Our traditional default in the workplace has been to rely on relationships of power. The future of work and the adoption of new work practices demand a focus on influence and engagement
This week I was discussing technology adoption with a potential client and I was struck by a question that I was asked: ‘How do I make people share in your model?’
My answer disappointed them a little. ‘ You can’t make anyone share. All you can do is influence the way they choose to work.’
Default to Power
Traditional organisations like process, policy and predictability. Control and power reinforce the desire to standardise, to deliver efficiency and to manage performance in granular ways.
This focus on power means that models, guides to action and practices are often quickly turned into mandatory behaviours. ‘We could do this’ becomes ‘We should do this’. Mandating change seems like a shortcut to success in adoption. Sadly it doesn’t work.
In the work I have done on future of work practices, I first saw this in Working Out Loud when organisations began to see the benefits. People immediately began to discuss how to mandate working out loud, how to require it in training programs and how to deal with those who still refused to work out loud. The simple answer is do nothing. Working out loud is an individual choice. That choice can be supported by an environment and a culture of psychological safety, great leadership, effective communications and the actions of peers, but there always remains a personal choice of what and where to share.
The other way I have seen this default to power is when ‘What to use When’ guides become mandatory in organisations. Even the concept of the inner and out loop or my Value Maturity Model of collaboration can bee seen as recommendations of mandatory approaches to work. In both cases, the right answer for an individual may be different. As noted in the discussion of Inner Loop and Outer Loop collaboration above you can use a tool designed for one to deliver the other kind of interaction, if that is what is best for you, your team and your work goals. Chats, Conversations and Collaborations are human behaviour not outcomes of a technology system.
Mandating future of work practices is wasted effort. The work of adoption is not the work of writing policy. The work of adoption is engaging users in understanding value creation and influencing their behaviour.
The Art of Influence
Changing the way people has to be about influence. Individuals are unique in their capabilities, their challenges, the context and their goals. If you have more than one person in your organisation you should have multiple ways of working. The goal of an adoption process is not a uniform standard. Uniform standards of work are for machines, not diverse, capable and creative humans. 100% adoption is not the right answer, no matter how good it looks on a chart.
The goal of advocating future of work practices is to maximise the individual and collective value of work. That is why the Value Maturity Model focuses on aligning the individual and collective goals from work, before it dives into who and how people will work together to achieve that value.
We have spent centuries reinforcing an efficiency culture in our employees. Asking them to work for no value will fail because employees will do the right thing and refuse. Asking them to work just for the value of others will fail, because business performance processes have taught people that self-interest matters, except for the altruists in any population.
Power leaves no room for an individual contribution to the work or the benefits of work. When everyone works the same way because one person decided it is best, the value of individual contributions to work practices are lost. The greatest value of future of work tools is leveraging the context, insights and creativity of every employee. To do that effectively we must allow them to change their work and influence others to change their work too.
Adoption is the art of influencing better ways of working. Give your employees the tools to lead this change themselves.