It’s time for the revolution.
Can you sense the changes coming?
The warning signs are all around us.
- The Great Resignation
- The epidemic of burnout
- Alarming increases in mental illness
- Increasing conflict post covid
People are exhausted, angry and they can’t do this anymore. Something has to break. We can’t go on piling more and more pressure on without something breaking. And at the moment it’s people breaking.
They’re snapping at colleagues.
They’re walking out of jobs.
Let alone what’s happening in their private lives.
The world of work has to recognise that there’s a distinct shift in the dynamics of business. These dynamics are what will determine winning and losing teams and projects.
The World Has Changed
Social dynamics are like tectonic plates. They shift imperceptibly, but they change everything. We don’t notice any change and suddenly the ground underneath us erupts.
#Black Lives Matter
Climate change and too many more shifts to mention.
They are all a part of a shift in power dynamics.
Henry Ford and the old mills and mines could fight with their employees and still be hugely successful. But that was then. So much has changed since then.
There’s A Difference Between Resources And People
In the old world most of what we did was logistical.
We mined and farmed for resources. We turned those raw materials into something new. We created industrial processes to scale production for the mass market.
We squeezed costs through economies of scale, but there is only so much you can squeeze the orange before there’s no more juice. We found creative ways to create new markets, sell more products, engineer finances and make more and more money.
In short, the advanced economies shifted focus from making things to making things happen.
While it takes less and less people to harvest more produce and produce more stuff, we continue to employ more and more people. Now over a billion employees are ‘Knowledge Workers’. These are the bright sparks who use their expertise to create new opportunities.
Without knowledge workers finding new ways to do more with less, we’d have run out of ways to grow. So the future depends on these hero’s constantly changing the way we play the game.
We Used To Mine For Resources… Now We Mine People
In the past we mined for natural resources to make thing with.
Now we mine people’s knowledge, creativity and personalities to make things happen.
The crash is coming because while collectively this group have been responsible for much of the economic growth over the last few decades, they haven’t always been treated like heroes.
In fact they’ve often been used and abused by companies who threatened and cajoled them and then cut them loose to make their quarterly numbers. They’ve been pressured to miss important family events and prioritise a key project over downtime. They’ve been made to compromise their integrity, to make tough choices and to sacrifice their wellbeing.
For their Bosses to make an arbitrary stock price?
For Pension Funds to beat the market?
For their CEO to get his bonus?
The world has dramatically changed from the days when the factory was the path to a secure and stable income. Today’s dynamics are qualitatively different from any other time in history.
Knowledge Workers Are An Asset Not A Cost
In the past money was made by those who had the capital to own the means of production.
Today, money is made by those who have the ideas to create, increase or save money.
In other words, in most companies knowledge workers drive business growth more than a production process. Yet, while we have sophisticated marketing, finance, research and technology departments, we haven’t changed the relationship we have with employees.
Workers have more legal rights. They have people to complain to when a lecherous colleague crosses the line. They probably even have a counselling line to call if things are getting on top of them.
But we haven’t addressed the elephant in the room.
That is, that there is a tension between the good of the employee and the good of the firm. In the old factories, profit was the margin between the output of the factory and the costs of production.
Too many companies still see the game in that light, despite the dynamics completely changing. They see employees as a bottom line cost instead of an asset to be nurtured.
The Problem With Managing
And so they want to manage people. Just as they managed the production process, cashflow and projects.
If you really want to understand a dynamic you can understand the lineage of an idea by exploring the intent of the word. Manage comes from the root word of manus or man, which means to handle. The word originally meant to handle or train a horse.
One of the biggest complaints employees have is being micro-managed. Yet the nature of the way we think about ‘managing’ has set up a dynamic that Managers think it is what they should be doing.
We need to change the frame of how we see the relationship between employees and the organisation.
Manage Projects, Inspire People, Unite Teams
We need to manage projects, resources and costs. But let’s stop trying to manage people and instead inspire them so they want to do great things and unite teams so we create an unstoppable force.
Managing people is a thankless and soul destroying task. It constantly puts you in difficult situations where you often can’t win. And it pits you between an organisation that constantly wants more for less and people who want to be valued for their individuality.
Creating an unstoppable force is about building momentum and reducing friction.
In most work environments friction is created by poor information flow because of poor communication.
The Real Problem With Communication
However, as Einstein said, no problem can be solved from the same level of thinking that created it.
The problem isn’t really communication. Communication is like water, it flows naturally until something stops it. What stops it mostly are human factors like;
- We’re busy and don’t think
- We want power/revenge and withhold it
- We operate in silos and so there’s barriers
- We are scared to speak honestly and deal with the consequences of the information getting out and possible conflict/blame/shame
Relationships Are Framed By The Context They Sit Within
The real problem is the frame that our relationships sit within. This sets the context for the relationships and so the culture of an organisation. It starts with how we see the relationship between people and the organisation.
If we see people as a cost, there’s a very different context to seeing people as an asset?
Then it cascades down into whether we see people as things we have to direct or humans we inspire?
Are departments something that competes for resources and rewards or people that collaborate together?
These choices create the environment that determines whether employees operate like Capos in the Mafia carving out their own power bases or like climbers giving each other a hand to get up sharp inclines.
Why Would You Manage When You Could Inspire And Unite?
As a mid-level manager you can’t necessarily change the culture of an organisation. But you can change your corner of it. You can still create the most united team within that organisation.
You can reduce the friction within your team. You can reduce the friction between you and them. And there’s plenty of reasons why you should….
• Better communication (Scenius) – multiple perspectives, cross-pollination
• Better decisions (Truth) – more diverse sources of information – less cognitive bias
• More capacity (Synergy) – more engagement and more focus on work, less on politics, emotions etc
• More efficiency (Effectiveness) – less and shorter meetings –
• Quicker execution (trust) – trust reduces friction
• Less stress –
• Less conflict
We can never have free communication until we create a sense of Psychological Safety. That is the relationships that create trust, acceptance, challenge and high performance.
Managing is lonely.
When you inspire people and unite them with a common purpose you get propelled by the momentum of the sum of their energy and enthusiasm.
To sum up, as a manager you have a choice. You can manage people or you can inspire them.
If you manage them, you are alone against the world. There’s extra stress on you because you have to do your work, plus monitor and course correct their mistakes or lack of motivation. Plus your mode of operation is increasing the stress levels of your team and so they are operating at a lower level.
When you inspire and unite them, you are united against the challenges you face. You have others who have your back and can cover for your weaknesses. You have a team that challenges each other so the onus is not always on you. And you have an environment where people are thriving and give more and find more levels of depth.