Building organizations, where people want to show up

With the radical development in technology and society, how do we build great workplaces?

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Photo by Marius Ciocirlan on Unsplash

Clearly, both the technological development and the shifts in society has changed the way we go to work. The search for meaning and purpose exists both in the individual employee and in the organizational culture. Our understanding of what a professional network is has developed radically with the strong footprint of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Diversity in gender, age, background, and cognitive mastery is becoming a prerequisite for creativity, innovation, and competitiveness – and for well-being.

All this is changing the way we must build organizations such that they are communities where people want to show up and feel like they belong. We must create places, that are relevant to ourselves, to our colleagues, and to our customers.

But how do you do that?

New guiding principles for the future

After spending nearly 5 years with leaders who strive to embrace the future of work I’ve tried to codify the guiding principles of their behaviour; the guidelines that are found across industries and team size. As it turns out, they all have these things in common for the way they lead and nurture their organizations.

Most prominently, they put people first. Not customers or employees, but people. They have a genuine interest in both the professional and personal identities of everybody they interact with, being their own leader, their peers, the employees, the customers, the subcontractors, even the competitors. They show a respect for the individual man or woman and tries to understand the different viewpoints of everybody before making decisions. “Listen and involve before you decide” is a mantra.

Secondly, they ensure that there is a clear purpose, meaningfulness, and sense-making with every activity, and with the overall direction, and they strive to focus on value-creation as well as profitability.

Third, in a world with constant changes, predictability of technology development and market needs is becoming lower and lower. To accommodate that, the modern leaders encourages experimentation and innovation everywhere. Classically, this happens in products and processes, but the modern leader experiments with leadership too, e.g. with weekly measurements of happiness, with network-based mentoring, or with marketplaces for distribution of tasks and projects. This kind of experimentation is also fueled by short and more agile project planning, and an eagerness to make decisions with less knowledge than we’re used to.

Fourth, these leaders are very hungry for making things happen, and have an insatiable drive for results. They motivate and engage the people, coach them, set direction, are ambitious, and make the goals clear, transparent, and tangible.

Finally, the modern leader believes in distributed leadership and the power of the team. Everybody can take a lead in this kind of organizations – of small projects, of deliverables, of processes, but everybody also has the right to be coached and supported. This philosophy requires the modern leader to be a follower too; when someone else takes a lead on a task.

The paradigm shift of organizational leadership and culture

Now, it might seem like this kind of leadership is all happiness and feel-good, and a total loss of control and management. It’s not. The modern workplace is not a place where you lose control. The control is just distributed to more hands. The modern leader understands, that it is a 1-to-5 balance between old-school management and new-school leadership styles. This is the paradigm shift: To understand the mechanisms of both styles, to know what they are great at, and to master what it takes to mix them at the right situations.

When you behave according to the guiding principles above, some interesting things happen. Higher retention, longer tenure, and fewer sick days, as found in the cases of Danske Bank, Pingala, and ProActive, three Danish modern organizations.

Clearly, the modern organizations are places, where you want to show up.

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