Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
Last week I got an intriguing invitation that runs as follows:
'I am working on several fronts right now, putting together the most ambitious, audacious conference ever in the State of West Virginia, Create West Virginia's Conference on the Future. ... to take place Thursday, October 24 through Saturday, October 26 2013.
I am asking ... thinkers on the future to come to Richwood, West Virginia, a town surrounded by the magnificent Monongahela National Forest, that has a trout stream flowing through it. Richwood's Main Street consists now of 29 mostly boarded-up storefronts of early 1900 vintage. Once a lumber and coal boom town, its residents now drive 25 miles west to Summersville where the big box stores are located on a four-lane corridor that connects two Interstate highways. Richwood appears to be a ghost town, but its 2,000 residents, led by a creative, spunky mayor, believe that it can recreate itself.
We're casting the invitation to the conference very broadly, to economic and community developers, artists and artisans, business people and would-be business people - we're interested in engaging innovators who relish the challenge of reinventing a place, and who want to engage in dialogue with thoughtful people such as yourself.'
Who could resist investigating this further? I took a look at the Richwood city data. It's lost 17.2% of its population since 2000. The median resident age is 49 and the median income is $26,366. In 2012 the unemployment rate was 8.7% and the number of residents living below the poverty level (2009) was 30%, and there were 12 % of Residents with income below 50% of the poverty level in 2009.
Below is the script for the talk I planned to give at TEDX Columbus on Friday (Oct 5 2012). Inevitably, it came out somewhat differently on stage. (The videoed on-stage version will be on You Tube in the next week or so). And this is the last installment of TEDX stuff.
The poet, Ben Okri, commands the workers of the world to 're-make the world', 'delight the future', and 'create happy outcomes'. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could 'delight the future' and create happy outcomes in working for pay? Let's consider the likelihood of this and see what we would need to do to achieve that outcome.
First though let's look at what we think of as 'work'. Some think of it as paid employment because we need to earn our living, while others think of it, more generally, as an activity that requires effort. And many activities can fall into either category. For example if you do the ironing then it's unpaid 'work' and if you pay someone to do it for you it is that person's paid employment.
The focus in this discussion is on paid employment – money earned by working. I'll cover three types of work and give one example of each plus an associated trend. I'll move on to look at three age groups in the workforce, and suggest three capabilities for each that will help these workers meet their work futures confidently given that trends are not predictions and we cannot say what the future will actually be.
First, think about work in three categories, albeit overlapping ones.
• Routine work: repetitive, assembly line sorts of things
• In person work: like doctors, teachers, shop assistants
• Data manipulation: like problem solving, information analysis, coding.
Your organization is probably like all other organizations. It is continuously searching for ways to add value to its products and services in order to keep growing. Organization development leaders are in a key position to help their executives think through what both 'growth' and 'value' are and how to add them.
Effective and healthy organizations see value in more than just meeting the business goals. It is not enough to concentrate on, for example, financial performance, if it is at the expense of employee well-being. Value needs to be fostered and developed in all organizational aspects: people, process, structures, systems, behaviors and governance. 'Growth' is usually equated with size - organizations get bigger, extend their markets, products and services. But growth can be in other dimensions. An organization can, for example, stay small in size but grow its thought leadership so it becomes known for that. Alternatively it can grow its capacity to retain and develop its people, maintain customer loyalty, or introduce environmentally friendly practices - all adding value without becoming bigger in size.
Creating organizational value and growth is done partly through designing and implementing methods of developing workforce capability which Dave Ulrich , Professor of Business as the University of Michigan, defines as the firm's ability to manage people to gain competitive advantage.
Last week was curious in that I stumbled across all sorts of stuff that will be useful in my work with clients. But what I noticed was that the stumbling was entirely random. How would I know, for example, that the BlackBerry polling system that I wrote about was available unless I happened to be sitting in that particular session where it was being used.
How do people get to hear about stuff that is potentially useful? How do they squirrel it away for the time when it might be? I read somewhere (where???) about a pen that when you write in one language speaks in another. OK so I am going to Shanghai next week a pen that does that would be very useful now I come to think about it. How do I find out where I read about it?
Yesterday I was driving a 300 mile trip and listening to stuff. On the way down I listened to Chesil Beach, a novel by Ian McEwan. Florence, one of the characters achieves her life's dream of being a highly regarded musician. The other Edward, does not achieve his dream to write a series of history books. He life sort of fades away and sadly, he recognizes that he has lost his dream. The story is of choices made and paths not taken.
The thread of achieving dreams was continued on the way back. On the second part of the drive I listened to my second audio book. It was Dan Rather's narraration of 'The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of our Nation' - an incredible panorama of people whose stories he told - all in relation to achieving the American Dream. Most involved massive amounts of work, difficult trade-offs, bags of endurance, and fleeting glimpses of the Dream as they reached for it. And many did achieve their dream and got to the work-life balance that accompanied it but not easily or without struggles en route.
In the way of things someone called me yesterday and in the course of the conversation asked me how much I knew about biomimicry (next to nothing), and today a completely different person, knowing nothing of the conversation, sent me an article on biomimicry that she thought I'd be interested in.
So now I'm learning about biomimicry! The Biomimicry Institute says:
Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature's best biological ideas to solve human problems. Non-toxic adhesives inspired by geckos, energy efficient buildings inspired by termite mounds, and resistance-free antibiotics inspired by red seaweed are examples of biomimicry happening today.
Here's an interesting turn. The FT recently reported that
"DSM and TNT, the Dutch life sciences group and postal operator respectively, this week join a multiplying band of companies - predominantly from the Netherlands - that link part of the bonuses senior managers receive to sustainability, an all-encompassing term that refers not only to the environment but to issues such as employee satisfaction and safety."
As they rightly point out
"The decision raises questions such as how to measure sustainability as distinct from something more tangible such as a rise or fall in a share price, and whether it makes sense to do it."
This is a particularly thorny issue since 'sustainability' is an ill-defined term. For example, if you take the reasonably well-accepted definition of the Brundtland Declaration "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" and try to apply this to executive pay seems you would be entering a minefield.
Earlier today I was looking at McKinsey Quarterly's Risk Roundup for 2010. They ask the question "where will the greatest risks-known and unknown-flare up on the global business landscape this year?"
Looking at the three sets of information (the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Eurasia Group, and the World Economic Forum) they present it is alarming to see the wide ranging nature of the risks, and this is before the 66 (so far) people who have left comments weigh in with the additional risks they've spotted. It's all very gloomy and depressing.
But the Eurasia Group Report reminds us that 2009 has, in fact, been quite ok. So looking forward into bleakness we can remember happier times. It opens with the paragraph:
On January 31 New York Times had a fascinating article Is there an ecological unconscious? Briefly, it discussed the concept of 'solastalgia' (not a word I had heard before) which is "a pain or discomfort caused by the present state of one's home environment" and includes "the inability to derive comfort from one's home environment due to negative environmental change". The NY Time article then outlined the work of Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher who became interested and concerned about the growing body of evidence suggesting that "how people think and feel is being influenced strongly by ecosystem transformation related to climate change and industry-related displacement from the land. These powerful stressors are occurring more frequently around the world".