Recently I discussed with an HR director about helping people to discover their passions and understand how they can use these effectively to create a meaningful and fulfilling work(places). The first reaction was “That sounds very interesting and great for the participants, I am sure we will be interested when we are not as busy as now”. Since busy is the new word for no, we did a bit more digging. So, the second reaction came “But what happens if they all decide that they should resign and do something else? It will be really confusing for the people and we can’t really afford that to happen”. I appreciated this comment, voicing an underlining assumption is a massive step forward. Subsequently, we continued the conversation.
This director is not alone. Centuries of hierarchy and control shaped this underlining assumption. For example, some leaders believe they should care and protect their teams from needing to make stressful decisions. Others assume that knowledge is power. Because they believe that if you want to hold the power you should be very selective about how you share knowledge, else anarchy will happen and you won’t be able to corral the people to do your will. Don’t go as far as the church or the king, look at the latest “transformation”/ “change” programme that you were involved in. What was the level of transparency, frequency and accuracy of information passing the organisation top down, sideways and bottom-up? How much effort was invested in editing the news to ensure work continues? How much time was invested in people creating value vs. waiting to see their fate?
Yuval Harary in his book, The 21 Lessons For The 21st Century, summarise it as: “We are now creating tame humans that produce enormous amounts of data and function as very efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but these data-chips hardly maximise the human potential. Indeed we have no idea what the full human potential is, because we know so little about the human mind. And yet we hardly invest much in exploring the human mind, and instead focus on increasing the speed of our Internet connections and the efficiency of our Big Data algorithms ”
Transformation/change programmes are hard and often fail also because the few try to use their power to push forward the many. But what if we change our assumption about the power of knowledge and the direction of energy and we learn how to enable organisations that attract the energy of the many, their passions and their motivations and use it to thrive forward?. There are great examples of organisations that already do that (for example Patagonia, Buutzorg and The morning star). The common for all is that all the people involved with these organisations are powerful to do the right things for their organisation to thrive, they are pulled by opportunities to create real value and they will go the extra mile to make that happen. For that, we have to reframe our assumptions about power and control. We have to make sure workers regain the ability to think for themselves, shape their own future and tap into their full potential. The secret for thriving organisations is a simple equation: PASSIONS + POSITIVELY MOTIVATING CONTEXT = VALUE AND FULFILMENT
I already wrote about the need for individuals finding their Ikigai, organisational purpose, breakthrough values and a higher conscious culture. I think what is missing is a conversation about leaders’ shared accountability to create a better future for all (not just for themselves or their shareholders or the selective few). We have to start investing in creating an environment of self-learners, motivated and powerful individuals. It starts with investing in people and leaders self-awareness and a way to make sense of that awareness for a better future. Yes of course, some people are comfortable where they are, and some will realise their future is somewhere else. But most with newly acquired awareness will be better equipped to direct their energy instead of wasting it, looking for the opportunities to create value instead of waiting for the instruction manual, channel their energy for thriving, not for power and control games, and help leaders to be clearer on what positively motivate vs what is not.
If you chose to be a leader, you have taken a care accountability. You have to ensure a better future for the people in your care, not by further taming them but rather by ensuring they thrive in the future regardless of the circumstances.
Note aside: The mentioned HR director agreed to feature in this blog J
Hadas Wittenberg is a Future of Work enabler and the founder of Adaptive Futures. Adaptive Futures is a sense-making framework for people and organisations reimagining WORK that works.