The path to becoming a progressive workplace

A new wave of organisations are doing business differently and taking an alternative path from the way things have always been done. In 'Culture Shock: A Handbook for 21st Century Business', Will McInnes tells us what it takes.

0

As soon as I looked at the front cover of Culture Shock: A Handbook for 21st Century Business by Will McInnes (pictured right), I knew I was going to read something different, challenging, and ‘shocking’ indeed. And to my delight – and curiosity – when I opened the book, there I read a personal message written in pen by the author himself: “Hi Gloria, Here’s how I believe the world of business needs to change. Best, Will”.

That personal and genuine dedication from the author certainly reinforced my first impression. Now, at the time I am writing this book review, I can only confirm those initial feelings of ‘something different’.

The new wave of disruptive organisations

“It is time to change” is something McInnes emphasises many times in his book. A new wave of disruptive organisations have already understood and embraced the need of shifting patterns in the way they are doing business. These organisations have stopped adopting the old command and control approach and instead have move towards building a progressive workplace where organisational democracy and intelligent use of technology help their people to collaborate and move faster.

These companies have been recognising and celebrating all the benefits derived from adopting this new approach. So, what do these progressive organisations look like?

A progressive business has a very clear, meaningful and higher purpose that the author defines as a “Purpose of Significance”. A story of meaning, a mission that inspires, a cause to get behind and a movement to belong to are what our organisations desperately need to have in our competitive business landscape.

The Purpose of Significance links what the company does with “something that really, really matters in the 21st century…worthwhile issues, challenges and needs in the world,” writes McInnes. When people are united behind a shared Purpose of Significance, real-world opportunities can be created and compelling results achieved. “It serves as a unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit,” the author explains.

Democracy and Empowerment

Contemporary progressive businesses have understood that Democracy and Empowerment are what’s needed to make their Purpose of Significance happen. These companies have created innovative, alternative and even subversive ways for decision making because “It makes sense. Business-sense. Society-sense. People sense,” writes McInnes.

An inclusive approach to management and the opening up of issues to a broader base of participation, can only lead to powerful and tangible business results as well as an improved ability to react more quickly to any unpredictable situation, increased collaboration, effective internal communications and higher levels of employee engagement.

Progressive people

Progressive organisations know that employees are the lifeblood of the business and celebrate and unlock their people’s abilities in ways that create powerful value for both the individuals and the business.

The smartest companies have designed an environment where people can thrive, achieve more, are nurtured and feel stronger than they ever believed they could about their working lives. People are encouraged to dream, think about what really matter to them in line with the culture and organisational values, and even to think creatively about what rewarding and motivating benefits the organisation could provide them with.

Conscious leadership


The book puts the topic of people before that of leadership with the author urging the need of recalibrating and shifting emphasis to the fundamental of “human leadership”. The challenge in the 21st century is the development of a more Conscious Leadership, which works with purpose and vigor, and is made up of seven components:

1. Leading yourself: “In the evolved organisation it will be very hard to lead others unless you are constantly learning and improving on how you manage yourself,” comments the author.

2. Style: Leadership is situational and judgement on which style and approach is right for any given context has to be made continuously. While in some occasions it may still work the old “heroic leadership” – the all-fixing leader approach – perhaps a better style to adopt is “Convening, Curating, Gardening” – being the person who curate the group, helps them to observe, share, reach decisions and create.

3. Trust and Ethics: the trust dimension is about having the confidence that people and the practices of the organisation will deliver the desired results. It is particularly important because, without it, there cannot be the empowerment of others. “There should be a default ‘I trust you’ position” emphasis the author. The ethic dimension instead is about behaving with integrity, “doing the right thing, all of the time.”

4. Transparency: leading in a more transparent world requires transparency of information – including rewards, performance, feedback and other more subtle business data, as well as emotional transparency – which requires leaders to be congruent by acting in accordance with their feelings.

5. Rewards: at this point the author encourages to think about the ratio of rewards for top earners compared to the rest of the workforce as well as a shift towards recognising the value of non-financial rewards (leaders doing what they do for a much higher purpose that the accumulation of wealth).

6. Communication/Realtime: in a world where there is little time to prepare the right message, there is an increased demand for authenticity and honesty. The author’s belief is that in the networked world there are exponentially more opportunities for leaders to harness relevant, timely information by plugging to their “organisational sensors”, those people who have the best available information at any given moment.

7. Support: in the 21st century leaders must put in place the appropriate support for themselves as well as other leaders who are facing the same journey. “To give yourself the best chances of success,” writes McInnes, “you must find or create a support network of people who understand this new world, who belong to the community of changers striving for something different, who have walked the same alternative paths.”

Organisational openness

Openness itself is irresistible to progressive businesses. Rather than holding back as many organisations still do, social businesses celebrate and harness openness with the final result of opening up tremendous opportunities for themselves, their people, customers and the wider society.

These companies have an open culture where almost all information is available to almost all members, people are open to emotions and collaboration is a natural state of their organisation. They also are open to new ways of distributing their offering outside by allowing other organisations and individuals to plug into a carefully considered part of what they create. They make the most of crowdsourcing-as-innovation, by harvesting efforts and intelligence from online communities. Finally, openness plays a substantial part in their role of addressing environmental challenges.

McInnes comments: “Society is becoming more and more connected, which is leading to more and more openness. We can harness its energy, go with it, run full force with it and throw everything we have into being more open. To make this happen, will require grit and vision and will lead to extremely positive cultural change.”

Change velocity

Another fundamental characteristic of progressive organisations is their ability to change very rapidly as well as their propensity to do so. “For me,” the author comments, “it’s one of their most violent and disruptive advantages. To thrive, to reach for our Purpose of Significance, and make a difference to the world, we have to increase our change velocity.”

Fast-moving businesses have a great deal of flexibility, willingness to adjust and the ability to learn, iterate and change many times faster than old fashioned companies. Since things will and always do change, harnessing that change becomes key to success. This requires organisations to be in ‘Beta’ mode – which means always learning, improving, iterating – and to adopt the perception that failure is learning itself, an opportunity to adapt and move forwards.

Tech DNA

The world we live in is populated with technology and successful organisations have an embracing attitude towards the disruption and opportunity that technology creates, indeed they possess a Tech DNA.

‘Enterprise 2.0’ and ‘Social Business’ are the two main definitions that have at the heart democracy, openness and change. These two mindsets are ingrained in progressive organisations, and are about empowering people, opening up boundaries and resources, creating transparency, porosity as well as realtime communications and flow.

Smart companies use flow tools – such as Yammer, Chatter, Twitter, Facebook and the like – to keep people in their organisations connected and move at the speed of events that happen out there in the real world. Also, they use technologies and internal platforms such us wikis that not only allow employees to share but also to store knowledge and enable collaboration. “In this new world connectivity is power,” emphasises the author, while also pointing out another relevant point: “The only decent way to approach technology is by adopting a people-first attitude,” which means putting the users at the heart of everything, always putting the human aspect of how the technology will actually be used and valued.

Finally, the greatest opportunity allowed by harnessing the power of technology – the only one which is not inward facing – is the engagement with online communities of customers at levels never seen before.

“Technology is changing who we are, what we do and how we do it. We are talking about digital innovation around the creation and delivery of business,” writes the author.

Fair Finances

“I am enormously excited about the way that progressive businesses manage their money,” comments McInness before describing how the financial aspects of organisations are evolving and how smart, conscious businesses harness those new forces. These organisations are opening up all of their financial information including earnings to their whole teams. They are sharing ownership, rewards and bonuses “far beyond the C-suite.”

Fair Finances are provided by the examination of five values:

1. Purpose: progressive business know that profit is the fuel to remain independent, continue to forge their path, invest and continue to evolve. Yet, they have moved towards a healthier resolution with purpose, making profit and purpose living together. “Shakers in the 21st century are driven towards a greater contribution to society. Profits are an important but secondary goal, or even a consequence,” write McInnes.

2. Fairness: in the context of finance what is fair to one person may feel unfair to another. Therefore, the author encourages to expose those views inside the organisation: “The sooner we are clear about what we agree in our company to be fair, and bring our behaviour into line with it, the sooner we will find ourselves in a sustainable position.”

3. Openness: openness and finance are often so far apart. Yet by freeing this kind of information up – sharing of financial performance to all people, full open book accounting, sharing financial metrics twinned with other indicators that matters – latent power can be harnessed.

4. Participation: in progressive organisations, participation has been brought into how the business manages their finances. What rewards people receive becomes now more democratic, with an emphasis shifted “from ‘what to monitor’ to ‘what to share,’” reports the author.

5. Resilience: this is the ability to withstand challenges, endure them and be in a position to continue once they pass. According to the author “in finances, there might be a great deal we can do with resilience” and he encourages to consider the challenges and opportunities described in Fairness since “unfair approaches will be increasingly and dramatically less resilient.”

Food for thought

McInnes nicely sums up the path businesses will take moving forward and the vital characteristics needed to become progressive organisations:

“In the 21st century, business will become more human, it will become an organism again, but we need everything – including our finances – to be people centred, to have heart, and to be helping to make a positive difference.”

Essential words of advice for communicators everywhere, making this an important read to add to any book shelf in companies worldwide.