by Julia Culen & Christian Mayhofer (thanks to Stefan Culen for translating)


German Version: Zukunft von Organisationen: 4 Trends und 10 Ideen 

Four driving forces for change and  ten ideas for rethinking our perception of work and organizations

The drive for change is not a Gen Y phenomena.

In the debate about the “New Work” complex, we are facing many antagonisms: New versus old,  young versus advanced age, Gen Y versus Gen X and versus baby boomers, hierarchy versus community, analog versus digital and so on.

Yet, the future of organizations and work is not a matter of the Generation XYZ but rather has to deal with fundamental changes in our society. In fact, we do see a high pressure for transformation from all generations, Generation Y and digitalization being driving forces.

According to top management thinker Umair Haque, “There seems to be deep cynicism and mistrust towards intitutions today.” According to him only eleven percent of our workforce reports being satisfied and engaged in their professional life. A different set of values, ideas and a general paradigm shift all across the generations is taking place. Results from surveys concerning “New Work” hardly differ across the age groups.

Apart from that, we see various other trends asking for transformative change and appearing more profound and far reaching than just making the working environment for Generation Y increasingly attractive.

Four game-changing trends:

Speed: Both  markets and business environment have changed dramatically for corporations and present completely new challenges. A specific aspect is the combination of speed and market transparency together with perfectly informed clients – this could even be named “enlightenment.”  The demands on innovation and flexibility increase the  pressure for change: Apple creates more than 60% of its turnover from products less than four years old.

Communication technology: Technological development simultaneously enables and requires new forms of communication and cooperation across the hitherto known borders of time and space. While in the 18th century a letter from London to Calcutta took six months, today data masses are available via mouse click. E-mails for the young ones already seem uninteresting, because they are not instant enough. We are used to keeping open several communication-line parallels while private and business contacts become intertwined more and more.

Outdated social technology: The classical hierarchical structure, still often found, originates from the beginning of the 20th century, matching the technology, the structure of society and the requirements of that period. So, we find each other in a phase in which the “old” does not function any more and the “new” is in the making. According to Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics and Radical Openness: “We are burdened with the wrong organizational models.” And organizational cultures.  That is also a big problem troubling many firms now: how to manage people who value loyalty to themselves, self-dermination, values and meaning higher than career and money?
There has been a profound change in the values systems across generations. In the 1990s and the 2000s, greed, individualism and career-orientation reached a peak and led to a shift of thinking and the urge for purpose, joy of life and human authenticy.  Employees don’t want to submit themselves to organizational constraints. They react with refusal, cynicism, lethargy and burn-out. The urgent staff problem is loss of trust, which leads to insecurity and dwindling emotional attachment towards the corporation. This results in a rising destructive attitude within the workforce, which in itself represents a hefty risk. The Gallup Institute has found that the missing loyalty of employees costs the annual amount of €125 billion. It would be a big mistake to believe that this phenomenon is restricted just to the elite of the scientific bunch, the “knowledge-workers.” We see these demands already common with assembly-line workers, who are more informed and linked up than ever before.

So, we see ourselves in a veritable phase of upheaval. Yet the question is: What now and what to do? Only about a third of  companies seem to actively reflect and act. Surveys show that 66% of organiziations expect fundamental changes within the coming five years, but only 33% are setting active actions for those changes to happen. This could be a mistake.

Many organizations and many papers discuss the issues related to “new working” mainly with regard to flexible timetables, mobile working, introduction of collaborating platforms, social media and new office space. However important and relevant those areas are, the issue involves much more than those technical questions.

We propose 10 ideas to rethink work and organizations:

  • Think about organizations in a completely new way: With VODAFONE Netherlands and UK, all prevailing concepts  about leadership, hierarchy, office design and steering tools get defined in a completely new way.  This contributes to the success and turnaround of the firm. It has not only put its staff into an open-plan office, supplied them with mobile devices, and installed a cafeteria (which, of course, does represent quite a step) but also dared a truly transformative mutation. It’s about a new attitude, a new image of people, i.e. as responsible and able. Interacting flat structures, which rely on self-steering and own responsibility, must be the response to a networking and swiftly-changing environment. Following the motto of “the next Buddha is the community,” the power will not be derived from hierarchical position but rather from acknowledgement the community pays on grounds of competence and natural authority.
  • Being instead of becoming: “Because of the neverending pressure for change, we are not going to achieve anything any more. Only if we activate what is there already, we can shape the future” formulates Patrick Cowden, management author and former executive with Dell, Deutsche Bank and Hitachi. Endless change projects, repetitive restructuring and perpetual optimizing are weakening organizations noticeably. Organizations are exhausted, puzzled and don’t want to hear of “change” any more.

Yet, the simple focus on being in the Here and Now, the clarity about who one would want to be as an organization and as a person and who one would not be, leads towards  strong and authentic  action out of one self.  Then constant change will not evoke anxiety any more but will be the natural expression of the nature of life as such, like the everchanging ripples of the surface of the ocean. In the new world of work, change does not happen through pressure and obligation but out of the awareness that, as any moment emerges from the preceding, every part of a change emerges from the prior one.

  • New role of leadership: It is the task of guidance to set the frame and the direction in this flux. Andy Grove, ex-Intel CEO, formulated: “It is not about to reign the chaos, but to make use in a certain way of the productive, self-responsible chaos.” Successful guidance forms a context in which the organization and the people in it can unfold in a self-responsible manner. However, in  simplicity lies much strength. Three clear priorities and five key figures  serve as better points of orientation for management teams than academic models and modules of high complexity. Those theories are predominatly of use for those who formulated and sell them.
  • Knowing the WHY “If money becomes the point, you have lost the point” says Charles Handy, the Irish economy and sociology philosopher. Because if making profit becomes the main purpose of an organzation, it loses its source of energy and develops zombie-like properties. Within organizations, we identify this amongst others as the main source of exhaustion and demotivation within staff and management. “Here everything is about money, profit. Never about the things, that really matter.” Graduates from the US elite universities in growing numbers turn away from strictly money orientated companies; they are not easily bought for any price any longer. More and more employes start asking those questions, finding out that it is rewarding to explore the reasons of being and to share and communicate them well. Thus, the “Sense of Purpose” is created, adding meaning to individuals as awell as the larger self, their organization. Often this can be found in history, as organizations simply are just the tool to introduce an idea, a purpose, to the world.
  • Flexible working: Looking at various surveys about the future of work, one aspect emerges very clearly: Flexibility of time, local positioning and compatibility of professional and private life are predominantly on top. People want not only flexible conditions in their profession but also to live and work in a self-determined way. Adaptable working hours and locations along with individual self organization are of prime relevance for the highly-mobile Generation Y as well as for the elder sector.
  • Inclusive thinking: In the beginning, organizations  are artifically sliced into clear and surveyable portions (departures, areas, teams). Then it gets forgotten that these are only elements of an entity, and one lives on in the assumption that the assembly of those parts represent the organization itself. What follows are the usual problems such as narrow-minded thinking, isolated optimizing, rivalry, communication problems, competition and the impression of being separated. All of this gets aggravated by distributed global structures, virtual teams and the move towards flexible working hours and working spaces. As a result, it is essential to create all sorts of networks on every level and to let the people feel that they are part of the entire system, to foster the powers of cooperation and exchange. This would be the most important basis for innovation and creativity, the essential future success variables.
  • Enthusiasm and love of life: As long as a salary is felt to be the compensation for pain and suffering, hardly joy and lightness can come into existence.  People want to contribute, they cherish creativity and fun, they want to be able to make ideas work without getting drowned by sticking at trifles.  The neuro-biologist Gerald Hüther from the University of Göttingen maintains, “Enthusiasm is doping for the spirit and the brain.” We learn quickly in the spirit of enchantment, yet we are inspired by matters which have significance. Whatever we like to do, we do well. Where there is joy of life, there is creativity. Consequently the assignment for the organization consists of establishing a world of work in which enchantment and joy can emerge. According to the British author Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
  • An open corporate culture: Awareness is growing that lack of trust is a main reason for a low performance level. “New Work” means amongst others, to address unpleasant issues, give clear and immediate feedback, and be able to have difficult  conversations. Companies should let people know that they can express their views and get involved in constructive conflicts. Trust is the result of transparency, authenticity and integrity in the sense that the action suits the word. Fear and trust rule each other out to the greatest extent.
  • Fluid constraints and new networks: The outer limits of organizations get more and more fluid, because the classical seclusion vis à vis the outside world and the preservation of knowledge is cutting the firm off from vital  insight circles. Corporations are building together with their suppliers, clients, partners, public institutions and universities new ecosystems. Silicon Valley is a perfect example for that. This trend will pick up momentum as more and more individual and small enterprises construct joint networks instead of falling back into rigid legal structures.
  • Communication and collaboration are presently defined in a completely new way. There exists a rapidly-growing number of digital tools, such as microblogging, video conferencing, corporate social media and learn/knowledge/cooperation platforms which enable a high level of networking yet also ask for personal responsiblity and self-driven activity. The challenge will be an ongoing and progressive development placing the core commitments of the company (such as strategy, vision and direction) very purposefully in order to attain the awareness of staff, clients and partners through clear messages and content.

Organizations become “teal” more and more, but it is a bumpy road. Old beliefs, practices and roles are strongly challenged and the mental transformation is the most difficult one. It requires a clear awakening to the present and the future and the embracing of opportunities.

German Version of this article