Changing the Narrative Around Work

I often speak of org design and the intra systems that influence company behaviors. Things like company policy, procedures, recognition and rewards. But there are also greater inter or macrosystems at play which speak to a larger Culture of Work as opposed to the culture IN a workplace. For example take the adage of one who “works to live” as opposed to lives to work. This simply mean that one is just making money to support a lifestyle. But honestly, who would truly desire 8+ hours of tedium or passionless work to fuel their lives IF they could do different. It’s 8+ hours, often in the prime of the day. “Work to Live” isn’t a badge of honor, it’s a white flag of surrender. It’s just acceptance of the narrative of the system, a system that teaches that hard work only (or must) = emotional or physical pain to truly be work. A system narrative that positions work as a necessary evil.

So what systems change could alter this narrative and bring greater life satisfaction and passion to workplaces? It’s the one thing that hangs over most employees forcing our behaviors and beliefs about the point and purpose of work.

Systems -> Behaviors -> Beliefs

You see, for many, the reason for staying at a job they don’t like (behavior) is because of their need for affordable healthcare (system). This all results in resentment and a passionless approach to work being seen only as a means to an end (beliefs). If you change the system where healthcare is not a financial burden, how many would stay in those jobs and not instead pursue their passions? How many would either go it solo or work with greater passion in organizations they believed in? Wouldn’t this bring greater value to themselves, clients and/or company and change the Culture (of work)?

Change the system, changes the behavior and ultimately changes the beliefs… new stories will emerge.

A Social Org is a Conversational Org

I talk a lot about a social organization and James Tyer and I will elaborate in our book, Social By Design, but I thought it would be helpful to share what we mean. A social organization is a conversational organization. And yes, all types exist and are encouraged as knowing people on a deeper level aids in work relationships. However what orgs need is work conversations and not just those that help work get done more effective and efficiently but conversations that continually challenge HOW work gets done, to improve it for the benefit of company, individual worker and culture.

These conversations spur innovation and creativity. Work is the object that social forms around. But for work to be critically discussed, the processes and protocols, those written and unwritten must be revealed. It’s only with transparency and openness that people can see and contribute in meaningful ways. therefore it’s openness and transparency can enable a social organization to exist.

The 702010 Learning (Department) Model

I’ve always felt L&D as a department was kind of forced into that space since that’s how traditional organizational design works; skills, tasks, departments, etc. But unlike Accounting or Marketing, “learning” doesn’t play nice with ROI. We have also come to accept that “learning” doesn’t come in one flavor, i.e. training. Most, however, subscribe to the idea that people learn in doing their work, finding information, chatting with peers and experts AND then from training. Yet most L&D departments are made up primarily of training professions. This has to change.

Where many have gone wrong with 702010 is in treating it as a learning model and trying to build to some arbitrary percentages, i.e. “we need to be learning informally 70% of the time!“. No, 702010 as I’ve noted is more a principle or rule like gravity. It just is, deal with it. And maybe the best way to deal with it is by using it to build the best of kind L&D department, The Modern Learning Department.

If the majority of learning happens in and through the work we do, then organizations would be wise to invest most heavily in KM methodology and technology. Additionally, they’d need to provide new incentives and capability to help people move newfound ideas more easily into their public sphere. Incentive changes to be in reward, recognition and success measure changes as well as a reposition of management to be focused on support and growth. To do this there would then need to be significant IT and Org Design skills in this new L&D department. Next, if people learn much in social exchanges then the org needs to better invest in community management capabilities, internal comms and communications/social technology, as well as coaches and mentors embedded in the various workflows. And finally, to a lesser extent, training. If compliance box-checking is required then, of course, you need ID and elearning skills. But if not, traditional training and trainers will be the smallest part to make up this new model for L&D.

With the right mix to meet the real ways people learn, organizations can break free of the defaults we’ve seen for decades; training-centric.

To recap, A Modern Learning Department:

  • 70% (Most) KM professionals, Org Designers, IT
  • 20% (Much) Social Tech, Community Management, Internal Comms, Coaching and Mentoring
  • 10% (Some) Trainers, ID’s, eLearning Developers

Social Leadership: Encourage, Support or Model? Pick One.

Three ways leadership can advance social in their organization are through encouragement, support, or modeling. Let’s say if you have to have leadership pick only one, which would it be?

I’d argue it’s modeling. Here’s why.

By the very connotation of the word, Leader, Leaders lead the way. They go first. They don’t direct, they don’t point and tell, they do. You could be CEO, Sr. Division Manager or occupant of cube 31. If you do, and people follow, you’re leading.

When you’re consciously and strategically advancing org social, you have to model and here’s how it can look:

Explain to your followers (peers, reports, employees, etc) what you would like to see them do, why, and then ask them for their support in YOUR efforts to do the same. Tell them what barriers you may have and ask them what theirs are. Then discuss all openly.  In one fell swoop, you’re in it. You’re sharing, you’re inviting collaboration, and you’re modeling how to blow through silos.

Modeling is encouraging. Modeling is supportive.


Every Leader is a Follower Too

Let’s be honest, when people say “leader” they really mean manager or someone in the c-suite. Next, people think if these folks could become better listeners, build trust, reveal their failures, do the thing and everyone will follow, etc. then the trickle-down cultural effect will be amazing. Well, it’s not. Like you, I’ve been reading this kind of stuff 10x a day, every day… for like 10 years now. So why aren’t leaders changing? Why isn’t this new way the norm rather than the exception by now?

Here’s why. It’s the system. Either the system they subscribe to or the system that’s imposed on them. The system is just org design things like rewards, recognition, measures, value, etc. A simple truth is that most “leaders” got to where they are by understanding these systems. They mastered them. Now YOU want them to change and go against the system that sustains them. Your efforts at influencing might get some small actions but once they deviate too much or too fast, especially in the very large orgs, the system will pull them right back.

Maybe we’re aiming for the wrong target. Maybe we should focus less on trying to directly change individual behaviors and first focus more on the systems they follow. So if the maxim is true that every leader has followers, well then even a “leader” is a follower of something. Aim a little higher.