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.
I found it interesting to read an article on the NZ Herald talking about the industry of personality tests as a way used by organisations to reduce the risk of recruiting the wrong people. (p.s. as opposed to increasing the chance of hiring the best people). It’s unfortunately, supporting my view that the challenge we are facing in New Zealand and elsewhere is a problem of talent waste not shortage. Our fundamental assumptions about work are causing our economy to be stuck on no growth and less pay.
When I arrived in New Zealand 17 years ago I was lucky. I somehow landed an interview on the first week with a hiring manager who was open minded and inclusive. He had no issue to consider someone for a leadership position that had no New Zealand or industry experience and not the best English. If I was not that lucky then and try it today, I would have straggled to even pass the “sophisticated” screening tests. When later, I asked that person why he thought to hire me, his answer was “ability to demonstrate positive attitude, overcoming hardship and a passion for the task at hand”.
I took that answer as a guiding principle when later looking for people’s potential. However, throughout the years I was surprised to learn what are the common hiring and talent growth strategies and the way it is limiting potential with a set of assumptions that haven’t been tested. The current economy in New Zealand is of very low unemployment rate. This is considered a good problem to have. However, in this economy many of the existing recruitment and talents growth strategies are making organisation’s talents challenges even worse.
Screen for average
Organisations screen based on past skills and personality traits out of a very limited and not in their control pool. Because organisations assume these can limit mistakes. Most organisations recruit the same way: post a job, screen resumes, interview some people, pick whom to hire. This is hiring for average. Most top performers are not looking for work precisely because they are top performers, so they won’t be in that pool anyway. Further to that we apply screening as if we had plenty of candidates to select from based on criteria that no one can prove or link to performance. For example, why do we assume that to be an awesome UX designer in a bank requires previous experience in precisely the same job in the banking industry???.
Existing practices like Job descriptions and hiring decisions are entrenching biases not just based on gender, age, ethnicity etc. It is now becoming worse by the flooding of personality tests and AI key words, proclaiming to identify a fit with the organisation and the job before you even talk to the person. Most organisations are not really aware of the culture they currently have, and even if they do, not always this is the one they wish to have. What makes up a person is far more complex than a set of words or letters combination to describe their personality. With a year of research I found no evidence that anyone showed a validated, predictable link between common tests used and performance. All we do is screening out diversity. Even the approach of matching with a model persona designed based on your current top performers is problematic as it ensures more of the same. (There are decades of validated research about human personality psychology and motivation that are very useful for people to increase self awareness, it is more our understanding of how to use these researches that is the problem).
Filling the gaps
Hiring managers usually compromise on appointments to fill gaps assuming they can fix potential shortcomings with some training. Designing effective training is hard. It has to be personalised, in context, and internalised over a long period of time. In most cases organisations don’t actually know what and how to cause sustained improvement in performance, particularly when considering that a big (even if unknown) part of high performance is influenced by the environment (i.e. the manager, the team, the organisation culture, and the leadership style). Add to that the commonly held financial point of view of “we don’t expect to invest much in talent growth because we assume people move around anyway”. But what happens if you don’t? I passionately believe in expanding peoples strengths, ensuring every experience is a growth experience. This is a positive sum game, where everyone wins. Current approach ensures no growth hence flat productivity at best and people do leave, particularly the top performers because they are motivated by personal growth.
No use of data
We would have been better if we actually used data sourced from personality tests and other screening and performance data points to reflect and improve. Currently we still use like/ dislike and personal intuition as the best predictor of future success. Even if data is available, it is used only as supporting material at the beginning. Organisations don’t usually go back to reflect and improve. With a new sense making model , there is a huge opportunity to create new insights and positive actions based on big data derived from knowing people, knowing organisations and knowing performance.
To summaries, in my view there is an ever growing industry that is trying to pull the short blanket to cover skills gaps. This industry made not much difference in recent decades to people’s fulfillment or productivity growth. We have to fundamentally challenge our assumptions about work and the relationship between people, organisations and performance and design new strategies for a different future.
@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler and founder of Adaptive Futures.
I don’t watch most “reality” shows. I often find that these programmes exploit human weaknesses as a way to make cheap entertainment. However, I take an exception with MasterChef (the Australian version). I love good food and appreciate the creativity, innovation and mastery that go into making a master chef dish. Even more than that, I am inspired by how the show is able to create a space for ordinary cooks to bring their whole selves into this experience. It is a space where everyone is given an equal opportunity to show their skills, learn and grow. It is also a space that defines winning when someone is able to combine their passion and ongoing learning with giving it all to be better than their last dish.
So on that very serious note, here is what I took from MasterChef that you might be to take out from the kitchen and into your work life.
Learning from the To be Chefs
1. The courage to experiment
The strong players of the show are the ones that have a passion and mastered some type of dishes and techniques and can use these strengths as often as possible. But the winners are the ones that also always take some risks and try new combinations or a new way of doing things. The great players know that taking a risk can be the difference between moving to the next phase or going into elimination.
2. Achieve growth by competing to be better than your last dish
The best players are the people who stay focus on their own dishes, learn from their own mistakes and push themselves further. It does not matter how good was your previous dish, you are always judged on your last dish. It is also interesting to see that when you play to outperform your own last dish, it is easy to show generosity toward others. Others being great, does not take away from your own amazing creations.
3. At the same time, be coachable and confident with your own abilities
The show has amazing coaches, people that stand near the competitors, push them almost to their breaking point, challenge them to think differently and never tell what or how to do things. The winners are the ones that listen, take on board what is relevant but are also able, at the same time, to stay focus on their original vision and own instincts.
4. The real winners emerge after the show ends
The winners of the show get a positive nudge into their career as chefs. But it seems that some of the other participants have equally taken the experience as an opportunity to propel their own passions.
Learning from the winning dishes
1. The Ingredients are the base for amazing dishes
The more variety and better quality these ingredients are the better chances you have to create multiple, unique and desirable dishes. The same ingredients can make multiple dishes, all taste and look different. It is critical though to know what combinations work and which will be a culinary disaster. Think about your individual knowledge, skills, abilities and style as the ingredients and the dishes as your unique multiple value propositions.
2. A vision for the final dish
Regardless if you are following a recipe, or creating something totally new, you have to have a vision of how the final dish is going to look and taste like. If you don’t, most likely you will lose too much time trying and failing, so you will run out of time to deliver any dish at all. When you offer your talents to deliver value, you have to be clear what it is that you are actually offering.
3. It’s a science and an art
While knowing the techniques and mastering the cooking is important, the key for the final result is testing and adjusting all the time. Your end results are only as good as your testing sense.
At work, it is not just your own talents and specific work that come into play, the organisation, the team and the customers are all impacting the end result. You have to strive for mastery but you equally need to have the ability to sense and adapt in real time.
4. Looks is important but the taste is the key
How the dish is plated is important because people eat with their eyes first. But it is not enough; if the taste is disappointing there won’t be a second spoon. Having a great CV, a polished pitch or rehearsed interview answers is important when first engaging but it is the true value you create that matter for a sustainable work future.
Hadas is a Future of Work Enabler
There is a growing acknowledgement of the link between the type of culture that exists in an organisation, the level of personal engagement and the organisation’s overall success. However, only few organisations cracked the secret of how to move their culture and leverage it for strategic advantage.
In response to a previous post, I was asked a question about culture. While being a very popular topic on the leadership agenda I feel that clarity on what it is and what to do with it will be helpful. In this post, I bring together some of the simpler and, in my view, more comprehensive researches. I hope to turn the culture conversation from a “fluffy/ too hard/ nice to have…“, into a useful tool for both individuals and organisations growth.
Definition of culture
Culture is not posters on the walls, what the CEO declares as the new way, the managers’ personal style, or what is agreed in the strategic plan. Herb Kelleher (founder of southwest airlines) describe it as “…It’s not formulaic. The way I describe it is this huge mosaic that you’re always adding little pieces to make it work. And it’s not a job that you do for six months and then you just say, “Well, that’s behind us.” It’s something you do every day”
Culture is defined by the attitudes and behaviours of the majority of people in the organisation. this includes what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within the group. It is the day to day of the collective, and because of that, it is hard to change. Culture is the how in which strategy is executed. Culture can support and promote the organisation strategy or hinder it. When aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash significant amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and a thriving organisation.
- Culture stage can be described by the words most people use in the organisation in relation to the way people interact with each other and the way in which they respond to change.
- Culture is an evolutionary process. As such, with intentional effort leadership can evolve an organisation’s culture. However like with any evolution, you can’t skip stages, you can’t stabilise the change until a tipping point is achieved, and you can’t time it.
- Since culture is a group phenomenon, most people in the organisation should be at the same stage to allow evolution. But, for exactly the same reason, unstable culture can disintegrate into lower stages.
- People “fit” into the different cultures is described in a similar way using personality traits. Note that for earlier stages of cultures, “fit” is achieved through fear vs. the individual’s preferences.
- Inherent in the framework are fundamental trade-offs. Although each cultural value can be beneficial on its own, natural constraints and competing demands force difficult choices about which values to emphasise and how people are expected to behave.
The dominating culture across the western world is the culture of stage 3. The achievement worldview profoundly shapes today’s management practices. Most business leaders, MBA programs and management thinking are shaped by the hallmarks of this culture. Hence, when considering a shift from stage 3 to 4 it is particularly challenging because the current culture had served the organisations well for many years. Since the industry emphasises efficiency and results, this culture is perceived by most management as a strength.
However, this culture that created the prosperity of the modern world is also the one that is depleting the world’s natural resources and destroying the ecosystems upon which our survival depends. It is the culture of few winners and increasing inequality. It is a culture that is solely materialistic and that does not answer to humans longing for meaning and being part of something bigger.
People and organisations that have chosen to evolve to be part of a culture that operates at stage 4 and 5 report feeling more alive and having more fun, learning becomes effortless and stress goes down, engagement is consistently high hence people seek employment in the company and stay, taking the company a long way toward having the talents to succeed.
Descriptions of each stage
Historically, organisations emerged when tribes organised to attack neighbouring tribes. Today this culture still exists in organisations like the Mafia or drug-dealing street gangs. Other examples are enterprises where founder-bosses do whatever it takes to succeed. They get involved in everything, regardless of structures or processes that would constrain their ability to “get things done”.
At this stage of cultural evolution, people are united by the fear and basic instincts of survival. When they are together, they form isolated gangs with absolute loyalty to the group. The theme of their words is that life has given them a bad deal, so it’s ok to do whatever it takes to survive.
Organisations at this stage have clear ranks up the hierarchical pyramid. Many armies, religious institutions, government agencies, public school systems, and universities are still run today along the lines of this culture. They often operate on the hidden assumption that there is one right way of doing things, that the world should not change, and that lifelong employment should be the norm.
The focus of this culture is on predictability, risk consciousness and careful planning, respect, structure, and shared norms.
Under the protection of rules and traditions, people usually do the minimum to get by, showing almost no initiative or passion. Passive-aggressive behaviour is the norm, i.e. people spend their time ignoring the organisation directives while telling people in charge that they are on board.
At this cultural stage, the organisation metaphor is the organisation as a machine. The people in the organisation use the language of units and layers, inputs and outputs, efficiency and effectiveness, information flows and bottlenecks, Humans are resources, re-engineering and rightsizing.
In this culture, the values are authority and results. The culture is characterised by achievement and winning, strength, decisiveness, and boldness.
The work environments are competitive places where people strive to gain personal advantage and aspire to achieve top performance. People engage in anything that’s going on, with energy and commitment, but when you listen closely, they talk mostly about themselves and focus on appearing smarter and better than others. People operating in this stage usually complain that they don’t have enough time or support and that the people around them aren’t as good or as committed as they are. Winning is all that matters, and winning is personal.
At stage four, the organisation language is about family or a community. Where everyone has a place, where colleagues look after one another, where the happiness of every member is important to the organisation’s overall success. The leaders in this culture often strive to inspire employees to great things, leading them to outperform more traditional command-and-control organisations.
This culture value Learning and Enjoyment characterised by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity often expressed through fun and excitement. Work environments are inventive and open-minded places where people generate new ideas and explore alternatives and where people tend to do what makes them happy.
People form partnerships and operate as part of teams that are focused around shared values and has a common purpose. People build relationships based on shared values and the language is about what is the right thing to do, not what is good for me.
There are very few organisations that operate consistently at stage 5. If you listen to the leaders of these organisations, they talk about their organisation as a living organism or a living system (as opposed to a machine or a family). In this culture, people collaborate and work toward a noble cause, propelled from their values.
In this culture, leadership has a different role. When Jos de Blok (Buurtzog) was asked how is he motivating the people that work for Buurtsog his answer was ” I am not. This is a sort of patronizing, I think. My most important assignment is to keep out all the problems so that people can do their work”.
The culture is of caring and purpose. Caring focuses on relationships and mutual trust. Work environments are warm, collaborative, and welcoming places where people help and support one another. Loyalty unites the employees; Purpose is exemplified by idealism and altruism. Work environments are tolerant, compassionate places where people try to do good for the long-term future of the world.
In this culture, the group is focused on creating a better world not about winning over the competition. People talk about limitless potential, caped only by the imagination and the group commitment. People in this culture can find a way to work with almost anyone, as long as their commitment to values is at the same intensity as their own. There is almost no fear, stress, or workplace conflict.
Evolving organisation’s culture is not easy; however, it is one of the only few levers left with leaders who want to create a long-term sustainable and impactful organisation. Leadership has a critical role in enabling the desired culture. In order to shift a culture, you have to consider the following:
- Accurately assess your own and your organisation’s cultural stage. Understand what outcomes different cultures produce and how it does or doesn’t align with the current and anticipated market and business conditions. When designing a target culture, it has to be in context and relate to tangible problems
- Foster leadership that is more culturally advanced than the organisation current stage. The leaders must align with the values of the target culture and committed to personal growth.
- Be able to understand and talk all culture stages languages as you enable the evolution of the individuals which might be at different stages.
- Be ready to shift your concept of leadership. At stage 4 and 5 leaders have no directive power, their primary role is to “hold the space” for the culture to emerge and that no earlier stages practices creep back in.
@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler and founder of Adaptive-Futures
Boris Groysberg, J. L.-J. (January – February 2018). The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture. HBR.
Based on the latest PWC CEO survey, “New Zealand CEOs are being ‘kept awake at night’ as a nation-wide shortage of people with digital skills threatens local businesses”. The survey highlights that while the problem of talent crisis is felt globally, it perceived to be bigger in New Zealand. The focus is on what is called digital skills with jobs for data scientists, designers and programmers being particularly hard to fill. PWC mentions in their report that this issue of talent has been raised a few years ago and so far we are not seeing enough progress to solve it.
The talent crisis – origins
I believe that the talent crisis and the environmental crisis originated from the same fundamental values and beliefs of the western society that we are living in. Some of these beliefs are:
- Economic growth is the most important indicator of success – this is in many cases exclusive or at least dominating indicator for growth in the political, financial and businesses agendas. It was interesting and encouraging to read the New Zealand Treasury publication of the Living Standards Framework.
- Mass production and efficiency – the belief that these are the best ways to achieve abundance needed for human consumption. This fundamental belief drives our education system and management systems.
- Consumption – We are now obsessed with the notion that consuming goods is the best and in many cases the only way for happiness.
- Progress – the belief that has driven the industrial revolution that technology will solve all human problems and hence with technology innovation progress will continue forever. The climate changes are a good example to why we should view everything as complex and interdependent.
The talent crisis – possible ways forward
Climate changes and pollution are a clear symptom of the environmental crisis. It is now forcing most governments, financial institutions, scientists, and organisations to take actions. The talent crisis is not yet that visible. However assuming it caused by the same beliefs, I suggest we take a similar approach to address it. This approach has to go as deep as changing our beliefs:
- Take a holistic approach– Human talent is diverse and it brings value in many and sometimes unpredictable ways. I believe that in order to create the talents of the future we should consider redefine talents, how these are being applied and how we reward talents that are creating value in paid and non-paid jobs.
- Sustainable behavior – Organisations can approach talents in a way that improves people, community, and overall social performance as well as meet their own needs. For example: spending effort and time discovering already existing talents within an organisation before trying to replace or buy externally, sharing skills that are in short supply by creating and supporting true freelancer’s open market, considering and having clear strategies for an ongoing retirement of skills and the development of new ones.
- Self-management – enable an environment that allows people to grow and develop their own talents in their own unique way. Businesses and management should step away from trying to control how people enabled in this environment and allow more flexibility in applying their talents in unexpected and creative ways.
- Nurture diversity and interdependency – environment strategies emphasise the critical role that biodiversity plays in the earth overall health. In a similar way, organisations should focus on developing strategies that nurture the diversity and focus on enabling collaboration and interdependency
@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler
It seems that in the last few months, everyone is joining in on the predictions and speculations regarding the Future of Work and the anxiety levels regarding this topic are increasing. It is not hard to see why many are confused:
- The first signs of mega changes in big corporates, where a significant number of jobs are dramatically changing or altogether disappearing.
- The war for the scarce skills required with the emerging new technologies and new ways of working is heating up.
- The lack of clarity on an individual level about the future of work.
In essence, we are looking at three megatrends:
- Technology – e.g. Big Data, Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning, Nanotechnology, cloud and Internet of things.
- Globalisation and socio-economic and demographic changes –e.g. mobility of people and goods, aging population, millennials.
- Social expectations – i.e. transparency, distribution of knowledge, no hierarchies, equality and diversity, convergence.
Personally, I don’t share Elon Musk’s warning about “Artificial Intelligence as an existential threat to mankind” being optimistic and hopeful, I believe we as humans will do better. However, I do think a crisis is looming and if we do nothing the future might not favor most humans. I call it the talent crisis. How we as Humans adapt to this changing world is the key to what is possible and what is probable.
The future of work – The invincible syndrome of the professionals
I like to use the analogy of a product when describing talents. Consider your collection of abilities, skills, knowledge education and experiences as your unique and valuable talents products. In a digital era, it will be wise to continually adapt your products, through being agile and tentative to the market expectations, focus on what is valuable, being ahead of the competition by pivoting all the time, keeping relevant. Think about Netflix and the blockbuster chain and now original content creation, Uber and the taxi companies and now food delivery. How many of us actively continuously working to be ready when disruption to our own jobs will come?
The future of work – The (non) relevancy of career paths
We start to assemble talent at kindergarten, and then batched by age we go through the education system and then work, mostly dictated by the subjects we picked up at school and usually one job at a time. At doing that we became addicted to job titles and career promotions. The problem life is not linear; the notion that you can take your subjects learned at schools like Math and English and apply these to real-life problems is redundant. Talents evolve organically and now also rapidly. We create our lives as we explore our talents and vice versa and we have to adapt our learning in that way.
The future of work – Best practice does not favor humans
The other big issue is the lack of diversity inherent in the system (known as best practice). Human talent is tremendously diverse. People have very different abilities and preferences. But most systems (education and work) are not designed for accepting diversity; they are more like production lines designed for efficiency. So the reason so many people are opting out of education, or left behind at work is that it doesn’t feed their passion. We have to start enabling a way in which people understand and recognise their own talents as early as possible and are encouraged and enabled to develop their own solutions of how to grow, nurture and use their talents for value creation.
In recent weeks I traveled the country talking to many people about the future of work and I am hopeful with the talents and passion I met and the shared concern for the future. However, we are still missing a sense of urgency and a call for action on every level. The future of work requires new and different mix of humans’ talents and the catch is that these talents are also the ones required in order to design it. So are you doing something about it, or waiting for what is probable?
@Hadas Wittenberg is a Future of Work enabler