A new collaborative book by members of the “Great Work Cultures” (GWC) movement aims to transform organizations and create more humanistic environments for employees to work in. Joan Blades, a prominent activist for positive change who launched the movement, praises the contributors to the book as “brilliant innovators and leaders who know how to structure workplaces that sing”.
Statistics show that the average worker is disengaged and that most workplace productivity is a fraction of what it could be. Members of the GWC movement believe, however, that workplace environments which are deeply respectful of all workers will be productive and experience very low turnover. This book is an outcome of their intention to accelerate positive change at work.
In this interview, book contributor, Doug Kirkpatrick, discusses his chapter, “The Age of the Self-Managed Organization”. Doug Kirkpatrick is an organizational change consultant, TEDx and keynote speaker, blogger, educator, executive coach, dual citizen and author of Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization. He engages with Great Work Cultures, LeadWise, Center for Innovative Cultures and other communities to co-create the future of work. Doug enjoys travel in rough parts of the world and appreciates the perspective he gains from it.
Doug Kirkpatrick, share a little bit about what you do and the name of your company.
Doug Kirkpatrick: I’m a partner with NuFocus Strategic Group and our company provides consulting and educational services to clients in the field of organizational self-management.
What would you say your specific area of expertise is and what kind of clients or companies do you work with?
Doug Kirkpatrick: My expertise is deep in business and startups. I was involved in a couple of startups over the last 30 years; so, the companies that I have been associated with are well-known, self-managed organizations including the Morning Star Company of Los Banos, California. It was described in an article by Gary Hamel in the December 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review as one of the world’s most creatively managed companies. The reason is because it has abandoned command authority and has embraced organizational self-management by professional individuals within the organization who are free to express themselves, collaborate and do their best work without the oppression of traditional command and control. Traditional rigid hierarchical structures get in the way of innovation, leadership and creativity.
There are many statistics about how disengaged the average worker is. Briefly, why do you think the average worker is disengaged?
Doug Kirkpatrick: Well, I think if you read the studies, particularly those from Gallup, most of the disengagement is linked to bosses, managers and supervisors. Studies show that people often quit a job because they are not viewed favorably, or they don’t view their boss or manager favorably. This bureaucracy that we’ve been working in for the last 150 years is not working so well anymore. That’s really a major source of disengagement and the statistics are quite horrifying. When you look at the 2012 report, 70% of American workers are disengaged, 20% are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged means they are actively undermining their own workplaces with gossip, sabotage and all the rest. This is incredibly costly. It’s costly not only in human terms but also in the loss of productivity and in financial and economic losses to the economy, not only here but worldwide. The costs are astronomical and it’s a situation that’s begging for a resolution.
It is said that work place productivity among workers and companies is only a fraction of what it could be. What behaviors, actions or thought processes do you believe will increase work place productivity for companies?
Doug Kirkpatrick: Let’s start with some fundamental questions. Such questions include: Can we create environments where everyone has a voice in matters that affect them? Can we create workplace environments where everyone is free to become a leader and exercise that leadership? Can we create workplace environments where anyone can innovate and where innovation can spring forth from any point at any time? Can we create workplace environments where women no longer have to lean in because they’re already in? Can we create workplace environments where everyone is free to thrive and do their best work? Depending on how you answer that question, you can go down two paths. We believe we can do that. The question now becomes: What do we do to achieve that? If you believe we can’t do that, I think the situation is really hopeless and that’s somewhat depressing.
Having been involved in the startup of a self-managed organization that respects each and every individual where people are free to thrive and do their best work and where everyone’s voice is respected and where leadership and innovation can arise any time. I’ve lived it. I know it can be done. It’s not necessarily easy but it is somewhat simple, and it involves managing enormous complexity with great simplicity around core principles that are embedded deeply in the culture of the enterprise. It’s been proven that it can be done and my mission in life is to make that message known all around the world and give people hope that these kinds of environments can be created, maintained and sustained.
There is a Harvard Business Review piece that provides the definition of culture as being a set of processes in an organization that affects the motivation of its people. How would you relate this definition of company culture to your chapter, “The Age of the Self-Managed Organization”?
Doug Kirkpatrick: I’m not sure I necessarily embrace that particular definition. I like the definition that defines culture as the shared assumptions that underlie organizational behavior. It’s below the level of conscious awareness, yet it’s very strong and powerful and guides behavior in the workplace. That definition seems to make sense to me. Another sense of the starting place for organizational self-management which I lived and which consultants speak about, is really dependent on the concept of free will and that recognizes that every single individual is expressing his or her free will every minute of every day. So, we’re all deciding how hard to work, what to prioritize, who to talk to, what to do and how to do it. We’re choosing those levels of engagement all the time.