The World Is Changing Are We?
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy
What so many seem to be misunderstanding is that for humans, works is not about the paycheck we collect or the work we engage in. Work is about the purpose and meaning of our life’s desires met with the value we create by applying our skills to solve problems in the world. From hunter gatherer to farmer or factory worker to knowledge worker, humans have always been at the center of the effort required to bring new products, services, and information into the world. But looking at the decades ahead, many of the skills a majority of the world has depended upon for our work, if not survival, are quickly being replaced by technologies we can still barely understand. Couple this with the increased prevalence of a digital human – be it an avatar or robot – and we have to ask the question:
What does it mean to be a human in a digital world, and how do we unlock our capacities for a purposeful and meaningful life in the work we do?
Creating a culture of high performance
When it comes to the future of work, most organizations are missing the point. Executives are creating new future of work initiatives every day, but to what end? Many of these initiatives suffer from being too short term focused and reactive in nature, especially when it comes to an over obsessed focus on costs to the exclusion of many other factors.
Far too many initiatives are focused on incremental gains or efficiency-boosting activities. When organizations subscribe to this narrow perspective, the work of tomorrow will be the same as the work of today.
For many leaders, creating a culture of high performance is a steadfast goal, but on that continues to remain elusive in the wake of a prioritized focus on measuring engagement outcomes rather than measuring the appropriate behaviors necessary to engage employees. This is most likely because most leaders don’t know what engagement looks like or worse yet, assume that becoming more engaged is the employee’s job and not theirs.
Action plans that result from measuring employee engagement shouldn’t focus solely on making the employees happier – what is needed is a broad strategic framework which provides structure, education, and an emphasis on the conditions which enable an employee to do their best work.
Imagine the benefits of a future of work strategy aimed at generating more value and meaning for the customer, the workforce, and other partners which will likely yield far greater earnings for a company over time than any short term cost reduction program ever will. But this is easier said than done. Why is change in our business so hard?
Culture does not change because we desire to change it, culture changes when the organization is transformed, culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.
- Frances Hesselbein
According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review article which asked this same question, among many potential explanations, one that gets very little attention may be the most fundamental reason why we don’t change is a result of “the invisible fears and insecurities that keep us locked into behaviors even when we don’t’ know rationally that they don’t serve us well”. Add to that anxiety that nearly all human beings experience in the face of change.
Nonetheless, most organizations pay far more attention to strategy and execution than they do to what their people are feeling and thinking when they’re asked to embrace a transformation. Resistance, especially when it is passive, invisible, and unconscious, can derail eve the best strategy.
Transforming human culture
The result is that transforming an organization, truly transforming any human culture, depends on transforming the individuals within – beginning with the most senior leaders and influencers exhibiting the courage to observe and understand their motivations, challenge their assumptions, and push beyond their intellectual and emotional comfort zones to increase their capacity for resilience in good times and bad. But “real leadership is dangerous” writes Ronald Heifetz in his 2002 book Leadership on the Line, “it requires guiding people through difficult transitions thereby challenging their daily habits, loyalties, beliefs, and ways of thinking. All that is offered in return for the possibility of change. In response to the uncertainty and pain, people blame those for pushing change.”
All this explains why the most effective transformation begins with what’s going on inside people – and especially the most senior leaders given their disproportionate authority and influence in any culture. Their challenge is to deliberately turn attention inward in order to begin noticing the fixed patterns in their thinking, how they’re feeling in any given moment, and how quickly the instinct for self-preservation can overwhelm rationality and a longer-term perspective, especially when the stakes are high.
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