is understanding their true needs, how do you identify the true needs?

Richard: There’s kind of two conversations that go on here and I’m going to differentiate between two groups of people that often get put together.

One is customers. Now, Menlo is a custom software design and development firm. Customers are bringing big bags of cash and some ideas. We form teams around their ideas, and we design and develop software for our customers who are paying us to do that. The customer is the one who pays us to do the work.

But our primary thought process isn’t actually around the customers, even though we have to take care of them of course. Who we want to take care of are people we will never meet, people who won’t pay us for what we do, and people who will never know who we are, and those are the end users of that software. And this is very important. 

Most businesses actually have this dichotomy between the people who pay them for what they do and the people who one day use the pieces and parts. 

So, there’s often in this world of work, and especially when businesses work with other businesses, there’s this differentiation between customers and users, and we have to take that into consideration when we’re working on our projects. 

I want to answer your question in two different ways. A customer, i.e. the people who pay us to often come in our door and they say something — you know, I’ll use it fairly generically — “Hey. We’ve heard great things about you guys. We think you could help us build an app for an iPhone.” We look at them and say, “Well, awesome. What problem are you trying to solve?” and they look at us funny. They say, “Well, the problem is we don’t have an app.” We explain then, “No, an app is a potential solution but no one in the history of mankind ever woke up and first thing on their mind this morning was, ‘You know what I need today more than anything else? I need a new app.’” 
So, we try and back them up into what problem they’re trying to solve, and this is a really curious little journey because often the thing they think is the problem isn’t actually the problem, and I can tell you, as an engineer, I can’t wait to start thinking about solutions. It’s the first thing on my mind.

Often what we do is we ask our customers — remember I’m differentiating between customers and users — could we go visit with some of the potential users of this solution? 

We had this big logistics firm come to us, and they came to us and they said, “Hey, Menlo. We know you well. We think you could help us build a new CRM system — customer relationship management system.” I can tell you, for the size of this company, that would have been a very big project for us, maybe one of our biggest. Of course, we asked them, “What problem are you trying to solve?” and they’re like, “We need a new CRM system.” We said, “Well, why do you need a new CRM system?” They said, “Well, we’ve grown through acquisition. We’re now a nationwide firm. We used to be regional only. And because of all the acquisitions we’ve done, every separate company we acquired had their own CRM system. We want to create one unified CRM system across the whole organization so that our offices around the nation can all share customer information with one another.” 
Now, I would tell you, as an engineer, this made perfect sense to me. But we said, “Could we go visit your sales offices?” and they looked at us funny and said, “Oh, we know that’s what you’d like to do, but we know what the problem is so you don’t need to do that.” “Well, humor us. Can we go to at least two offices?” and they said, “Sure.” So, our anthropologists went out to two offices of this firm. They started observing them work and they started asking them questions about their work. So, they went to these offices and they said, “Hey. We’re going to watch you work. And what your management believes up in the central office is that you guys have trouble sharing information between offices if they need to transfer information,” and the people in the office smiled politely at us and said, “Oh, we would have never share information with another office.” We’re like, “What? You all work for the same company.” They said, “Yeah, we do. But you have to understand our annual bonus is calculated by how much we outperform the other offices. So, if they make us share information with another office, which they might, we’ll miskey something, we’ll type a phone number wrong, we’ll put in an address incorrectly, we’ll mess up their name so that in fact we will give no advantage to the other offices and then we will outperform them and get a bigger bonus.”
The problem they had wasn’t the CRM system yet. It was their compensation system that was broken.

We think humans are rational, logical creatures, but in fact, you know, when we create the wrong incentives, we will create weird behaviours. 

We went back to the management team and said, “Don’t do the project right now. Not yet. Fix your compensation system. Fix your culture first and then maybe a unified CRM system.”

Cultivating a learning environment

Thomas: How do you cultivate an environment of continuous learning and innovation?

Richard: I know you’re working on a book around humanity in the workplace. And I think it’s very important for all of us, as leaders, to consider what is it that actually makes us human. 
Like, what are the fundamental characteristics of humanity? And I think they revolve around that part of our brain, that prefrontal cortex, where our most human things happen such as creativity, invention, innovation, learning. All of those things are happening in this most human part of our brain. 
So, there’s an anti-part to learning. What should we as leaders not do to promote learning? What we have to remind ourselves is the part of our makeup that — actually steals our humanity and therefore our ability to learn — is fostered by fear. Fear releases chemicals into our bloodstream, adrenaline and cortisol. It shuts down this great part of our brain because this part of our brain is such a big oxygen consumer. 
So, literally with fear, if we learn to lead with fear, we will shrink our teams back down to reptile brain and no learning will happen whatsoever except pain-based learning, which is important, no question. We can learn something from pain, you know. All of us touched a hot stove at least once in our lives and we remembered never to do that again.

But the kind of learning I think organizations are seeking now is not “don’t touch the hot burner.” It’s how do we outperform our competition, how do we adapt to a changing world, how do we lead in that adaptation. And that’s the part where we need to be the most human. 

So, number one, learn to eliminate, as much as humanly possible, fear as a tool in leadership and management. 

And the other part is how do we create the environment within which learning can just easily happen? And for us, the physical space is important. It’s not just the open room, it’s the posters on the wall, it’s the bright lights. It’s that feeling, that wow feeling, when people walk in

And then the other part is how we organize the humans on the team. No one here works in isolation. We work in pairs. 
That simple construct, you’re putting people together, letting them work together, giving them permission to collaborate, making it a standard of our workplace means no one is ever working in that fearful isolation of, “It’s all on me. It’s all on my shoulders. It’s what I can get done and done by me alone.” For us, this idea of putting people together creates safety that I don’t have to be complete by myself, I can lean on the person next to me, and I expect to be leaned on by the person next to me and I expect them to allow me to lean on them. That idea of ‘make your partner look good, help the person next to you succeed’, creates a kind of safety here where learning can flourish, creativity can flourish, and human energy can flourish.

Ensuring discipline, performance and delivery

Thomas: Learning is one thing. But, how do you ensure discipline, performance, and delivery?

Richard: There are two fundamental components of how we think here at Menlo. 

One is we’re a very high structure environment. So, this isn’t laissez faire, do whatever the heck you want, you get some random idea, go off in a corner and start working on it all by yourself. We have a very, very strong structure here, but a very simple structure. So, everybody knows who they’re paired with for the week. There’s a little display as they walk in the front door and, you know, the first day of the week, and they say, “Oh, I’m paired with Thomas,” right, and then, you know, next week, I come in and, “Oh, I’m paired with Michael this week and Thomas is paired with Richard”. 
So, this construct starts to remove a lot of ambiguity and goes towards clarity. This is very important in our world, because ultimately, by the time the work is being worked on, you are in a very unclear environment because there’s invention that has to happen, there’s experimentation that has to happen. But if you know what you’re supposed to be working on, what your goals are, how you will be evaluated for how close you got to what was going on. This is a high-structure environment.

At Menlo all software developers work in pairs. This is called “paired programming”. Not only makes it coding faster, it also improves quality and is more fun. Photo © by Menlo Innovations

And then the other part that really informs how we think is systems thinking. Systems are at their best when there are short communication and feedback loops. 
And that’s what we appreciate so much about the Agile movement. Typically, in our world, we are working on a 5-day iterative cycle. Every 5 days, we check in with our customer through an event we call ‘show and tell’.

So, you know, this isn’t about creating the perfect plan. This isn’t about having the perfect planning process. This is about simply acknowledging we will make mistakes. We are human. The way to keep fear down is make small mistakes quickly.

So, let’s create a system and a structure that allows us to make small mistakes quickly so we can correct them while they’re still small, and if we have open and honest communication, which is critically important in this kind of environment, then we can deal with the things as they come up, and I think, that’s the essence of an Agile enterprise.

Caring for employees

Thomas: I remember you shared a story where you had one of your team members who became a mother, and you wanted her to return but she couldn’t find childcare. You said, “just bring your baby along and we’ll see what happens.” Do you still have this policy in case somebody can’t find childcare for the day? How did it change the environment?

Richard: Yeah. So, yes, that little girl … is now 12 years old and Elsie right now is coming in with George. Elsie is Menlo baby number 24 in the last 12 years.

This has been an awesome experiment for us, and it is delightful. And yes, over the last 12 years, we have continually improved the physical things we put in this space to allow the parents to have an easier time taking care of their child. But I want to say it very clearly, this is not a Menlo daycare. We did not open up a daycare facility. The baby is with the parent all day long or if the parent chooses, and they often do, the baby is also with the team. So, if you bring your child, you may say to Rich, “Hey, do you want to hold little Elsie for a while?” and of course I love holding little children so I might be caught on a tour carrying a baby around, but that’s always the parent’s choice.

We are thinking in terms of humanity in the workplace, if you want to bring humanity into your workplace, bring humanity into your workplace, especially little humans.

I mean, babies have such incredible human energy. They’re like little sponges. They want to hear all the noises and it’s really fun. Usually when they’re here for a couple of months, they start mimicking what they hear. Sometimes, I remember with little Maggie, one of the things that happened was, at a certain point, Maggie started making what we affectionately referred to as dolphin sounds.
She just mimicked the sound. And it would be so loud that the whole team would hear it and they would just laugh. Then suddenly, at one point, Maggie realized she was the source of the laughter, and she just started making the dolphin sounds over and over and over again and the team just kept laughing. It was a wonderful interaction with a baby. 

So, I will tell you, it’s a huge thing that we’ve done here, and I’m so delighted for the parents who have been able to make it work.

Joy and work

Thomas: How do joy and work fit together?

Richard: I think this idea of, as you would put it, chasing humanity, bringing our most human self to work, and we use the word joy here which we think is very human in that regard.
I want to emphasize in this is that this is also real work. Joy is a neat thing to pursue and I think we get very close every single day, but we are not happy here every single day. This is hard work, hard work done together. 

Our customers often have different expectations for us, so we have to always keep checking in with them about how things are going and how they’re feeling about things and so on. And they’re not always feeling great. Same for us who work here.

As leaders we have to remind us that, 

if we really want to keep ourselves on this track towards increasing the humanity of the workplace, we have to recognize that the people who work here are 100% human. 

They’re not just human at work but they’re human at home as well. If we start to recognize they have lives outside of work, I think we create a greater opportunity for empathy with others in our team. I can tell you, every family, every person has their stuff, stuff from their previous life, stuff from their upbringing, you know, stuff that happened in the world, stuff they’re worried about, all that kind of stuff. 
So, I would just simply encourage your audience to think about one thing. When they have conflict with somebody else in their team regardless of what their current environment is, before they get upset, before they get mad, check in with the other person. Look them in the eye and say, “Are you okay? Is everything going okay in your life?” Now, that person may be willing to share or maybe they’re not. That’s okay. This isn’t about bringing everything to work every day. But a simple human check-in of saying, “Hey, I noticed something wrong today. Are you okay? Is everything going okay in your world?” and if they say it is, but you notice they’re holding something back a little bit, then check in on you. Maybe whatever’s upsetting them is actually coming from you. So, be humble enough to say, “Am I okay? Am I okay with you? Is there anything I’ve done to upset you lately?” Because, in that case, we’ve got a chance to actually have a heart to heart discussion about maybe what’s going on. And, again, not everyone will feel right about that and that’s okay.

Let me share a story with you. Shortly after my first book came out, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Scrum Alliance Conference in Berlin. I spoke of joy and I spoke of Menlo and I spoke of the processes we use. I ended the talk with the baby story that we discussed a few minutes ago. After that talk I had male German engineers come up to me in tears, and I would describe tears of a different kind of joy, a joy that was not what they were experiencing today, but a joy of hope that they could experience it someday. And I thought to myself, “If I could get male German engineers to cry, I can get anybody to cry.”

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Note: The interview is part of my new book “Being Human in a Digital Age” which will published in Germany in 2020. If you are interested to learn more about the book, join my Facebook group „Being Human“.


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Being Human in the Digital Age


M2B Butterfly FBThe digital transformation was one of the buzz words at this year’s World Economic Forum in January 2019.  Walking the streets there were numerous signs for special events, receptions, panels, speeches or forums on the topic.  All of them had in common that there was an atmosphere of excitement about the technological advances of the 21stcentury, the huge potentials and promised ahead of us.  Or so it seemed.

Fact was that this appearance was deceiving and possibly misleading.

I had the privilege and honor of having been a member of the panel „The Art of New Business: Body, Mind and Soul of Digitization“  in the FQ Lounge. When asked about my opinion about the prospects of the digital transformation in my native country of Germany I cautiously mentioned that, first of all, not everyone is super excited about digitization.  Indeed, I have observed that a lot of people (who knows, possibly the silent majority?) do have concerns and fears about the digital transformation.  When I shared my observations I had expected that at the outset of my remark people in the audience would roll their eyes or shake their hands in disbelief about my skeptical opening statement. Interestingly, none of it happened. The opposite was the case.  Indeed I sensed that the audience was relieved that finally there was a panelist who talked about their silent fears, the downsides of digital transformation in contrast to the many other events in Davos this week.  I admit that the audience’s reaction surprised me.  And at the same time it confirmed my impression that people hesitate or avoid speaking about their concerns and fears, at least in public. So, what’s true?  Is digitization a blessing or a curse? My answer is that it can be both.

It is a fact that technology has brought, brings and will continue to bring many advancements that improve our well-being overall and offer huge business opportunities. On the other side, we will see lots and lots of jobs, businesses and even industries being eliminated or disappear. This is certainly one ingredient for being somewhat skeptical about the digital transformation.  But we don’t even have to look so far into the future to identify an even more obvious drawback.  Fact is that rates of disengaged workers, sick days and depression and burnout rates have been on the rise and have reached record numbers.  A clear sign that the so lauded world of the digital age is not so bright after all.  People complain about endless work, increased pressure and expectations at work.  They are often either stuck in a hamster wheel or have become themselves addicted to the ever-accelerating race of infinite growth and corporate greed and cut-throat competition.  They have become pawns in the grand chess game of modern business. They are functional, efficient, productive, and effective.  And yet, they don’t behave or act like humans anymore but have become replaceable resources in a big machinery.  Replaceable like machines because there is no space for burnouts, sickness or alike.

Corollary, the excitement about the digital transformation can and does co-exist with fears and concerns.  Both are real, though not equally desirable or sustainable.  I am convinced that fears and concerns cannot be resolved unless we take them seriously and deal with them.  They have a common denominator.  It’s the lack of humanness.  In other words, being human often only matters in as much as a human resource, as one cost factor out of many.  While resources in general and human resources in particular can be replaced the principal lack of appreciation of humanity at the core of our business activities sheds a long shadow on the wonderful promises and opportunities of the digital age.

In my 20+ years in professional project management I can say that projects rarely, if ever, fail because of faults in the products or some suboptimal processes. The number one cause of failure is ‘people’.  Not because we make mistakes (of course, we do) but because we don’t recognize and value each other as who we are:  human beings. Our personal motivations, visions and goals are appreciated only in as far as they benefit the project or product. There is no space for more, say, our belief systems, inner drives or purposes other than our relation to the jobs themselves.  It’s like driving a car with a pulled handbrake and a weak battery.  The human potential is left untouched.  No wonder that so many projects still fail or struggle and are characterized by waste.

I have found that projects that create the space for individuals to uncover, explore, unleash their individual potentials and share it with fellow team mates turn into co-creation wonders that help delight customers, generate sustainable business value and develop happy and joyful workplaces while nurturing the thirst for continuous self-improvement.  In other words, putting humanness at the core of business is the seed for mastering the challenges of the digital age and succeeding in the business world.  It is time to acknowledge, explore and unfold our human potential to shape the present and future we truly want and need.  Let’s be human in the digital age.  Technology and digitization are welcome and valuable tools to serve this purpose and goal.  Tools, but no more and no less.

Posted in: Agile, Centeredness, Creative Economy, Future of Work, Human, Human Business, innovation, Project Management, WEF

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Digitization as an engine for co-creating joy


_DSC0353In June 2018 Peter Dumont, CEO of The Art of New, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Denning, best-selling author and  Forbes contributor.

In our interview we talked about his latest book “The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done”  (see my previous post about it) and his views on being human in the digital age.  In this episode he explains why and how digitization can actually be an engine for co-creating joy.  Corollary, there is or not need not be a dichotomy between being human and technology.

Watch and listen in by yourself and find out what Steve is saying.

 

 

Posted in: Agile, Future of Work, Human, Human Business

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Purpose & Vision: Overcoming Trump’s Fear-Driven Capitalism, Part 2

Photo credits: „Eye“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gb8h4b. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

Photo credits: „Eye“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gb8h4b. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

Trump’s economic policies are starkly different from his predecessors and deviates from mainstream economics and political thinking.  Take, for example, his massive tax cuts for the corporate world or his initiated trade wars.  Just by looking at recent economic numbers and the booming stock market his policies seem to pay off and open a new era of economic prosperity.  But do they really?

Long-term market performance indices and forecasts tell a different story.  Shareholder buybacks and alike contribute nothing to building a solid foundation for future business success.  They yield short-term benefits and the party is on.  But, for how long?  Where does it lead to?  Has big money finally succeeded and overtaken economic and political thinking?  How sustainable is this short-term growth? Who benefits, who loses?  And, last but not least, what kind of answers does it provide to today’s global challenges that are becoming more and more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?  What if Trump’s favored form of capitalism leads to a dead end?!

As explained in a previous post, I am more than skeptical about the outlook of traditional capitalism.

Fact is that traditional capitalism does not answer today’s challenges in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, widens the gap between rich and poor, exploits and threatens to destroy our environment and thus our own planet.  What we need is a different, a new business paradigm that not only helps find solutions to today’s problems but can also serve as guidance to sustainable business in the 21stcentury.

In this article I explain why and how purpose-driven human business can make a huge difference.  It differs significantly from the classical business paradigm.  At the same time it has built-in bridges every business can cross to build a sustainable future.

Maximizing Shareholder Value: Engine for Growth?

There is one and only one responsibility of business: to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.

– Milton Friedman

No doubt, Milton Friedman and shareholder value theory has shaped Western business since the 1970s.  It has led to tremendous wealth of companies as well as societies, even though the fruits of this growth have not been distributed equally.

And, Milton is still very much alive as Steve Denning points out in a Forbes article.  He explains that “in 1990, an article in HBRby Michael Jensen and Kevin Murphy, gave shareholder value thinking a new push. The article, “CEO Incentives—It’s Not How Much You Pay, But How” suggested that CEOs were being paid like bureaucrats. Instead, they should be paid with significant amounts of stock so that their interests would be aligned with stockholders. Thereafter, the use of the phrase ‘maximize shareholder value’ exploded and CEOs became very entrepreneurial — but in their own cause,not necessarily their firm’s cause.”

Denning continues stating that “by 2017, shareholder value thinking was everywhere. Joseph Bower andLynn S. Paine reported in Harvard Business Reviewthat shareholder value thinking “is now pervasive in the financial community and much of the business world.” It had led to a set of behaviors by many actors on a wide range of topics, “from performance measurement and executive compensation to shareholder rights, the role of directors, and corporate responsibility.”

Acknowledging shareholder value thinking is prevalent in today’s business world, and a booming stock exchange market, what’s so wrong about it?!  Why change a winning formula?!

On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.
– Jack Welch

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, had been heralded as one of THE proponent of maximizing shareholder value.  This is in contrast to what he has been preaching since he left GE, stating „On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.“ Welch also pointed out several times that „shareholder value is a result, not a strategy . . . Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.“

So far so good.  But what about business performance in the market place?

According to the 2009 Shift Index of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge there is conclusive proof of failure of traditional management.  Accordingly

  • The rate of return on assets has fallen by 75% since 1965
  • The life expectancy of Fortune 500 firms is down to 15 years, and is heading towards 5 years.
  • Only 1 in 5 workers fully engaged

Preserving the performance of a status quo may be laudable.  Yet, it doesn’t secure lasting, sustainable business.  The opposite is true.  Mariana Mazzucato  explains that „shareholder value theory – the destructive idea that companies should be run solely for the benefit of shareholders – has led to financialized businesses that do not invest in the areas that will lead to future growth or the invention of useful new products.“

In short, traditional businesses infiltrated by shareholder value theory not only ignores long-term perspectives, they also risk their own future existence.  Myopia at its best.

Stuck in the past

In face of this evidence why do so many companies still stick to a business paradigm of the past?

There are lots of reasons for clinging to this pastime.  Let’s have a look at two of them:

  1. For one, it is convenient.  Governance in most businesses still built on the old business paradigm, along with complicated incentive system for individual and company performance at the stock market.  Changing these processes and culture takes ages.  Why change it given that those who would have to make the call for a change personally benefit from the old system?
    Linking maximizing shareholder ‘value’ to personal compensation blinds managers from the real world – and most of them don’t even realize it because they were born blind or lost eyesight early in their childhood (or education). From this perspective, they live out their DNA. I guess, you can’t even blame them for their upbringing shaped their belief system. They were indoctrinated.
  2. A second reason for favoring existing belief systems is that proponents of the status quo simply don’t see any real alternative at hand.  Thinking in complicated, elaborate governance structures and processes implies that there needs to be an even more complicated system? There is simply no time to address this, even less so, coming up with new ideas that improve existing processes.

As long as this reasoning prevails, it is difficult to change anything until it may be too late.  Alas, it is not that complicated at all.  Let’s have a look at the opposite of the traditional business paradigm of short-term profits and shareholder value theory.  It’s called purpose-driven business.

MVP’s for doing business in the 21stcentury

A purpose-driven business follows a compass that gives a clear direction for the future of the business.  The compass also indicates where the business is coming from, i.e., why it is business in the first place.   Both, the motivation and the vision of a business constitute the credo of its practice. I call this the MVP of a purpose-driven business whereas stands for motivation, for visionand for practice.

For example, Johnson & Johnson’s company credo is engraved in granite at the entry to company headquarters, which makes crystal clear that customers are first, then employees, and shareholders absolutely last.

Another example is Procter & Gamble which declares in its purpose statement: ‘We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.’

On this token, a business that has forgotten or neglects its motivation or vision for short-term gains, such as maximizing daily stock prices, may just as well be digging its own grave in the long-run.  It is anything but a purpose-driven business.

Human business is purpose-driven business

Facing the increasing number of challenges in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, Human Business addresses today’s challenges.  It focuses on serving and delighting its customers, workforce, business, and society.  And it does so holistically and puts us as humans in its center.  That is, it constantly seeks ways and means to generate and add sustainable value to its customers, workforce, business, and society.  From this perspective human business follows three elementary principles:

  1. Delight your customer(s)
  2. Take care of your employees
  3. Build sustainable business value

(1) Delight your customer(s)

Having a customer focus is not new.  Peter Drucker, father of management thinker, explains that

There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.”

Alas, delighting a customer goes beyond creating or satisfying a customer. Delighting a customer implies that a business has a deep understanding of the needs, expectations and wishes of its customers and strives to fulfill and exceed them.  It seeks to build customers for life.  It reaches out to its customers, communicates with them, walks in their shoes and shows a sincere interest in them.  There are no quick fixes for this approach.  It is an attitude and belief system.

(2) Take care of your employees

Employees are not resources like products.  They are human beings and want to be treated as such.  A human business understands and practices this.  It shows

a sincere interest in the needs of their employees. It starts with a safe, secure and environmentally friendly work environment.  For employees to follow a direction you have to set it, share it and let your employees contribute to it. Let them become a part of it.

Dov Seidman states that „working with passion is an engine that is unbelievable. A person with drive and passion does three times the job of another person. But it is not so much the quantity of the job; that is not the point. The point is that they draw crowds; they have followers; they push, and lead, and so achieve much more.“ (Dov Seidman (2011). “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”, p.295, John Wiley & Sons)

(3) Build sustainable business value

Shareholder value is not identical to business value.  Business value comprises short-, mid- and long-term business concerns, interests and investments.  Business value is made up of a number of factors: the overall business performance and outlook, customer satisfaction ratings, market position, innovation performance, the skillset and turnover rate of the workforce, the attractiveness of the company as an employer of choice and many other factors.

Whereas the daily stock price is heavily influenced by quarterly results and a relative short time horizon into the future, business value is more than quarterly results.  Jeff Bezos clarifies why holding a long-term perspective is so important:  “If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavours that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.” (Source: “Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think”. Interview with Steven Levy, www.wired.com. November 13, 2011.)

Last but not least, business value doesn’t only look at business numbers but includes corporate social responsibility, too. Klaus Schwab, founder and head of the World Economic Forum, explains that “corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.”

Human business as a compass for organizational excellence

Klaus Schwab’s wide view on business value summarizes what it means when we say that human business is holistic and human-centered and focuses on generating and adding sustainable value to its customers, workforce, business, and society. It serves as a business compass that helps optimize daily operationsand build and sustain organizational excellence.

Walking the Talk. Building a Human Economy

M2B Butterfly FBAt Motivate2B and the Human Business Architects we are witnessing businesses that have made the transition to a human business.  And, we too, follow the principles of human business by ourselves. What else can we do?!  We walk the talk and invite you to do the same.  Please join us and share your stories.

Posted in: Agile, Future of Work, Human Business, Leadership, Sustainability, Uncategorized, WEF

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A Human Business Primer: Overcoming Trump’s Fear-Driven Capitalism, Part 1

Photo sources: “Joy“: https://flic.kr/p/7usYCr. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

Photo sources: “Joy“: https://flic.kr/p/7usYCr. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

This is not another attack on Trump.  Actually, I don’t really care too much about Trump.  What I do care about are the implications of his policies, ideology, worldview, decisions, moods, and, believe it or not, at times his tweets.  And yet, it is not about Trump as a person.  Last week, former President Obama rightly stated that Trump is not the cause but a symptom for a lot of things that have gone array these days in business, society and the world.  And, indeed, Trump is a strong symptom, an excellent and exemplary figure to represent capitalism of the old ages.  The problem is, we no longer we live in the 19thor 20thcentury that were heavily shaped by traditional capitalism Trump loves so much.

Traditional capitalism at its “best”

Traditional capitalism rewards those who seek short-term gains, maximize profits regardless of whether or not business generates value to customers, workforce, business or society.  This capitalism treats humans and the environment as resources, cost factors and numbers in balance sheets.  It thrives in an atmosphere of mistrust, tension, fierce cutthroat and winner-takes-all competition, selfishness and anxiety.  Exploiting or polluting the environment is considered collateral damage and, hence, not evil.  The dividing and widening gap between rich and poor is dismissed as a distraction that can be fixed – by the free market. While proponents of traditional capitalism don’t negate the fact the world is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous they are not really concerned about it because they believe that the established business principles, processes and rules can handle these challenges, too.  And, if there were a problem it is probably because some people, organizations or governments neglected these established principles.

Capitalism is not dead. It is outdated in its traditional form

I am not a critic of capitalism per se (how could I, having been trained as an economist?). Fact is that traditional capitalism leads to a dead-end, does not answer today’s challenges in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, widens the gap between rich and poor, exploits and threatens to destroy our environment and thus our own planet. This is not a call to end capitalism – this would this too simplistic.  And it would be plain stupid for capitalism is a core element of business which we, people, need to survive and thrive.  What we need is a different, a new business paradigm that not only helps find solutions to today’s problems but can also serve as guidance to sustainable business in the 21stcentury.

The Human Business Paradigm

The good news is such business principles already exist. They constitute the Human Business Paradigm.  These principles can serve as a new compass for doing business in the 21stcentury.  Let me summarize its key principles:

The Human Business Paradigm
1. Human business is holistic and human-centered, i.e., it focuses on serving and delighting its customers, workforce, business, and society.

2. The purpose of human business is to generate and add sustainable value to its customers, workforce, business, and society.

3. Human business promotes diversity in the workforce, reflecting an open society.

4. Human business advocates cross-functional and self-organizing teams.

5. Human business nourishes joy and happiness in its daily operation.

6. Human business practices and nurtures conscious leadership of enablement and empowerment.

7. Human business cultivates open and learning organizations that embrace change and thrive for continuous self-improvement of products and services, processes and people.

8. Human business provides and shares guidance for responding to rapid change in business and society.

9. Human business understands profits as a means to fulfill its business purposes; i.e., human business is purpose-driven and not profit-driven.

10. Human business advocates a circular economy, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

Walking the Talk. Building a Human Economy

During the next couple of weeks I plan to dwell into each of these principles and share concrete stories of companies, organizations and projects that practice these principles.  At Motivate2B and the Human Business Architects we walk the talk; and there are many other businesses that do so already.   I invite you, too, to join us and share your stories.

hba-banner-15-12-2016

Posted in: Agile, Creative Economy, Future of Work, Human, Human Business

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Enter the Age of Agile!


Dear friends,

41T6mA9ISmL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_This is to let you know that Steve Denning and his partners are offering an amazing array of Agile leadership and management gifts will be available this week for early purchasers of Steve Denning’s new book, ‘The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done’. The list of gifts of gifts is here: http://stevedenning.com/Workshops/launch2018.aspx and the gifts will become available tomorrow, Thursday February 8 at 4pm US EST. Some gifts are in limited quantities and are likely to go quickly. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

There are 41 gifts, some worth thousands of dollars, and you get access to all of them. For instance, Richard Sheridan of Menlo Innovations is offering places at his famous five-day deep dive at Menlo Innovations, worth $3,650, Professor Rita McGrath and many other well-known figures from the Agile community are offering consultations, workshops, books, videos, articles and other tools. Myself I offer a presentation and an initial one-hour consultation about and for Agile MVP’s. In this presentation and consultation I share my experiences about what it takes to set up Agile projects for success, namely motivation, vision and Agile practice for the project, the team and the business. In addition to the presentation I share a free template ready for immediate use. Places will be limited.

And even if you cannot (or don’t want to) secure any of these free give-aways, you will still get so much out of Steve’s new book. It’s not another about Agile. It explains why Agile is a new business paradigm and how you can embrace it and succeed.

Good luck, happy reading and lots of joy practicing and being Agile,

Thomas

Posted in: Agile, Future of Work

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Orientation for Shaping the Future of Work


How can you shape the future if you don’t even know how it will look like? Even more so if the present situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?” – These were two questions that were addressed during a workshop I facilitated with my business partner Dawna Jones on January 17, 2017. The by invitation only workshop took place in a beautiful chalet in Klosters, far away from the noise and distraction of a bigger city. The six of us came from different backgrounds: the medical profession, business consulting, digital marketing, cultural training, leadership training, and yoga.

The key to shaping the future of work is ORIENTATION

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

As different the backgrounds and viewpoints were we agreed on one thing: That in order to make sense of what is emerging in the world of work, it is essential that you have an orientation about where you are coming from, where you are now and what you would like to do. Admitted, this is a simple insight. But then it is an insight lots of companies and organizations don’t even have. Fact is most companies and organizations either don’t have time or don’t take the time to reflect their purposes and visions because they too busy handling present challenges. They are so busy that they may not even realize the many ongoing changes around them. This goes well until they are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, e.g., an increasing turn-over rate in their workforce, new competitors entering the market, disruptive innovation destroying existing business models, etc. Trying to cope with these challenges with established tools of the past may work but are is likely to be doomed given that these tools and processes have prevented to embrace change in the first place.

Rapid change

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

The market place and world of work are changing at a rapid and increasingly faster pace. Technology does one part and yet it is only one out of many factors. Especially millenials are less likely to stay at a company for their whole working life. They want more than just a job. They demand jobs that have meaning and they can identify with, where they can make a difference, and a job giving them enough space and time for other activities. Change is a natural, it is a given and they may even got accustomed to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. At the same time millenials as well as everyone who is aware of the VUCA world needs orientation. And this is the chance for companies and organizations to shape the future: providing orientation for its people.

Business fundamentals will not change

However, established working and business models do not offer the answers to these challenges anymore. With growing uncertainty and volatility in the market it is increasingly difficult to plan the future. On the other side, there are at least three fundamentals in business practices that are unlikely to change. These are that a company or organization

  1. has to to serve its customers and clients,
  2. needs people that help achieve business goals, and
  3. has to generate some form of profit or benefit.

Business has to re-adjust its focus on PEOPLE

Business fundamentals don’t change. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations seem to have forgotten them. For the fundamentals reveal something deeper. Let’s have a look at this.

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

  1. Customers:

Customers are better informed, have a greater variety of products and services to choose from and consequently have greater influence than ever before. Companies and organizations that want to generate and keep their customers and clients need to delight them. For this to happen, they have to understand their needs and desires, whether they are apparent or still developing. The market is no longer exclusively business-driven but becomes increasingly customer-driven, too.

  1. Workforce:

As mentioned above people are less likely to stay at one company or organization for their whole working career. But it is also a fact that people are more likely to stay and perform at a very high level, if they are happy at their job, if they identify with the purpose, vision and goals of the company or organization, if they can contribute to success and their contributions are seen and acknowledged. In other words, people don’t want to be treated as resources but as people, as human beings. This requires human-centric leadership.

  1. Profits:

Profits have always been, are and will be important in business. This will not change. However, it is crucial to understand that profits are a result of good business practices, are the means to do business. What matters more than short-term profits is overall business value. Short-, mid- and long-term goals and profits have to be balanced. Corollary, an incentive system for managers with only short-term profit goals is myopic and may harm business in the long run. Focusing on the outcome of good business practices as reflected by profits only while neglecting the prerequisites for business success, i.e., delighting customers and the people workforce, undermines the foundation of a solid business.   Unfortunately, this concept seems to be as foreign to lots of managers of companies, especially publicly traded corporations, as is snow in the deepest jungle.

Good business is human business
Good business practices focus on people – their customers, their workforce and business value which benefits business, their communities and society.

Business fundamentals can shape the future of work

I am not worried about the future of work because we already have the ways and means to shape it by revisiting, understanding and living good business fundamentals: delighting customers, treating people in the workforce as people and building an environment where they can unfold their potentials and, last but not least, ensure and sustain business value.

Living these fundamentals not only gives an orientation for the present and future, it can also be a driver for the future and grasping the many opportunities that lay ahead of us.

Policy makers should learn from business fundamentals

The outlined business fundamentals are not limited to the world of business. They are applicable to the public sector, too. Indeed, I believe that policy makers have to understand these fundamentals and live them.

People demand orientation for the present and future. But, they are sick and tired of the old rules of the establishment where there seems to be no place for them. Populists such as the right-wing party AfD in Germany, politicians such as LePen in France or Trump in the US know way too well how to fill this vacuum. They cry out simplistic slogans, promise a better world, a break with the establishment – and all they really want is power and control. Their visions are based on the past. They would like to hold back time and maybe even go back to the times when the world was more secure and easier to grasp. And it is true that the past was less volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But the past is gone. Hence, using the past as an orientation for the future is misleading and dangerous because it does not help solve any problems but instead raise fear and distrust.

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

What we need is an orientation for today and the future. Policy makers need to understand the needs of our people. And they have to work with them building a vision of a future which is worth living for and which gives hope and orientation for today and tomorrow. However, any attempt of policy makers to offer the same old same old, established programs and empty promises will lead to nowhere and will be exploited by populists which withhold people from unfolding their potential.   What we need is orientation which focuses on us.

Posted in: Future of Work, Human, innovation

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3 Most Common Barriers Keeping Conscious Business Leaders on the Hamster Wheel

[originally published in the Huffington Post on 25 Nov 2016]

If there ever was a time to realize creative potential inside companies it is now. A quick look at the top issues facing companies of all sizes reveals the usual short list: attracting and retaining talent, managing reputation, with the need to create flexible workplaces and balance benefits with bottom line. While tempting to view these challenges with concern over the bottom line, doing so sabotages gains possible when entrepreneurial spirit applied to innovation is ignited full throttle. Even conscious business leaders, who keep an eye on the horizon (longer term), getting work done and being attentive to workplace dynamics, are still susceptible to running around in circles.

In case the term ‘spirit’ is distracting, a definition is in order. Personal spirit refers to three measurable elements:

  1. initiative,
  2. sense of control, and
  3. outlook on life.

Entrepreneurial spirit combines personal spirit with a sense of adventure, willingness to experiment, an insatiable desire to learn and a capacity to bounce forward.

Without entrepreneurial spirit at play, companies plod through the motions, guided by habitual processes and routine. The company runs on auto-pilot so much so that either the purpose of the task is assumed, or the underlying agenda is to explicitly or implicitly control behavior. Either way, the company falls asleep at the wheel numbing leaders into the same repetitive albeit comfortable cycle. Running hard to wind up in the same place.

Context Drives Behaviour and Regulates Entrepreneurial Spirit

The term ‘conscious business leaders’ applies to a small group since

85% of leaders in the U.S. are operating at the survival level. [See Seizing the Executive Imperative To Expand Consciousness] One source of the hamster wheel is the existence of internal politics. Behind internal politics is the desire to protect personal reputation at the expense of achieving business goals. Aversion to risk, and therefore innovation, is inherent. Entrepreneurial spirit suffocates in working climates where trust is low and expression of diverse ideas is suppressed. In contrast, innovation requires creativity and a comfort with uncertainty.

The Impact of Systemic Barriers

Systemic beliefs add to the pressure of delivering on short-term goals blocking innovation and adaptability. Attracting and retaining talent, or mitigating risks to reputation are restricted to a narrow set of strategies arising from one or more of these three dangerous barriers:

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627Focusing on Recurring and Constant Barriers

Characteristic of problem oriented, adrenaline charged companies is the persistent focus on solving problems. Problems love analytical thinking. Innovation on the other side requires exploratory thinking – the opposite of problem solving. Linear thinking doesn’t help because problem solving tends to assume that there is a singular root cause. In a complex system, multiple causes exist. Unless perception is expanded you will find yourself running in circles: busy but not productive.

Asking leaders to innovate and apply their entrepreneurial spirit while continuing to focus on barriers keeps everyone running in a loop.

Personal Impact:

Leaders find themselves chasing problems. Since what you focus on expands, problems also expand. Adrenaline is addictive as is the illusion of feeling in control. In workplaces designed to control behaviour, business leaders at every level will find themselves repeating the same patterns over and over again.

Insight
Awareness of what you are focusing on helps you develop flexibility in how you perceive (see) the situation. Increasing flexibility gives you more options, while letting go of the need to control everyone else. It is a start at least.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-3Falling Unconsciously into Organizational Patterns and Behaviors

Beliefs keep decisions running in a rut and operate without being noticed until you systematically poke them to the surface. For example, walk into a company that believes it exists to purely make a profit and you will find behaviours shaped by those beliefs. Or if, for instance, the core belief is that employees must be told what to do, then selection of metrics and implementation of performance management strategies will reflect that belief. Beliefs drive decisions unless the company and business leaders have deliberately worked with values as a principle-based approach to decision making.

Where habitual patterns operate on unchecked auto-pilot, efforts to explore and experiment (the prerequisites for innovation / entrepreneurial spirit) run smack into complacent thinking. “Do something different, but don’t change anything.”

Organizational Impact:

Take a look at the metrics. Whenever a company focuses on quantitative measures and statistics alone, meaning is likely to be missing. Without meaning there is no inspiration and no fuel to fire up creativity, much needed for innovative responses to uncertainty.

Insight
Reflecting to observe patterns in recurring issues or undesirable results, strengthens ability to pivot.

custom_sign_with_traffic_cones_11627-2Losing Connection to What Matters Most to You

By far the biggest barrier is to sight of what matters most to you as a fully aware and caring human being with a desire to contribute your talent to something meaningful. Yes, food needs to be put on the table but the days of trading your soul for security are gone. Rather than being driven by the need for societal approval or by metrics that manipulate behavior reconnecting to your personal sense of purpose and of inspiration is the only door available going forward.

Insight
Personal reflection to identify what you rely on: social approval, meeting external expectations for instance, enables you to chart a course toward personal fulfillment.

What do you see as the barriers to stepping off the hamster wheel and do what you believe, deep down, you’re truly capable of?

About Dawna Jones:

Dawna Jones delivers customized workshops and insights raising leadership and decision making awareness of a wider spectrum of skills and intelligences. She provides dynamic oversight into organizational change initiatives by spotting the patterns, and openings for innovation and fresh approaches to working with complex adaptive systems. Contact Dawna through LinkedIn or directly at www.FromInsightToAction.com

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink

Posted in: Centeredness, Future of Work, Guest Blogs, Institute, Uncategorized

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3 dangerous pitfalls that keep conscious business leaders away from grasping the future of work in today’s digital age

Welcome to the future of work

Many of us know that today’s business world is changing. This is not new. It has always been this way. Alas, it is also a fact that due to digital change the pace of change in our business world, economy and even society as a whole has picked up tremendously. 5 years ago nobody talked about Tesla or Uber. Today not only lots of people heard about them and actually use their products and services, these products and services change the interactions and dynamics of business altogether. There may be some glitches, backlashes and opposition to new products and services as it has always been. But, this change, this uncertainty is here to stay. Who knows if, for example, Volkswagen will still be around in five to ten years? Remember companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster or Nokia who were so stable and strong?

Welcome to the VUCA world

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world – the so-called VUCA world – and this drives business leaders nuts. Gone are the days of certainty, control, plan and doing business as usual. The compass and direction of the established philosophy that businesses run like well-oiled engines are gone. What stays behind are questions, concerns, fears – and the understanding that businesses have to change if they want to survive and thrive in today’s Digital Age. But, what does it take? – There is no simple answer. However, what we can do is to identify the pitfalls, the backlashes, the viscious circles that keep us stuck in inertia. Here is a list of the top 3 pitfalls that keep conscious business leaders away from grasping the future of work in today’s digital age:

Pitfall #3: Fear of uncertainty

We may understand the need and value of change but we don’t like it and, even more, we hate uncertainty. We overcome this fear of change and uncertainty by planning and controlling processes. By securing a status quo. By the urge for perfection. Oh, yes we may actually embrace change but only as long as we can come up with quick fixes that yield immediate results.

What’s so bad about it? – Change, the New, innovation – they all have one characteristic in common: they are uncertain at the present moment. How can we learn new things if we don’t try them out?! Yes, there is always a likelihood that we fail, that we make mistakes. This is the prerequisite for learning. Or have you ever seen a child who just stands up and walks without first having falling hundreds of times?!

Pitfall #2: It’s about me. I have to defend my realm and power.

We see the value of teamwork – as long as it doesn’t undermine our own sphere of influence and power. Teamwork is great if it serves our own political agenda, goals, aspirations. Or, we empower our subordinates to work in teams. But at the end of the day it is us who have to made decisions. After all, it is us who hold responsibility and accountability. And those at the top, they are there for a good reason and, by the way, organizational hierarchies have proven helpful for decades.

What’s so bad about it? – It is not about an individual somewhere in an organization but a whole business which consists of many parts interacting with each other. Hierarchies may be helpful for administrative purposes but rarely do they promote collaboration across functional fields. High performing teams share a common motivation, vision, goals and values. It is not about levels in hierarchies, it is about a team performing as a unit. Or have you ever seen a soccer team with 11 goals keepers or 11 strikers? The mixture of roles and moving in unison make all the difference.

Pitfall #1: Business is always #1.

Let’s face it, whatever new ideas or approaches fly around, the bottom line is profits and pleasing shareholder interests because, remember, shareholders give us the money. This is why we have to deliver quarterly results that are convincing and look good and we do whatever it takes to achieve this. Everything else comes second or third.

What’s so bad about it? – A business without customers and without a workforce doesn’t exist. It is not a question of what comes first, ‘chicken or egg!’. The purpose of a firm is to create value for the customer. And for this you need a functioning workforce. However, people are not resources or machines but human beings and want to be treated as such. Furthermore, giving them and sharing a motivation and vision of your business will carry your business a long way.

A journey to the future

I doubt it that these pitfalls are new to you. You have either experienced them by yourself, observed in organizations and companies, have read or heard about them. On the other side, you have probably heard of companies that have already arrived in the Digital Age, that don’t talk about or plan the future of work but practice it. There are numerous companies out there and the numbers are growing. The question is if you want to be among them or left behind. And, if you do want to follow suit, what do you want to invest and what are your immediate next steps?

If you are interested, Motivate2B accompanies you on this journey. May it be in workshops, seminars, coaching, consulting or business partnerships. Contact us to find out more.

Posted in: Creative Economy, Future of Work, Leadership

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