“We are going to empower every individual and every organization to do more and achieve more”, the words of Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, on the launch of his book Hit Refresh . It is a story of transformation; how people, organizations, and societies can and must “hit refresh” and transform in their quest for new energy, new ideas, renewal and continued relevance in the face of the most exciting and disruptive wave of technology humankind has ever experienced. These are encouraging words from a new age CEO and I can’t help but see common threads with Frederic Laloux’s seminal work “Reinventing Organizations”.
Of course, he’s not using those same terms. But, he’s saying some of the same things in a different way. He emphasizes the importance of culture, above all else, to renewal and innovation. He speaks of rediscovering the company’s soul. He talks of empathy throughout the book and the need for deeper understanding of one another – “to connect our personal philosophies to our jobs” and to “open your mind to think more about other people’s perspectives”. Importantly, I think, is that this is a CEO of a major corporation who is talking in those terms – that is refreshing.
I’m skeptical. Microsoft’s mission is to increase office productivity. It emanates from a scientific-materialist, techno-uptopian milieu — efficiency gains by turning the knobs some more. I interpret what Satya is saying as “retooling the machine” and he’s appropriating words like empathy and soul because they sell.
I left my last company, where I served on the exec team, a month after we hired a COO from Microsoft. This person worked directly for Satya. During dinner with the exec team he intentionally told a story about always keeping a sleeping bag and change of clothes at the office just in case he needed to work through the night. There’s nothing about Microsoft’s culture and core that comes from human wholeness.
Even if Satya wanted to usher in change, he works at the behest of the board and his shareholders, who are WALL STREET. The system is stacked against him. To me this underscores the importance of developing organizations outside the prevailing system to exert pressure on “business as usual” as part of the evolutionary process of social change.
Thank you Drew for your comment that helps our community see through the corporate efforts of a new version of “greenwashing.”
As you guys know, originally that term referred to “the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.”
Nadella’s version of greenwashing is not about the environment, but the psychological environment of work, also known as company culture. Clearly, he is light years away from introducing self-management that is one of the hallmarks of Reinventing Organizations. And that’s fine because he has the right to be what he is: the best-paid agent of Microsoft’s shareholders, obsessed with increasing productivity.
In knowledge-based companies, the bosses cannot squeeze out any more ounce of productivity just by putting more pressure on their employees. Realizing that, they put on a humanist façade and start talking “soul” and “empathy”.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with those terms; when they’re not only TALK, but a reality EMBODIED in the social relations of work, including the one between employers and employees, then it’s a step forward from Orange to Green management, in Spiral Dynamics parlance. (See their key words below and compare them with the ones of Yellow that is SD’s color for what Laloux and Ken Wilber call “Teal”.
So, why I call the selling of empathy “greenwashing”? Because it’s a misleading claim about the culture of a company that appears to be more human-centric than it really is. “There is nothing necessarily nice about empathy, which is essentially the ability to imagine and intuit how other people think and feel” says the “What if Trump is actually a master of empathy?” article in the Guardian. It’s a quality of every successful leader, which becomes a Geen value only when it is coupled with compassion and genuine, sympathetic concern for the misfortunes of others, which proves itself in action.
All successful politicians have unusually high levels of empathy. That is what makes their supporters feel and believe that they are understood, regardless of the true motives of the political figure. The same is true of successful demagogues and psychopaths who have an uncanny ability to read the mind of their victims in order to manipulate and control them. Thus, depending on the moral compass of a leader, empathy could be a very positive or very destructive force.” (Richard A Friedman in the Guardian, 30-Sept-2017)
Will Nadella turn Microsoft into a truly soulful and compassionate place to work? Let’s not bar the possibility that his actions may grow into his rhetoric. I’ve just heard that he started introducing a book on non-violent communication to improve dialogue. Who knows, it can be a small move towards real Green.
Feels like an important conversation to me especially when the best-paid agent of Microsoft’s shareholders, obsessed with increasing productivity, starts using terms like ‘Imagine a better future for everyone’ & ‘rediscovering the soul’. Either he welcomes being challenged on those ideas and what putting them into practice would need to look like.
That requires courage to be honest and authentic or he continues to be blind to the split between nice and trendy ideas and reality and accepts the world of duality, which Microsoft helps to perpetuate when it caters for the wishes of their shareholders. I wonder if anyone would be in a position to approach him and find out what he really means by ‘Imagine a better future for everyone’.
I’m about to read the book the next days, so don’t have any opinion yet. But from my experiences the last years as agile coach in big enterprises, also trying to implement teal principles, I suggest us being patient and doing steps in the teal direction. When CEOs like Satya are already talking the right direction, this is one very important step. Neither management, nor formal organization nor employees were living self-managed organizations and don’t “feel” it on broader scale.
They all grew up and worked in orange environments and all are used to those principles of hierarchy, individual incentives, responsibility hand-offs etc. It took me many years and projects to “feel” agile. I don’t expect a quick switch. But today’s buzz around new work and self-organization has the opportunity to pave the way for the mass adoption, I believe. We should only not let some temporary hype quickly fade away, but use it as a start and accelerator. I’m optimistic 🙂
Feeling and loving a new culture into being starts with ‘feeling it from within’ ourselves and embodying it. It requires making space and creating spaces intentionally to allow the expression of those feelings to manifest within a suitably dynamic structure. Communities of Practice are one such possibility . Are there others?
I wished to, but none of the companies I’ve been to so far “felt it from within” when they engaged me (maybe because my customers were too big). There might have been a few individuals, but the reason they called out for agile self-organization was mainly for hype or efficiency reasons. So far I only saw teal concepts growing over time.
I think CoP to be a good thing. Only my experience is, that in environments being still orange, those initiatives are often missing power and commitment and become toothless tigers. I believe it to be most effective, if 1. management calls out for purpose driven change, 2. external coaches are introduced and internally supported…and 3. adding CoP