Another regular feature on the nature of organisational change, management and innovation. You’ll find the top stories that beguile and attract the ‘office workers’ at conversationsEAST.
Current featured ideas…
re:Work with Google
Google have recently created a new resource for companies and organisations to reflect, research and build new ways of thinking about their organisation and the people in it.
Whatever the debate extant about Google, or perhaps Alphabet is more propitious, they know how to create systems and develop their people conversant with their corporate message.
re:Work isn’t about multiplying Google’s corporate culture. Rather it is a resource to appreciate difference and to enable other company and organisation cultures to adapt to change, creativity and flex the key relationships within the organisation, that can help drive your business process more dynamically.
The re:Work blog, The Water Cooler, is a good place to start.
In an article, Encourage the employee voice with managerial responsiveness, Ethan Burris highlights the case of a new graduate joining an organisation. Brim full of confidence and enthusiasm, the outcome for this young person was, eventually, she had to leave the company.
She found herself working in a directorate with a manager who saw commentary, discussion and attempts at innovation, as activities totally threatening to their own status and well being. It is the negativity from these situations, and the failure of being able to exploit new knowledge, for both the employee and employer, that provides a focus for re:Work.
How often have we seen in our own work, across the UK public and charitable sectors, organisations which profess allegiance to innovation and change, only to have the internal philosophical drive of the body corporate ham-strung by weak management, fearful of their own position or ideology. Completely contrary to the outward facing presentation given by their organisation.
We also liked the story of Paul Saginaw, More information is better, where the benefits of information sharing were highlighted to good effect.
How often are management systems of information, densely generating data, kept private and closed from view? How often is an impending crisis kept concealed from interns, volunteers and staff?
‘When my partner and I started our own business, our vision of decision making was not limited to just the ones with the most authority. We wanted decisions made by whomever had the good idea, the information relevant to the issue, or the solution to the problem at hand’. Source: re:Work November 2015
The ‘Saginaw thesis’ of business involves sharing information, worries, concerns and yes, even criticism, at all levels of the organisation. Improving ownership, improving the ability to find solutions to problems and making for a happier, more engaged work force.
Much of this thinking was based, for the Zingerman organisation, upon the The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack. Managing people and organisations is hard, but if you can develop a flat organisation, with information sharing, open-ness and inclusivity at it’s heart it can, we would argue, be a lot easier.
I suspect that browsing the pages of re:Work regularly can only help that process.
Make re:Work part of your management tool-kit. You won’t become Google, but you may be moving towards greater effectiveness and more thoughtful achievement…
The Old Continent Creaks
Austerity and the failures of the technocratic elite have created the current populist backlash. France’s experience is instructive—and, possibly, ominous.
We have been dipping into Democracy: A journal of Ideas this week. The Goldhammer piece struck us as having relevance, not only to the French experience of Europe as declared in the article, but also as a useful template to frame some the ‘euro-tensions’ currently abroad in the UK.
The final analysis, we felt, also offered some insights into how office politics and mission drift in the workplace can generate similar crise de conscience in the workplace too.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by the Inner Six countries in 1951 and 1958, respectively. (Source Wikipedia – see more…). In this immediate post-World War 2 period there is perhaps a simpler driving force, a political thread, to be argued?
Control and management of iron and steel resources, production and marketing of finished products from these industries, militated against internal, closed and rapid expansion of arms production for the meanest, non-humanitarian of nationalist aims.
For Goldhammer, the critical change in structure and focus, for the EU, came in the 1980’s with the refocus of economic direction and challenge absorbed by the EU centre, diminishing, in turn, national power to effect change at will.
Similarly, in France, the welfare state… ‘the mixed economy, market regulation, worker protections—these were the essential elements of the postwar compromise between labour and capital that had made possible what the French call les Trente Glorieuses, the 30 glorious years of recovery after the end of World War II’.
What emerged was a Gramscian ‘hegemonic ideology’, with parties across all countries, whether centre left or centre right, embracing these manifestations of social democracy.
The problem, Goldhammer argues, is that after the Schengen Agreement of 1985, the Single European Act of 1986 and the arrival of the Euro as a currency, Europe became similar to a nation state, with no borders and free movement of people, goods and capital.
What it lacked was a ‘…federal treasury, a centralised system of taxes and transfers, and a unified military budget to serve as a shock absorber and transfer agent‘. It was this weakness, allied to the close political warmth of the ‘social state’, which provided the landscape for detractors of the European experiment to begin to argue about the lack of democracy in decision making, the abscence of accountabiity for decsions and services as well as a distant, elitist approach to the electorate.
For Goldhammer the stark truth is that Europe suffered a surfeit of democracy, albeit at a national level. It gave the individual states and prevaricating politicians the opportunity to foster this debate of disconnection and for the local/national electorates to pick up and run with these inconsistent and unsubstantiated beliefs.
The end result of this disconnect between originating drive and concensus for Europe, and the counter project euro-reformation cohort, for the politicians, is that the fact that ‘…they have chosen the only rational course (…they believe. Ed.) is no bar to their being turned out of their offices by the unemployed janitors who used to clean them’.
As opined at the opening of this review, we felt, talking about the issues, that there were contemporary and telling stresses that we have seen emerge in the delivery of our ‘day job’ with clients over the years.
How often have we seen the initiation of a hugely important and well articulated charity or social project? With time there is a steady accretion of layers of technocratic management, coupled to a segmented isolation of operational delivery. The whole of which steadily divorces function from mission statement.
To the point where corporatist, or rather econo-political values, come to directly replace the highest humanitarian and social aims of the charity originators…regardless of what it says they do in the brochure. This is counterpointed in the right versus left position, the creative individual versus the corporate machine, the humanitarian versus the ‘systematician’.
Or, as Goldhammer would have it in the European context, viewed dis-passionately from across the Atlantic, it is a ‘…sign of a stark economic asymmetry that points to the flaw in Jacques Delors’s plan to save the European welfare state by promoting a single market and single currency’.
The World Without Work
The Atlantic Magazine by Editor Derek Thompson, July 2015
Thompson begins his thoughtful piece by illustrating industrial change in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1970’s. The closure of the city’s steel mills saw the loss of 50,000 jobs and a decrease of 1.3 billion dollars in manufacturing wages for the state.
Reading this litany of disaster one could easily substitute UK miners for US steel workers in the narrative. Particularly as Thompson, in his article, goes on to consider the cultural, social and broader economic impact of such paradigm shifts in the employment landscape.
Agricultural technology birthed the farming industry, the industrial revolution moved people into factories, and then globalization and automation moved them back out, giving rise to a nation of services. But throughout these reshufflings, the total number of jobs has always increased. Source: The Atlantic Magazine, July 2015
Robotics and automation is much on the debate agenda at present. Thompson attempts to track the rise of the machine, referencing the ‘…19th-century British brutes who smashed textile-making machines at the dawn of the industrial revolution, fearing the machines would put hand-weavers out of work’. An interesting use of the word brute?
However, the Luddites were perhaps, Thompson concedes, ahead of their time. It still being clear that the tensions and constraints of technology that emerged in the Early Modern period continue to temper human-economic interaction.
The article prompted us to think abut the Flemish weavers, who installed their looms on the first floor of their houses. They then went upstairs to work, the industrial unit being factored as part of wider familial relations.
Our conversationsEAST team works remotely, with part of that experience for some of us to ‘go upstairs’ to a home office, or even our own offices in Cambridge, being on the first floor. A common enough experience we suspect for many independent workers in the knowledge economy today.
However, even for the modern, well educated and internet connected worker, who like the Flemish weavers travels no distance to work at all, the constraints of the market, the negotiation with the publisher, bookseller, contracting authority etc., continues to condition the work.
How to ‘monetise your content’ is still a continuing theme across the centuries, although expressed now in a different language. Thompson has it that ‘...after 300 years of breathtaking innovation, people aren’t massively unemployed or indentured by machines’. He presents a nice argument contrary to the ‘post-workist‘ mode of thought. Countering the belief that we will run out of jobs eventually, as the machines advance.
On balance he argues, the jury is still out. Part of the problem with the ‘post-workist’ argument, we can see, is that it configures automation at its current level as the end of the story for the worker with entry level or median skills.
The rise of social business movement, the creation of community enterprise and the plethora of new ‘networks’, formal and informal, social and technological, perhaps means there is another ‘going upstairs to work’ paradigm on the way. We just don’t know what it is yet.