CEO's Note: Profit, Purpose and Personal Fulfillment Can Thrive Together - A Remarkable New Organisational Construct
“If we can’t think outside the traditional organizational structure, the best we can do is to try and patch up the unhealthy consequences of power inequality with more enlightened leadership.” Frederic Laloux
As I discussed in my last article on why evolving your culture is, ultimately, the only way to win, the cycle of boom to bust is more akin to a slow death cycle given the construct of most of today’s companies. It is time to evolve or face extinction.
The old constructs found in most organisations simply don’t work for us anymore. People - you, your staff and your customers – are evolving, they are looking for something more. If you have any doubts about this, just look at people across the generations and you will quickly see a pattern – the younger people are, the more they expect. This isn’t about money, it’s about meaning.
After many attempts to implement significant changes and travel the road to transformation in traditional organisations, I know two things for certain: enlightened leadership is an improvement but not the answer, and the only person who can drive a true transformation in ‘the way things are done around here’ is the CEO or the Board, whoever is the ultimate decision maker.
A conversation with my former boss a couple of years back, when taking on his new role, centred around how to create lasting transformation in that part of the company. The problem we were trying to solve was difficult to articulate at first, too often the brand experience of customers who contacted us was atrocious, there was an immediate need to stop hemorrhaging money, and the culture that pervaded that part of the company – which accounted for almost a third of the staff – seemed like it was taken straight from the Lego movie, it had been heavily micromanaged.
I remember recommending that his leadership team read, action and embed Patrick Lecioni’s ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ and ‘The Three Signs Of A Miserable Job’. My opinion at the time was these leadership fables tell you everything you need to know to get started building your team and creating a culture that will work for everyone in today’s world – win-win-win (bottom line, staff and customers).
However what I missed is, regardless of how enlightened the leadership, in organisations where there is a management and support structure, all the processes and systems required to maintain each span of control breed mistrust in all those people who are not in those roles – often the very people doing the work that is the lifeblood of the organisation.
If you have any doubts about that, think about the way information is handled, especially if there is a sensitive change taking place. All the classifications about who gets to know what basically tells everyone who is ‘not in the know’ they can’t be trusted.
This week Frederic Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organisations' arrived in my mailbox. As soon as I read the words “The way we manage organisations seems increasingly out of date, deep inside we sense that more is possible. We long for soulful workplaces, for authenticity, community, passion and purpose.” I knew I had to have a copy; especially given that the book describes in practical detail how organisations large and small can operate successfully in this new paradigm.
This was a book Laloux wrote after researching pioneering organisations that have been operating on breakthrough principles for a long time, as much as 30 or 40 years, and not just with a handful, but with a few hundred and sometimes tens of thousands of employees. Among the pioneers are for-profit as well as nonprofit organisations, retailers, manufacturing companies, an energy company, a food producer as well as a school and a group of hospitals.
Back when I wrote Better Brand and Bottom Line – Ditch Your Call Centre, I cited many examples of the ridiculously expensive, soul destroying practices that surround call centres, a common function in many organisations. The conclusion in that article was to ‘cut out the middlemen’, let those developing products and services talk directly to their customers. In Laloux’s study he concludes the same, only in reference to the entire management and traditional support structure of any given organisation.
This may sound radical and unworkable, especially if you are in just the type of role rendered redundant in the blueprint of these new organisations. However, ask yourself, just how content are you in your role? Do you feel you are really making a difference? Are you able to be completely yourself, the real you, or is there a ‘corporate’ version of you that turns up? Are you valued for the breadth of talents, passions and purpose that drive you?
Like Laloux, I believe change is inevitable, and was excited to read concrete examples of companies that had transitioned from the traditional hierarchical structures we largely have today, to a very different paradigm. In those cases, the vast majority of the management and support teams remained with the company, albeit without their previous ‘powers’. Instead, these people found roles that added real value, in a way that allowed them to be more whole.
What Laloux has written manages to interweave personal fulfilment and enlightenment, together with a fairly easily understood - yet scholarly - look at human development, giving context to organizational development. Most importantly, he describes in every crucial aspect what one needs to know to create such organisations.
‘Getting over our bad selves’, an expression I’ve heard people say jokingly with increased frequency, is key to making this transition. If you are still reading this, it means there’s at least a part of you ready to transcend ego and ambition for wholeness and purpose. For those who are the ultimate decision maker in your organisation, here is a workable way forward, a necessity for us to thrive. For those intending to start a company, you’re in the enviable position of being given a blueprint.
What about the vast majority of you who are feeling ‘stuck’ in your role? Reading this may have given you a glimpse of something you now feel is beyond your grasp; it isn’t. Your actions will hasten change. If you can focus on the goal of uncovering your innermost self and being true to that, as I describe in Making the Shift from Ambition to Purpose, we will all be one step closer to a better world.
This article was originally published in LinkedIn.
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