We find ourselves at the dawn of a new era in business when managing, transforming and preparing our companies, agencies and schools for the future of work is both urgent and essential. And, frankly, this preparation is hitting some serious speed bumps. Business is up against the stops and our traditional management practices aren’t getting us there.
A New Approach
Harnessing the hidden power of energy is a new approach that gives us the understanding we haven’t had and the wherewithal to move beyond the speed bumps. It’s based on a fundamental premise: If you want to achieve success in the marketplace, manage the internal energy of your business. This isn’t the kind of energy that runs your car or keeps the lights on. It’s the energy that permeates everything happening in your business. It works within a system, and if you learn to read the indicators of energy within the context of that system, you will have the insight and information to know why some things work and others don’t. You will have the tools to truly transform your business. Ultimately, you will have an advantage as you prepare your business and the people in it for the future of work.
A friend asked me, “Why do you want to just give away your secrets?” to which I said to him, “I want to start a bigger conversation. I really think the business world needs this right now.” To that end, I offer this information to you. May it help you and your business, now and into the future. To fuel the conversation, this article kicks off a series of articles in which I will discuss various aspects of harnessing the (previously) hidden energy of your business. For a more in-depth look at harnessing energy in your business, stay tuned for the publication of my new book by John Wiley and Sons later this year. Its working title is Enterprise Energy: Harnessing the Power of Energy in Business.
In this, my first article on energy, I explain our situation and fundamental problem, and share a vision for what is possible in the future if you choose to harness the power of energy in your business. Importantly, our situation begins with the trends impacting virtually all businesses in this challenging time.
Specifically, there are four rising trends that I see day in, day out in organizations. These trends leave us as organizations vulnerable, exposed and unprepared for the future:
- There has been a significant rise in internal conflict due in large part to…
- …tremendous external pressure to inject technology, change our business models and retool our people in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many managers are…
- …poorly equipped to understand the necessary changes, much less effectively manage through the changes, leading to…
- increased employee disengagement, anxiety and fear.
For many businesses and organizations it is an unstable time, to say the least, and our traditional management approaches are woefully ill equipped for the task at hand. Yet we keep doing things in business essentially the same way, without any real fundamental change. Why is that? What is the problem?
The Problem – A Historical Perspective
The problem actually started a long time ago during the First Industrial Revolution. Many of our management practices grew up during that influential period and reflect its transactional input/output orientation. Efficiency, lack of variation, consistency of production and predictability were emphasized while people were essentially viewed as cogs in the machine. Work on the factory floor could be easily seen, and management of people was a relatively simple matter of job definition, visible performance monitoring, and reward and/or punishment.
Given the nature of work, managers focused on monitoring inputs and outputs with little need to consider the experience of people within the process. The traditional practices that emerged were effective as long as the work of people and companies was openly visible, transactional and consistently driven from the top.
By the mid 1900’s, however, the focus of organizations began to shift toward what Rita Gunther McGrath called expertise in her HBR article, Management’s Three Eras: A Brief History. Elaborating on this concept, Peter Drucker, often called the father of management science, famously coined the phrase “knowledge worker” in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow. He suggested that “the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” In this era value was increasingly created by workers’ use of information, a mode of work that was difficult or impossible to monitor visibly.
As knowledge work grew in the U.S. more and more work became “invisible” to managers. This was the birth of the modern organization, when the growth of knowledge work began and managers started to lose visibility into the internal workings of their businesses. Ultimately, knowledge work became pervasive and management visibility declined much further.
The Problem – Today
Today, our dilemmas go far beyond the simple opacity of knowledge work. The way people work with each other, and with technology, is undergoing a radical shift. Work has gone from organizationally defined and consistent to independently driven, networked and self-adjusting. Whereas the work of mass production was designed to be static and predictable, work today incorporates tremendous variability. It increasingly emphasizes personal and interpersonal human elements.
How people interact and build business relationships is now center stage. How people experience their work and what they bring to the table personally has now become a huge factor in determining work and business outcomes. Perhaps even Drucker couldn’t have imagined the complexity of our day. Our dilemma is no longer limited to poor visibility; it has morphed into a severe limitation of our ability to understand and manage how things work in our businesses. This, along with the pressures associated with our recent entry into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, gave rise to the four trends discussed above.
Our Limited View on the Surface
This dilemma exists because the way we manage our companies and people hasn’t kept pace with the changes in the nature of our work. Information about the internal workings of businesses is obscured and largely limited to what can be seen at the surface. In general, we see outcomes, good and bad, but too often don’t really understand why or how they came about. For example, a change initiative didn’t stick. Most don’t, actually, but why? Two managers and their departments are at odds with each other. Again, it happens all too often, but why? Everything just seems to take too long. Why?
Business leaders and managers make do with largely uninformed views of how their businesses actually operate. They see outcomes, of course, and they also often see eruptions of conflict and breakdown. Most of this is surface level diagnostics, or what I call surface-level management. Like their physician counterparts prior to the development of radiology, when they gained an ability to see “beneath the surface”, well-meaning surface-level managers often misdiagnose, “solve” the wrong problems, fail to make the changes needed in their businesses, and sometimes even drive their businesses to the point of failure.
Seeing Beneath the Surface
What if leaders and managers had their version of radiology? What if they could see deeper into their organizations, understand their metabolisms with greater clarity, see how energy flows, or doesn’t flow, how things really work, accurately diagnose and solve problems, and bring about the kind of sustainable changes their businesses need? Fortunately, they can, and that is why there is hope for the future.
This path has always been possible, but we lacked the approach, methodologies and language for following it. It, of course, is harnessing the power of energy in your business. This innovative approach creates tremendous potential for the future of work.
A Vision of the Future
Imagine business where conflict, the damaging kind that takes away and contributes nothing, is more the exception than the rule. We would certainly have more time to focus on doing our work and serving our customers. Because people are involved we can never expect to fully eliminate conflict. But what if there was a way to significantly reduce it by eliminating things that spawn it and creating work environments and circumstances that are more about contributing than getting, more about sharing than grasping, more about collaboration than competition? There is a way.
Imagine an organizational ability to change that requires less effort, encounters fewer obstacles, and typically results in the achievement of sustainable change in a fraction of the time it has historically taken to either succeed or fail. Imagine a future full of creativity and innovation where people and technology form a powerful partnership. People understand that when they work together and help each other powerful things happen through their co-creations. Artificial intelligence becomes very intelligent and supports this process while taking on many of the routine tasks at work.
Imagine a new norm where our working environments feel safe. Collaboration is natural, effective and rewarding. People help each other succeed. Office politics begin to fade out of fashion in favor of a more harmonious transparency. Teams are vibrant. Developing people is a privilege. Revenue and profits increase. More jobs are created.
What We Can Do
We can transform the workplace, generate prosperity, and set a positive and responsible example for the rest of the world. This is all very possible. It can happen if we start to look at structures, norms, activities and people from a new perspective, build our businesses with that in mind, and advance the way we work. We can start now – and change our course.
I hope you will respond to this and my future articles, contribute your ideas and become part of the bigger conversation. It is indeed the dawn of a new era in business.
For Help With Your Business
Advance Consulting offers an array of consulting, coaching and training services to help you harness the power of energy in your business. For an in-depth understanding of managing energy check out my upcoming book or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.