Breaking Down the Value of Collaboration: Four Drivers of Value

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For over five years, I have been talking about the potential for organisations to create value everyday using collaboration. Through the Value Maturity Model, and its application in the Collaboration Value Canvas, I have discussed repeatedly the importance of an understanding of value to users and to the organisation.

Until now, I have left the definition of value entirely to the imaginations of readers. One reason for resisting defining value was to avoid an immediate reduction of value to an ROI calculation, which is both notoriously ambiguous and beside the point. The role of value in this discussion is not to justify investment accounting. The role of value is to shape the adoption actions, the use cases and the norms of the community that an organisation is seeking to create. The second reason for my reluctance is that value means something different to almost every organisation at every time. How an organisation and its people need to create additional value is highly dependent on their context.

In this post, I want to share my key drivers of value creation, which I find useful tools for anyone seeking to guide collaboration adoption in a wide range of contexts. Ability to leverage the drivers of collaboration will help you to identify the opportunities for value creation from collaboration, shape use cases and communicate to individual users about value in a simple way. To explain the path to these drivers, we must talk about what value and break it down to everyday topics of business conversation.

Understanding What We Mean by Value

Value is in economics is a measure of the benefit to be gained from any activity. Vibrant and sustainable organisations create a surplus of value, using their resources in a strategic way to create more benefits than the value of their intial resources. Value add is the difference between the benefits generated and the resources consumed. The goal of most strategy is to sustain and increase the value added by an organisation.

At an individual level employees also want to experience purpose and meaning in their work. They want to deliver greater benefits to themselves and others than simply the time value of their work.

Value can be monetary but it can also come in wider non-economic forms. Therefore as we think about value for individuals and organisations we need to keep in mind:

  • Economic value add – the dollars and cents; and
  • Non-Economic Value – any other meaningful sources of value (i.e. meaningful in the eye of the beholder)

If we break down how both economic value add is created and non-economic value we will find some common drivers. If you are short of time or not interested in the background to my approach, you can skip to the answer in the section entitled Four Drivers of Value Creation below.

Economic Value Added 

Economic value add can be defined for an organisation as the excess of the net operating profit after tax of an organisation over its cost of capital.  An organisation deploys financial capital in its operating activities, that capital has a cost and the activities need to generate more operating profit to be sustaining.

A value driver tree enables us to break these concepts down to more everyday topics of business strategy, activity and conversation in green in the table below. Sales, Cost of Sales, Other Organisational Costs, investment in assets and working capital are key elements of how much economic value added a business creates. If the adoption activities in your organisation are not changing these sources of value in some way, then they are unlikely to be creating economic value, especially after the cost of adoption is taken into account.

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Non Economic Value

We can similarly breakdown some major categories of non-economic value, such as Social, Environmental, Governance and Generational value considerations. Because non-economic value is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ to some extent, this list is inevitably a partial one. There are likely more categories that are omitted, such is the richness of human life as expressed by individuals in organisational communities.

Economists will argue that some or all of these can be captured in or flow through to economic value, but the average person sees many of these sources of value as richer for lacking a direct monetary equation. Many of the sources of value in green are key elements of creating an organisation or living a life that is rich in human potential.

The green categories of non-economic value listed below are those most commonly discussed in any project of adoption of collaboration. These may be the starting points for any project. Non-economic value add is usually critical in the ultimate user and organisation success of any collaboration project. There is however a danger if this value is defined only in terms of these Capitalised nouns and they are not translated into specific measures of success and intiatives that users and the organisation can embrace.  Projects that set out after the mystery of ‘Culture’ or ‘Engagement’ without further support or without considering other categories of value, especially economic value, will likely fail because users rightly question their point.

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The Four Sources of Collaboration Value

At the beginning of my career in financial services we had a simple mental model, derived from the Cohen Brown Sales framework, of how we delivered value to customers from the vast array of products and services that a large diversified financial services organisation offered in banking and wealth management. That model was “Save Money, Make Money, Save Time or Protect Money”. Reducing the complexity to these four options guided bankers and other advisors through a great deal of complexity.

As similar guiding structure can be used for value creation generally. When we look at how collaboration can deliver value to each of the green elements of value in both economic and non-economic value we find that value is created by four key drivers. In simplest terms those drivers are:

  • More: Growth – how can we have a bigger impact? how can we help more people? Many organisations want to grow in customer relationships, in scale of operations or in other ways.
  • Better: Effectiveness – how can we ensure we do the most we can do? how do we do more of the right things? The literature of Lean has enriched our understanding of the value of effectiveness in economic value but effectiveness is also a concept that works for non-economic values too.
  • Faster: Velocity – how can we take less time to do our work and to get to our goals? Time is a valuable and expiring resource. Let’s use it as well as we can and remove the traditional work frustrations of delay and waiting.
  • Safer: Protect – how can we avoid risks and better manage consequences? Risk is a part of any life or organisation. We can however improve our management of risk.

As you can see in the tables above, I have highlighted in amber, how each of these drivers commonly creates value for the elements of value in driver. For example costs and working capital can create value if they are used more effectively or with greater velocity.

Here’s a little more detail on what these drivers each mean in organisational terms:

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One of the advantages of framing adoption conversations in these terms, is that it helps make the value of activities clear to users and senior leaders in simple terms.  The key benefits that they are likely to see are:

  • Individual and Organisational Growth
  • Increased Individual and Organisational Effectiveness
  • Improved Velocity in activity, opportunity and leverage of potential, both in an employee and organisational view
  • An environment where individuals and the organisation have better Protection against risks

We Create Value Because We Are Human

If we are to make work more human and more rewarding through shared leverage of human potential in collaboration, then these key drivers should guide our projects and guide our value conversations with stakeholders. We should set our metrics and our use cases around these drivers so that we have the widest impact on value creation. If we need to increase value creation we can come back to these drivers to search for a way forward for users and the organisation.

Every organisation and every user needs to define the value of collaboration to see effective adoption. Understanding value is critical for anyone seeking to accelerate adoption of collaboration in organisations. The four drivers of value can help us to keep conversations and the actions focused on how collaboration can have its greatest impact on value.

Appendix: Recapping All Value Creation Together

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Collaboration Adoption: Act Your Way to a New Way of Thinking

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It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. – Jerry Sternin, The Power of Positive Deviance

Thinking Gets in the Way of Change

A common barrier to social adoption in organisations is when we let our traditional management patterns of thought get in the way of employee adoption of the technology. Because social technology in the workplace demands new actions and new interactions that don’t fit with our mechanical metaphor of employee performance we find our traditional thinking is a barrier.

Adoption is commonly held up as senior executives and even the employees themselves debate issues like:

  • What if I don’t trust the employees in this organisation?
  • What if they waste time?
  • What if they don’t value my contributions?
  • What if nothing valuable comes of all the effort and investment?
  • What if they don’t collaborate?
  • What if I lose power or influence?

We struggle with these challenges because social adoption is ultimately a sense-making exercise. The platforms are neutral. The networks that gather on them have no defined purpose. We need to come together as a community to individually and jointly make sense of the potential, the value and how to realise it.

This sense-making exercise is why you can’t order collaboration. It is also another reason to be sceptical of those who will guarantee collaboration with technology or fancy adoption practices. The same scepticism should apply to any claims to deliver fast adoption. The best way for each community to realise the value of social adoption is for them to practice it and make sense of the change.

Acting Creates New Sense, New Potential and Accelerates Change

The Collaboration Value Maturity Model is based in a series of simple actions that individuals and communities can take. The power of these actions is that they are generic enough to be universally valuable in organisations. Every organisation and indvidual can benefit from connecting, sharing, solving and innovating. We can get started on these actions now in and for themselves:

  • Want to know people in the organisation better? Connect
  • Want to learn more about what’s going on? Share
  • Want to make work easier and better? Solve
  • Want to deliver more value? Innovate

These four steps enable the individuals and the organisation to benefit from a set of near universal use cases that deliver the basic value case for collaboration in any organisation. Starting a community with a clear sense of the value to be created by the action helps justify user’s time and efforts and also shapes the future growth of the community by providing a north star.

Acting As If Culture Has Changed

The secondary power of these four steps is that as people act on each of them, they effectively act as if a new paradigm of organisational culture is true:

  • Connect as if the organisation is full of humans
  • Share as if the organisation can be trusted
  • Solve as if the organisation is enabling, generous and collaborative
  • Innovate as if the organisation is empowering, agile and responsive

As people act through each of these four stages they surprise themselves with the potential that is realised, reinforcing their practice and fostering new beliefs as to the culture of the organisational community. There will be scepticism, doubts and recalcitrant sub-communities in the organisation. The goal is never 100% adoption. You only need enough people acting as if to create the value that justifies the organisational investment in collaboration and helps realise your strategy through collaboration.

Because culture is just a series of expectations of how we behave in an organisation. This pattern of ‘acting as if’ creates change in the culture of the organisation. Others see the practice and the benefits and are encouraged to copy the practice and reinforce it. Over time this consistent practice and the community it builds does more to change the organisation than posters, videos and CEO speeches.

Those who have been through the endless debates at the beginning of a social adoption journey know that issues like trust, safety and value are quickly resolved in properly managed adoption journeys. Often they are never discussed again after the program of adoption support is approved.

 

The Rhythm of Collaboration.

slide1Time and the pace of business cycles play an important role in collaboration. However, we are so accustomed to our own time cycles we don’t often reflect on them. Designing the rhythm of collaboration in your organisation for effectiveness is one of the key untapped opportunities for organisations.

Time Flowing Fast as Water

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace Kenyon College commencement speech

Time is ever a concern in business. We worry about wasting it. We worry about how it can be better used. However, despite all our concerns time tends like water in the story above to flow past us unnoticed if not for the regular milestones that bring it back to our attention. Techniques like sprints, project planning and other productivity disciplines can also help focus our attention on time.

When I wrote about the role of transition in discussion Microsoft’s explanation of how their products support an inner and outer loop’s of collaboration, I threw into a table a row that discussed time. At the time I had a query about it and I intended to write more on the topic. That thought flowed away too quickly to turn into action. A recent conversation with Steve Nguyen of the Yammer Product Team reminded me to return to the topic.

Why did I include time?  The time cycles of a business are one of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration. We can often assume that everyone in the business perceives time the same way we do. Our perception of time is directly influenced by the normal operational business cycles within which we work. This cycle is usually determined by the length of the core process we manage each day.

This difference of perception can be a barrier to sustaining effective collaboration. If my definition of ‘fast’ is in the next hour and another business defines fast as by the end of the month, there is likely to be conflict. Let’s look at an example: an organisation with retail stores is experiencing an issue with a recently implemented IT project. 

  • Retail stores live and die by the day.  Everyone in the retail part of the business will be focused on having an issue addressed by no later than the end of the day. Tomorrow’s trading needs to be secured.
  • Depending on whether the IT project is waterfall or agile the natural time scale of that project could be weeks or months. They might be working ‘fast’ to fix an issue (i.e. fixing it within their shortest operational timescale), but still disappoint the retail store for days until the issue is resolved.
  • Head Office might work to its logical planning time scale, the quarter. When the dispute is escalated to head office there will be yet another definition of ‘fast’ to manage.

Managing the Rhythm of Collaboration

One reason the inner and outer loops approach works well in organisations is that it accommodates the differences between work that happens in immediate teams that is often on the shortest cycles of time and collaborative work that happens more slowly. A fast flowing operational feed will bury messages that invite reflection, discovery, serendipity, co-creation and the longer cycles of innovation.

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In Cultivating Communities of Practice by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, their research into effective communities of practice highlighted that the rhythm of a community was an important part of effective communities. These communities had predictable and routine cycles that helped foster connection, sharing and working together to solve problems and innovate. Community members could adapt to the collaboration activities of the communities because they were predictable and because they aligned to the time cycles of the wider work going on across the organisations. If collaboration needs to be pushed against the grain of the organisation or the cycles of teams, then it will have an unsustainable overhead of community management and the collaborative community will not be sustainable.

When facilitating adoption of collaboration in an organisation, community managers need to consider the time cycles of the use cases that they want to see to deliver the organisations strategy.  In doing this community managers need to consider:

  • Change takes time. Have we allowed enough time & support for behaviours to change and for activity to mature into something self-generating?
  • Is this use case relating to the time cycles of inner loop or outer loop collaboration? Which approach will best support the use cases we are looking to see sustained?
  • What is the natural cycle of activity in the business? How can we align this collaboration activity to a natural and self-sustaining cycle in the business?
  • Are there any time cycle differences between fast moving and slow moving teams that we need to allow for or manage in this collaboration? How do we manage these transitions to enable effective collaboration?
  • What is the aggregate impact of all the various cycles of activity in the collaboration community? Can we engender more effective communication by adjusting the cycles or managing the calendar of activities to reduce conflicts and periods of high demand on users?

A Capitalised Noun is not a Future of Work Strategy

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A key issue for most digital workplace projects is a lack of connection between the goals of the project and the business needs of the organisation. Without specific goals and specific steps to realise them there is a temptation for professionals running these projects to rely on capitalised nouns like productivity, innovation, engagement, adoption and collaboration. Capitalised nouns do not make a strategy.

Why are we doing this again?

Whatever tool, platform or process you want employees to use in your digital workplace, they have the right and obligation to ask why. Employees lives are busy. They don’t need to do something for an abstract goal. They want to understand the specific benefits to the organisation and to them personally.

A capitalised noun won’t cut it to win discretionary employee effort or senior executive time. The best goals of any digital workplace are fulfilment of the business strategy of the organisation. Usually this can be measured on the simple dimensions of win customers, grow revenue, reduce cost, manage assets and reduce risk. Even those goals are so generic as to lack force. Every organisation should be able to describe what employers working better together will do. That’s what a strategy is.

From Business Needs to Specific Actions

The role of the team leading adoption of the digital workplace is to convert that goal to specific actions that employees should do using the workplace. These are the actions that become your use cases and are core to the communication and role modelling you need.

Beware of capitalised nouns creeping in to your use cases. Nobody ‘engages’ on a platform. You should be able to specify exactly what you want to see. That way you can measure the actions and the benefits.

The use case should be some combination of the key verbs in the model above. Ideally, more than one verb for bigger benefits. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who do I want to connect around some issue or process?
  • What information will they share in that connection?
  • What problems will they solve together?
  • How will that result in change, improvements, new services, processes or products?

When you can answer these questions to the satisfaction of a disinterested executive you have the beginnings of a plan. Your engagement activities will then be based in how you create the scaffolding for people to learn to use the platform to deliver the goals that fulfil business strategy.

The Art of Adoption: Influence, not Power

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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.

Part 4 – Leading Discomfort

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That uncomfortable moment when we both wonder ‘who is leading this? I hope it is not me’

The transformation of organisations to adapt to new digital networked economy and to leverage future of work behaviours creates new discomfort for leaders. Leadership is not the art of making things good or having the right answers. Leadership is the art of enabling others to work together through discomfort.

We have examined the role of discomfort in the future of work. We have looked at the personal implications of discomfort and our need to engage with reality. Now let’s look at what this enduring discomfort means for leadership.

Leaders Aren’t Magicians

We can’t expect leaders to be magicians. The world is too complex and too fast paced for hierarchal or any leaders to have all the answers. Our work is increasingly intertwined in systems, stakeholders and interpersonal dynamics. Each of these brings complexity that makes the work of leaders hard and prevents quick fixes and simple patterns of action.

Worse still many employees and many organisations have an outdated expectation that the role of leader is to make a team safe, to make work simple and easy and to provide security and protection. Those expectations are unable to be met in the modern environment of work. Connections to the outside world cannot be cut without imperilling performance. Once we let the network world in to our work it brings change, risk and complexity. For many leaders, the greatest source of discomfort is that the expectations of their power far outweigh their actual influence on people, work and outcomes.

Embrace Discomfort & Enable Others

Leaders need to embrace their own discomfort and help their teams to productively navigate the environment and their emotional states in work. A key first step is for leaders to have honest conversations about the expectations around work, to understand the challenges and to callout that discomfort, like change, is not only likely but inevitable.

When managed in this way, discomfort can be a productive source of energy for change and a unifier of teams and stakeholders. Rather than suppress discomfort, people can leverage discomfort as a trigger for change, as a rationale for action and as pressure for sustaining the work. Focusing attention on the accountability for improvement in a group and helping the group engage with that work is a leader’s work, far more than providing answers.

Leaders need to work to make discomfort feel safe for action and interaction. Creating psychological safety despite the discomfort of work is essential to team performance. Leaders need to encourage employees to embrace a more human approach to work that includes not just their technical expertise but their social and emotional expertise as well.

Great leaders create others who can inspire and enable action and share that capability widely across their organisations and communities. One of the greatest drivers of performance is increasing the number of people who can help others to work through discomfort.

Work Together

When we are uncomfortable, it can seem easier to withdraw to safety. People will pull back into their own domains as if that offers safety. The nature of modern work requires connection and collaboration. Leaders are critical to role model this behaviour and help others see the benefits of working together. Building new capabilities and new practices for connection, sharing and collaboration is essential.

Often we need to work together across the reach of a leader’s authority. Great leaders are those who can find shared interests and help facilitate this wider stretch collaboration. This work is how we gain a shared context and learn together how we address the big problems of our organisations and our societies.

Lastly, leaders can help teams achieve enduring change in their work by changing their relationships across the organisation. Those relationships might be long settled or tied up in cultural expectations that are difficult to adapt. Everyone needs to be encouraged to reflect on these human relationships and how they contribute to better interactions, performance and outcomes.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

Part 2: The Personal Discomfort

Part 3: Engaging with Reality

Part 3: The Discomfort of Working with Reality

Learning is a common source of discomfort in the future of work. A related source of discomfort is that many future of work practices force us to focus on reality – whether that is the reality inside our organisations, the world of our customers and communities or wider society. We cannot learn to sit with discomfort until we embrace the fact that discomfort is a part of that reality.

Hope is not a Strategy

Embracing discomfort demands we stop the delusion of wishing for change and waiting for something better to come along. We can’t rely on a hope for an improvement. We can’t wish discomfort away. We can’t rely on the actions of others. We can’t wait and see.

Wishful thinking prevent us from being present with our discomfort. Wishful thinking prevents us from learning. It mitigates the prod of discomfort we need to learn and to act differently.

Too often inside the comfortable confines of an organisation, you will hear discussions that reflect wishful thinking that ignores the demands of the uncomfortable reality outside:

  • our customers are different to those of our low-cost digital competitors and will continue to pay a premium for our service
  • our brand, distribution channels, product or approach is unique
  • our strategy is not showing results now but has always delivered in the long run
  • our employees are loyal
  • millennial employees will help us…
  • the customer dissatisfaction or employee disengagement is a flaw in the methodology or a lack of accurate representation of reality
  • community concerns are the work of a vocal minority
  • they just don’t understand and their views will improve if we communicate more

If we are to engage with the reality of the situation we need to start to to address the needs of our organisation, our employees and our communities in a realistic way. Today.

The Passion for Packaged Solutions

Leaders love a quick fix to discomfort. They are often willing to ignore reality to have the sensation of having acted to address the discomfort. Prodded by discomfort, they want to wish it away by immediate action. These actions include:

  • Buy a new piece of technology
  • Launch a program or initiative
  • Hire a new team
  • Implement a new process or methodology; or worse
  • Seek quick wins, which are usually neither quick nor wins but are merely comforting activity for its own sake

In our digital networked world, many of the issues causing discomfort in organisations are systemic or human issues. Pre-packaged solutions may help ameliorate these human or systemic issues at the edges or temporarily, but they do not help create enduring solutions. Organisations and their leaders need to engage in the reality of change over time to tackle this kind of discomfort through building new human capabilities, improving the system through adaptation and through engagement of the participants in the system. If they don’t, we have an ever rotating menu of quick fixes being implemented and failing.

Learning from Inclusion and Diversity

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The value of working out loud is it can help reveal to you blindspot. In the classic 2×2 of a Johari window, a blindspot is those things that are not known to you but a are clearly known to others. Yesterday on twitter, Rachel Happe helped me highlight a blindspot in this discussion of discomfort.

Presenting discomfort as a permanent experience is no surprise to Rachel’s list of those who we have ignored as leaders. There is real capability to lead and influence change in those who have been marginalised by the reality of power structures. I have seen this in my work with Change Agents Worldwide.

My blindspot was I had planned this post from the perspective of an advocate for diversity and inclusion but had not included the perspective of these other voices.  I wanted to write in this post about the importance of diversity and inclusion for organisations as a way to engage with the reality of their world and the reality of the communities around the organisation.

The research is clear that diversity and inclusion improves performance. One potential reason is that it brings new perspectives, new capabilities and new conversations into the organisation to improve learning and adaptation to the world. Those conversations can be uncomfortable. That discomfort is one of the barriers to diversity and inclusion as leaders fall for the illusion that comfort and ‘cultural fit’ in teams improve effectiveness by removing these difficult and at times uncomfortable conversations.

The insight of Rachel’s tweet is that the productive discomfort of diversity and inclusion is not created. That discomfort is a sharing of the existing experience of marginalised who struggle to find authority and to make positive change to better fit the organisation to society. Genuine community engagement is not easy and should not be. A strong civil society or a strong organisation includes all views and manages debate and conflict. Inclusion requires a real sharing of power, voice and agency. Our organisations and our society will be better if we engage with that reality.

The next post will be on the role of leaders in discomfort.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

Part 2: The Personal Discomfort

Part 2: Personal Discomfort in the #FutureofWork

The Organisation Man, and it was mostly a man, wore a suit, travelled to work each day in the same organisation, had a boss who he looked up to, had meetings, made telephone calls, and pursued the individual task of moving paper from the in-tray to the out-tray. At the end of the day around 5pm the Organisation Man went home. Our vision of this stereotypical 1950s style experience of work is a vision of a comfortable and predictable existence with a steady career escalator to provide the gradual rewards. Many still long for this level of certainty and safety in work, even if they don’t long for the gendered roles.

Our Future of Work Worker isn’t just an employee. They juggle a portfolio career as employee, parent, volunteer, consultant, contractor, entrepreneur, and director. They wake to a flurry of overnight messages, emails and updates. Before breakfast they are taking calls from colleagues and customers. The plan for the day is shattered by the 9am standup and he or she struggles to learn what they need to, know just in time to do what needs to be done all day. Meetings, agendas, locations and more are reshuffled on the run and instant messaging and video calls pepper the interludes. When others leave and the calls and emails start to slow, the worker catches up on missed messages, prepares for the next day, has a late video call, prepares another presentation, solves a crisis or two and juggles a late change. After family and dinner, another part of the portfolio demands attention. Late in the day with a sense that there is more to do, more to know and that progress is elusive, the worker collapses into bed ready to begin again. From bed to bed, comfort is not even a thought.

We have embraced change, complexity and uncertainty as the heart of human work. We have to embrace the discomfort that comes with it.

The Work of Learning

Harold Jarche uses the phrase “Work is learning and learning is the work”. We have optimised so many aspects of work to emphasise the continuous and networked nature of learning. The practices we have embraced as future of work practices all have a shared core of not just learning, but networked collaborative learning: agile, lean startup, design thinking, collaboration, flat organisation structures, transparency and more.

We learn when we are out of our comfort zone. We must accept that the nature of work as we move forwards is primarily outside the comfort zone, in the zone of discomfort where learning is paramount. The comfortable predictable repetitive work is that which is being consumed by lower priced competition – outsourcing, offshoring, and automation.

At a personal level, we must embrace the discomfort and focus on the opportunity to learn and to grow rapidly. As noted in Part 1, we also need to look for work and learning opportunities that deliver the positive characteristics of Flow. The discomfort is not going away. We must at least gather the benefits of learning, growing capabilities and the richness of our new networked interactions with others. Working out loud can play a key role in helping us to manage this transition to a more uncomfortable mode of work and learning.

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Consciously Incompetent

People embracing Working Out Loud like many future of work practices must battle with discomfort. Whatever our level of expertise or the stage of our career, there is a good chance we are competent for the process centred expectations of our work. Recruitment, selection and talent management processes are usually highly effective in delivering process competence. Induction, on boarding and experience in a role tailors this individual capability into unconscious competence in the process of each role.

Adoption of new future of work practices forces a return to conscious incompetence. The practice feels alien. Work seems harder, slower and ineffective at first when the skills in these practices are new. Conscious incompetence is deeply uncomfortable in organisations that place a high emphasis on competence and performance. For many people, this discomfort or the associated fear and distrust become too great a barrier to persist with a new practice. Adaptation is lost when discomfort is avoided.

Worse still most future of work skills come in practices, not processes. The learning process has no end point. Mastery remains a quest. There is no moment when endless comfort returns. We need recognise that in a rapidly changing, complex and uncertain world we will always be a little incompetent. We always have more to learn.

Being Present with Discomfort

Our Future of Work worker must learn to be present with discomfort. Discomfort is not going away. It cannot be stopped. Discomfort can be embraced, leveraged and mitigated.

Managing one’s own discomfort requires the courage to face and accept that discomfort for the benefits it will deliver in learning. Managing discomfort requires some compassion for yourself and for others who are experiencing their own discomfort, because increasing there’s will only increase yours in a networked collaborative world. Compassion also requires you to know your tolerances and when to retreat, relax or protect yourself and others. Managing discomfort requires hope or at least acceptance. Most importantly of all managing discomfort requires a community.

To tackle the continual challenges of learning in the future of work, we need to embrace the reality of our situation and explore the potential of learning, mastery and connection to others to provide the rewards of growth and achievement.  The next post in the series will look at the need to embrace the reality of discomfort individually and collectively.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

 

 

Part 1: Discomfort in the #FutureofWork

When we talk about the future of work, we talk about managing learning, creativity, uncertainty and complexity as human roles. The processes, the predictable and routine will be automated. What we do not discuss enough is that with this shift comes an explicit embrace of discomfort. We need to value discomfort in our organisations.

The Role of Discomfort

We aren’t always comfortable in a business context to use emotive language. One reason we tend to slip past discussion of discomfort in the future of work is that we tend to use rational logical language like uncertainty and complexity to discuss the work context. These are terms with precise, businesslike and emotionless language. We don’t explicitly pull into view the emotional flip side that comes with a human experience of these states.

  • What does uncertainty feel like: uncomfortable, frightening, doubtful, etc
  • What does complexity feel like: uncomfortable, overwhelming, challenging, etc

The concept of Flow from positive psychology highlights that we can create positive experiences from challenge, but only when we focus, experience our capabilities rising to match the challenge and get feedback on our progress. In many demanding modern workplaces with thousands of electronic daily distractions, these conditions are not being met, while the uncertainty,complexity and pace of change continues to rise.

Many of the practices advocated as part of the future of work attempt to bake an increased level of discomfort into work. The theme generally is that it is better to have a small difficult conversation early rather than suffer a failure or breakdown later. The list of practices that encourage or increase the frequency of uncomfortable conversations is long: purpose, values, agile, lean start-up, holacracy, working out loud, collaboration, transparency, design thinking, etc.

What we need to embrace is the role that discomfort comes with a strong focus on learning. The value of humans in complex and uncertain activities is collaborative learning. Each of us learns when we are out of our comfort zones. When we are out of our comfort zones together, the quality of our interactions becomes critical.

Ending the Parent-Child Relationship of Employee Comfort

Increasing discomfort in the workplace crashes straight into our traditional paternalistic approach to employee engagement. The goal is defined as creating a positive, engaged employee committed to the goals of the organisation and prepared to offer discretionary efforts internally and externally. Uncomfortable thoughts need not apply. The implicit or explicit promise of much employee engagement literature is that the role of the employer (fulfilled by senior management) is to make employees comfortable – provide a clear vision and purpose, simplify processes to make them easier, provide security of benefits and career, provide consistently rewarding work, and lead effectively.

Lead effectively is perhaps the most dangerous phrase in that list because so much of our leadership expectation is hierarchical and modelled on a benevolent parent. Leadership in any human context is not parenting. In a future post we will consider effective leadership for uncertainty and complexity. Without that clarity, we continue to see leaders who feel that their responsibility should be to take away uncertainty, to reduce complexity and to remove discomfort. By taking the work on themselves, these leaders dramatically increase their own discomfort, fail in their roles and fail their employees. Avoiding the work only makes the situation worse for all involved.

We need to accept that discomfort is not going away in our workplaces. The organisation and its leaders cannot take on the responsibility of removing the adverse affects of a changing environment of work. Removing employees entirely would be an easier challenge (and one many employers seem to embrace). Rather than removing discomfort the challenge for any organisation embracing the future of work is how to manage discomfort and how to ensure that it is productive for employees and the organisation.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 2: Personal Discomfort in the Future of Work