The New Frontier: Adults in the Workplace

I often think about what is coming next, with instant world wide communication, and access to information from anyone, any time, any way. Personal choice and satisfaction is now more than ever the key question for everyone in all countries, people are seeking – and obtaining – answers from all around the globe.

I think what is next is that marvellous final bastion of time consumption for the majority of us on this little blue planet: employment – trading our time for money.

This is being questioned more than ever – just talk to your parents about getting a “safe secure job”. Perhaps we feel that being gainfully employed means more than money, like “something to do with our time”, but recent studies show that employee disengagement is the epidemic of the 21st century: most employees have switched off. We are running in neutral; idling; bored; tuned out; not interested; keen to move on. The UK has one of the lowest levels of employee interest.

That’s most of the work force not happy to be there / here / anywhere!!

No viral influenza outbreak has nothing on the misery and suffering caused by that amount of chronic disengagement.

That’s why I’m excited. With all this untapped human potential, just sitting in idle, what does it take to re-engage, re-motivate and obtain excellence from them? That’s exciting: that potential. I know the answer and it’s straight forward: once you get your ego under control, let go of the reins, the need to control, and let your employees step up.

A friend of mine was doing their MBA in Kuwait and I was helping them prepare for an exam and a group assignment on leadership and organisational management. Great stuff. I was enthralled by a case study about BMW under our study. It clearly identified the participative management work environment that clearly explained why BMW is so successful right now, whilst other car manufactures are faltering: BMW had engaged 12,000 new people since 2000, whilst GM and Ford have sacked similar numbers. BMW does not have workers and managers, they have associates and leaders, and there’s more to it.  It’s not what they are doing that is important. It’s why and how. And it’s all about engagement. (This web page is not the case study, but alludes to BMW’s practices a little).

I explain it to my colleagues and my teams like this: the traditional method of business is like a school class room. [Really it is like the military model, as is school, but relatively few of us have military experience, but most of us have been in school. ]

In a typical school there is a teacher and there are the students. The students are treated as individuals and instructed what to do by one person: classical management style theory. The teacher dictates the rules and the students work to their own limits – in solitude – to reach their own level of achievement: the grades. That’s it. Students can’t wait to leave. The teacher struggles to inspire and motivate. There’s very little group work, in fact working in a team can lead to expulsion – it has a special term: “cheating”.

Consider what happens when the teacher leaves the room? What happens? We all know: we’ve all been there before. We bumff off, goof off, focus on anything and everything but the subject matter.

Something else very interesting is happening and that is the essence of participative management: grouping together into collectives to discuss stuff, all kinds of stuff. And what is discussed is what is interesting to each collective.

Imagine if those little groups could be harnessed to drive outcomes? Self driven, enthusiastic, motivated…

That’s exactly what companies like BMW and Google have done. They have worked it out. They work as dynamic, organic groups, openly and in plain sight.

It’s so much fun to do to as well! People come alive in my groups when I employ the strategies and rules to engage and motivate a team: to form a participative group. Quiet people begin to contribute. Bullies and those who can’t manage their egos become quiet, and they either get with it or leave the group. It’s magic to watch it working. Just watching the outcomes and achievements of a self motivated, self actualized group of people is wonderful.

Have a look at this very good web site: Traci Fenton, the founder, has decided to recognize “democratic” work places and on her web site there are 40 companies that qualify for her 10 point checklist as a democratic company for 2009.

Here are her 10 points:

The WorldBlu 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy™

1. Reflection + Evaluation

Democratic organizations are committed to continuous feedback and development and are willing to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future.

2. Purpose and Vision

A democratic organization is clear about why it exists (its purpose) and where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve (its vision). These act as its true North, offering guidance and discipline to the organization’s direction.

3. Transparency

Say goodbye to the “secret society” mentality. Democratic organizations are transparent and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.

4. Dialog + Listening

Instead of the top-down monologue or dysfunctional silence that characterizes most workplaces, democratic organizations are committed to having conversations that bring out new levels of meaning and connection.

5. Fairness + Dignity

Democratic organizations are committed to fairness and dignity, not treating some people like “somebodies” and other people like “nobodies.”

6. Accountability

Democratic organizations point fingers, not in a blaming way but in a liberating way. They are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.

7. Individual + Collective

In democratic organizations, the individual is just as important as the whole, meaning employees are valued for their individual contribution as well as for what they do to help achieve the collective goals of the organization.

8. Choice

Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.

9. Integrity

Integrity is the name of the game, and democratic companies have a lot of it. They understand that freedom takes discipline and also doing what is morally and ethically right.

10. Decentralization

Democratic organizations make sure power is appropriately shared and distributed among people throughout the organization.

Apply these principles and just watch what happens to your organisation.

I believe that the essence of a successful democratic process, is captured by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Tipping Point from 2000. That is: “Peer pressure is much more powerful than the concept of a Boss. Many, many times more powerful”. (You’ll find this little gem buried on page 186).

Think about the teacher/student concept. How much power does the teacher have? Very little really. It depends on their character, but it is a doomed, decaying system. The stronger and more controlling the teacher is with the class, the more the class will work against the teacher when the teacher is absent: it’s a system bound to fail. On the other hand, peer pressure does nothing but enhance the values and achievements of the group – the only thing to do is guide the group in the desired direction.

But this is not new is it??

Of course not.

Here are some very interesting events of world note that were affected to some degree by the amount of engagement of the participants:

And to bring it back to the future: GE/Durham. One engine per day, total control by the employees: perfect balance of people and workplace harmony.

So what does all this mean? We’ll it means that a company can limp along on a net profit margin of 0% to 5% using traditional management processes (stressed out managers and tuned out employees) or a company can achieve 20 to 30% returns in an environment with very little turnover, where everyone wants to be there.

The new frontier is Workplace Democracy.

I’m going to end with two beautiful quotes from Sir Richard Branson he made on 13th October 2007 when being interviewed on TED. The video is called “Life at 30,000 Feet“. Richard left school when he was 15. He was told by his headmaster that he will either be a roaring success or he would go to prision: he’s done both.

“A company is all about finding the right people, inspiring those people and drawing out the best in people.” @ 1 minute, 45 seconds

“I don’t actually think that the stereotype of a business person treading all over people to get to the top generally speaking works. If you treat people well, people will come back and come back for more. All you have in life is your reputation. It’s a very small world. I actually think that best way of becoming a successful business leader is by dealing with people fairly and well, and I like to think that’s how we run Virgin.” @ 21 minutes, 20 seconds

Be well.

Jeremiah Josey

Blog of Jeremiah Josey


6 thoughts on “The New Frontier: Adults in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: Ethiopia: Reform Stagnant, Productivity Level Very Low – Wb …

  2. Pingback: EU and IMF will spend $40 billion to bail out Greece. What is your opinion on this issue? « Jeremiah Josey's Blog

  3. Pingback: Eight Principles – What is Participative Management? | Jeremiah's Blog

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