The original talk is republished by EE Magazine in three parts. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
Uniting Leaders to Craft the Organizations of the Future
A Pilgrimage of Learning
Thank you very much! What a pleasure to be here today with all of you, fellow travellers on a pilgrimage of learning towards a hopefully more teal new normal.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am passionate about personal and organisational transformation. During the last 25 years, I have worked in non-profit, start-ups and major global companies and I have made it my purpose to create better organisations. And I do feel there is still a lot for us to do –
Whilst this so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is literally “taking the world by its ears”, our organisations have collectively produced numerous outcomes that nobody really wanted —burnout and loneliness, inequality and hunger, and ecological collapse. And by some estimates, more than 7 trillion dollars are wasted every single year, globally, due to employee disengagement.
But I believe there is also hope. The winds of change have started blowing forcefully. This current crisis is bonding us all together, like never before, and is allowing us to collectively pause and reflect: Could we imagine a new normal where we all make a difference to people and planet through our daily work? Could we liberate our organisations to bring forth a more sustainable future? And indeed, could we unite to spark a fifth revolution of virtuous, passionate and unselfish leadership to make it happen? Join me on a momentous adventure to give it a try!
Our Call to AdventureSo, without further ado, let us weigh our virtual anchors and set forth together towards the mysterious seas of personal and organisational change, and like humble sailors, ride the waves towards six “ports of reflection” along our journey.
These relate to the why – our Values; the what – organisations, Individuals, Teams; and finally, the how – Leadership, from purpose to wider impact.
Port 1 – Values
Alas, before we even hoist our sails, we are already at our first port of reflection! As Steven Covey suggested: “Start with the end in mind”. If we embark on a voyage to reshape our world, we should first check our bearings. I do very often encounter people who tell me very earnestly that they deeply desire to become Agile or “Teal”, without ever asking themselves the question why.
That is not surprising, is it? We have created a seductively materialistic and individualistic narrative in our western society, where self-interested growth, productivity and stock prices have become ends in themselves. In a “pandemic of busyness” we have often succumbed to that hedonistic treadmill of money for money’s sake. People start to work ever longer hours to attain status and wealth, just to find out that it does not really make them happier.
And in creating ever greater riches, arguably for far too few, we have often ignored ecologic externalities, just to discover that our mother planet is at the brink of bankruptcy and the collapse of global climate will threaten the livelihoods of millions.
So, what do we really believe in? What do we stand for?
These questions are both existential and fundamental. We create organisations for a purpose, to achieve something together which individually we could not achieve. And I strongly believe that in the future personal and organisational “success” must transcend a quest for money and shareholder value.
From Money to Meaning
As Colin Mayer maintained at the WEF this year, the true purpose of organisations is to “solve the planets problems, profitably”. It is not just about profit and endless growth, but also about an inclusive and sustainable future for all stakeholders. Not just bigger, but better.
Not as a question of marketing or charity, but as a matter of morality and justice. Exploitation and inequality are not economic laws, but inherent failures of our economic system. The time has come to evolve societal and organisational success measures beyond GDP and PBT.
And in a world where traditional communities of churches and neighbourhoods have been eroded, where scientific management has filled gaps of meanings with a gospel of growth, and where work has become so central in our lives, where organisations are like small states, I believe businesses have to step up. As Immanuel Kant warned us a century ago: “human beings must always be treated as an end in themselves, never as means”, never as cogs in a machine. Today, we need human-centric organisations more than ever to provide a place of meaning and community, where people can grow and flourish.
Hence, the North Star on our journey shall be to transform our organisations to create greater value, both co-creating collective purpose for all stakeholders and “co-elevating” individual development and meaning for our employees, profitably.
Port 2: Organisation
But let us lay on even keel just a bit longer to examine what such a reshaped organisation of the future could look like. We live in an ever more complex world – facing ever-faster changes, advances in technology and data, shortening half-life of knowledge, and ever greater global interdependencies. 65% of the future professions of people entering primary school today do not even yet exist. As they say, “today is the slowest day you will ever experience” — from now on. Hence, in these New 20ies we need to let go of the illusion that work can be predicted or planned in detail.
From Bureaucracy to HumanocracyAs BCG suggested, the companies that will win in the 2020ies are those who can “compete on learning”. From a paradigm of “scalable efficiency” that has dominated our businesses since the industrial revolution we need to transition to a new world of “scalable learning” and development. From competitive to “adaptive advantage” – yes, its ok not to be perfect – and from closed systems to boundaryless ecosystems.
The simple truth is that our world has become too complex to be controlled through bureaucracy. We cannot “stand on a mountain top and preach strategy down the hills” to achieve successful execution. Today, in order to thrive, we need to embrace uncertainty and maximise human flourishing at work, rather than just driving efficiency and productivity.
Hence, liberated organisations of the future must harness ideas from everywhere and create an environment where people can and want to make a difference. Tearing down ivory towers and replacing our traditional hierarchies with increasingly fluid and modular structures — moving from centralised and “extractive” to regenerative and “distributive” designs.
I am convinced that going forward we must revise our paradigms: instead of optimising organisations as “deterministic machines”, analytically dividing information and power and specialising, we need to start acknowledging organisations as complex developmental systems, as “living organism” with minds and hearts and souls. Where wonder and love have their place as much as science and efficiency. Where deep emotional bonds of community and trust prevail and where individuals and teams experience and develop together, not only learning within the structure, but also continuously adapting the structure itself. Where influence and authority is different from rank and position and where employees have freedom to experiment – and where many more people become their “own CEOs”.
Yet, more than structures, methodologies or tools, the difference lies in core principles. In Humanocracies, “the business of business is people.” We cannot resolve the future of work with utilitarian thinking, just as we cannot understand quantum physics with Newtonian principles.