The “Working” Culture and the Struggles of Social Business

Tim Kastelle recently shared his excellent post about flat management efforts at Zappos and how they paid about 210 people to leave if they didn’t like the direction of the organization. He went on to point out that in the past 12 days over 15,000 people were laid off in various industries (which can be seen on a site that tracks daily layoffs) as an exclamation point about the ridiculous attention Zappos is receiving. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Hopefully the 15,000 land quickly on their feet, hopefully they left on good terms. But I doubt it. Many may had been blindsided, many will struggle, many will be bitter. And when they do return to the world of work they will carry this memory with them. It will taint their perspective, attitudes and sense of trust.
Today much of the Future of Work conversation refers to organizational culture, the idea that in the confines of a single business people behave a certain way. Although this is true, I do think it overlooks a significantly larger culture, the Working Culture – a culture of workers ironically created by cumulative actions of all business.

Culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge. – Harold Jarche

Each worker’s experience contributes to the present Working Culture’s understanding, beliefs and practices. The Working Culture permeates organizations but isn’t easily diffused by an individual organization’s culture. So no matter what an organization’s efforts at “engagement” are, most employees are skeptical and will remain so.
This skepticism has developed over the past 25 years or so due to factors such as globalization, a focus on short-term results, systematic turnover (as noted in Tim’s post), contractual and temporary work, the demise of unions, automation, and outsourcing, etc.  Due to these factors loyalty is non-existent on both sides; employer and employees have disconnected from that part of the working relationship. A good lagging indicator of today’s Working Culture can be seen in the less than stellar adoption rates of enterprise social network platforms (ESN) and their failed promise of corporate-wide collaboration and cooperation. In an interview style post, Sahana Chattopadhyay elaborated on the nature of collaboration in work environments saying:
In many instances, [collaboration] takes place only at the team and project levels and does not radiate or percolate to other divisions.” 
I agree but would argue that this lack of adoption is found in MOST instances not just many.
When the work doesn’t “percolate”, it’s less about the tools that make the invisible visible and more about people just not caring enough about the work happening outside of their own areas. Care and trust are very intertwined and is happening at the point of work and not easily advancing beyond. Lack of leadership involvement and leadership style can be a barrier for sure, but so too is a workforce with an expectation of intentionally short tenures. Grow and go attitudes seem to dominate the Working Culture resulting in employees staying a mere 18-24 months (a far cry from the 20+ in generations past). Can that really be enough time to build trust and a level of community beyond the point of the work? The trust issue therefore is bigger than within an individual organizations, this is about trust of business as a whole and it is our social tools helping us to see this condition more clearly, not necessarily improving it.

Change happens one conversation at at time and those conversations can change organizations. But until a critical mass of organizations changes, the Working Culture will generally remain one that is jaded, suspicious and distant. “Change the practices and a new culture will emerge…

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