I spent a delightful day at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium (#MITCIO) last week. It was delightful because I had the luxury of listening to a roster of informative speakers discussing a wide variety of issues ranging from cloud (of course!) to analytics. It was also nice to be able to attend the event without having any responsibilities except to learn. It makes it much easier to absorb and consider new information that way.
During one of the panel sessions, an intriguing question was posed. The gist of the issue was a concern that if organizations change their work practices to be more in line with a Gen Y work style, then chaos will ensue. The question, roughly restated, was, “Why would any enterprise throw away the business rules that have served them well for all these years?”
There are two flaws with this position. First, it’s a mistake to think that our current rules and organizational structures for running a profitable enterprise are serving us well. Secondly, this is not a generational issue.
Many influential thinkers have documented the inadequacy of much of the conventional wisdom surrounding organizational design and management. Research from organizations such as Gallup and Towers Watson suggests that higher levels of employee engagement lead to improved business performance and increased job satisfaction. Similarly, organizations with disengaged employees – unfortunately the majority – suffer the consequences.
Some useful books on the changes already occurring in the workplace and the value of greater employee engagement include “Employees First, Customers Second” by Vineet Nayar, “The Hyper-Social Organization” by Francoise Gossieaux and Ed Moran, “ Light Their Fire” by Susan Drake, Michelle Gulman and Sara Roberts and “Drive” by Dan Pink.
The summary of these tomes is that people are motivated by a fairly common set of drives: the desire to be recognized for what they know, to be in control of their actions and to be included in meaningful activities. So it’s not exactly accurate for senior leaders to say they need new skills in their organizations – skills like creativity, critical thinking and the ability to “play nice with others.” Rather, the challenge is to involve people who have these skills more directly in making the organization successful. The critical question business leaders must ask themselves is, “How can the talent we have available in our workforce be used more effectively?”
(Interestingly, though I tweeted throughout the event, my tweet suggesting that work has already changed was the one most retweeted)
So next time you are in a position to hire a new employee, add someone to your team or pick someone for your project, try something different. Throw away the resume and interview the person first. A key question to consider is whether this person energizes you and makes you want to do your best. Those are the essential attributes for a new age of self-directed workers who bring their passion into the “office.”
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