The secret to fully unleashing the productive power of individuals lies in the organisation. Despite knowing this for decades, many organisations are still hampered by mindsets and behaviours that no longer meet 21st century needs. Too much time is typically spent managing up, down and across the organisation – destroying much value.

As leading management thinker W. Edwards Deming noted “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

For example, how much time does the average employee spend:

  • In meetings?
  • Prepping for meetings?
  • On email and other communications platforms?

On top of this, a study published in the HBR found that on average 41% of knowledge workers’ time is spent on low value tasks.

I don’t mean to imply that all of this is wasted but the bottom line is how much time is left for truly innovative thinking that will grow the business and sustain it over time?

To thrive in the coming decades I would argue means:

  • Being more strategic with how time and energy are allocated;
  • Attracting and retaining cutting edge talent;
  • Empowering employees to craft roles that fit their lives, excite them, play to their strengths and give them a sense of purpose and satisfaction;
  • Building nourishing work environments that allow employees to focus on creating outsized value.

None of this is revolutionary – many top-performing companies are doing this and much more.

The question for those other companies is: “How much value will be destroyed before you act?”

There is no easy roadmap. This is about unpicking cultures, environments, mindsets and behaviours and then curating what is of benefit and composting what no longer serves. This requires buy-in from the top of the organisation and an ongoing cycle of listening, reflection and action. The process starts with a willingness to ask and answer some challenging questions!!

I’ve included some sample thought-provoking questions below. If you are curious as to how we might start asking some of them together you may find some answers in Tailored Solutions.

Corporate Purpose:

  • Profits aside, what is the company’s purpose?
  • How does this make the world a better place?
  • How do employees share in that?

Corporate Values:

  • What are the company’s stated values?
  • What are its lived values?
  • Do employees share these lived values?
  • What behaviour does it reward?

Management:

  • Are managers clear on how they add value?
  • What might they do less of?
  • What might they focus on instead?
  • Do managers know what intrinsically motivates their teams?

Work Practices:

  • How are they adding value?
  • Where are they creating friction?
  • Who are they designed to benefit?
  • Are working hours fit for purpose?
  • What is left out of the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and still expected to get done?
  • How big is the admin burden?

Creating a Positive Environment:

  • Do colleagues care for each other?
  • How are mistakes addressed?
  • Is the work meaningful?

Inclusivity:

  • What category of people is unrepresented within the company?
  • Who might feel excluded within the company?
  • What question are you afraid to ask?

Individual Performance:

  • What are individuals truly incentivised to do?
  • How are individuals truly evaluated?
  • What hidden metrics are used? (Email responsiveness, hours worked, participation in meetings, playing the game…)
  • In fact, what metrics are used to assess the productivity of knowledge workers?
  • Who are the metrics benefitting?
  • How much time is spent on low-value tasks?
  • How are individuals competing with each other? Does this affect trust and commitment?
  • How many hours of quality work do employees currently achieve?

Unleashing Employee Power:

  • How might employees create outsized value?
  • How might employees be further empowered?
  • What in the overall system might be holding them back?
  • What obstacles might there be?
  • How might they further delight customers?

Communications Platforms:

  • What are the cultural expectations around internal communications?
  • Who are messages written for – the sender or the recipient?
  • When can messages be sent?
  • Who curates distribution lists?

Meetings:

For each meeting you attended this week, ask yourself:

  • Why did we really have the meeting? What question were we answering?
  • What value did we create?
  • What value did we destroy?
  • Was there an alternative?