What would need to happen in your organisation for the statement below to be true?

“My organisation has a lively, creative culture where we’re always asking questions, learning and growing together. Employees feel excited to be part of it and committed to making a difference.”

The key lies in embracing an open culture that offers meaningful work, nurtures innovation, supports employee growth and fosters a diverse and inclusive work environment. Yet many organisations remain trapped in outdated mindsets and behaviours that limit their potential. Consider how much time is spent managing up, down, and across the organisation – often with diminishing returns.

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

Take a moment to reflect on your organisation:

  • How much time do team members spend in meetings, preparing for meetings, or on email and other communication platforms?
  • How many hours are dedicated to low-value tasks?

Indeed, a study published in the HBR found that on average 41% of knowledge workers’ time is spent on tasks that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled by others (Mankins & Garton, 2013).

The question is, how much time is left for truly innovative thinking that will grow the organisation and sustain it over time? How much time is left for work that truly engages employees?

Those organisations that do more of the following will likely outperform in the coming decades:

  • Develop mindsets that look up and out for both risks and opportunities and strategies that thrive in uncertainty;
  • Learn to question every aspect of what they do;
  • Are more strategic with how time, energy and attention are allocated;
  • Foster a diverse and inclusive work environment to drive innovation;
  • Empower employees to craft roles that fit their lives, excite them, play to their strengths and give them a sense of purpose and satisfaction;
  • Invest in employee development and encourage a culture of continuous learning;
  • Foster psychological safety for open expression and innovation.

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

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

There is no easy roadmap to curiosity-inspired leadership. It 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.

One thing is clear, the process all starts with a willingness to ask and answer some challenging questions!! To spark this essential conversation, I’ve included some thought-provoking questions below. If you are curious as to how we might start addressing some of them together Let’s Begin the Conversation!

Corporate Purpose and Values:

  • Profits aside, what is the organisation’s purpose?
  • How does this make the world a better place?
  • How do employees share in that?
  • What are the organisation’s stated values?
  • What are its lived values?
  • Do employees share these lived values?
  • What behaviour does it reward?

Strategy and Assumptions:

  • What assumptions is the strategy making about the world?
  • How does the strategy address uncertainty?
  • What would upend the strategy?
  • How effectively is the strategy being implemented by employees?

Value Creation and Destruction:

  • What is the No. 1 thing that creates value in the organisation?
  • What is the No. 1 thing that destroys value?

Management and Leadership:

  • 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 and Environment:

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

Employee Turnover:

  • In what ways might the recruitment process be contributing to employee turnover?
  • Are there any aspects of the organisation’s culture or work environment that could be influencing employee turnover rates?

Diversity and Inclusion:

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

Individual Performance:

  • What are individuals truly incentivised to do?
  • How are individuals truly evaluated?
  • Are incentives encouraging questions or answers?
  • 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?

Employee Empowerment and Value Creation:

  • 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 and Meetings:

  • 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?
  • 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?
    • Was there an alternative?

Reference List:

Mankins, M., & Garton, E. (2013). Make Time for the Work That Matters. Harvard Business Review, September 2013. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/09/make-time-for-the-work-that-matters