Business Leaders in Glorious Transition

The entire world is in transition: Business must transition, too.

Here, you'll read contributions of my friends, other business professionals who are working to turn from their Mechanical Business Models to ever more profitable Organic Business Models.

You'll read their successes as well as their difficulties in making the transition from the hierarchical, control based practices characteristic of most of our years in business. You'll see how wonderfully profitable companies can be when they learn to tap the powerful creative energy of employees.

CJ Coolidge & Richard Squaredime - 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Models in Transition: Pressure to Mechanize the Organic

One of the biggest hindrances in changing a business from mechanical to organic comes from the predominance of mechanical thinking we do. Even the best move toward organic thought tends to be forced into a mechanical box, reducing its effectiveness.

It's easy to see.

Mechanical vs. Organic: Differentiated by Adaptability or Lack Thereof.

Mechanical processes tend to be highly structured, and managed, so that, when they work, they stay as they are. Mechanical thinking endeavors to goes to preserve the structure.

Organic things may also be highly structured, and well managed, but they must not be managed to stay as they are. In fact, the limited management required is management focused on maintaining outcomes, or visions, not methodologies. Adaptation and change is an ongoing and essential aspect of an organic model.

Last week, I spoke at Houston Engineering and Scientific Society (HESS), to a group of Houston's business elite, the Silver Fox Advisors. I addressed them about a topic near and dear to my heart, the notion that, no matter what business leaders say, they cannot support their assertion that "Employees are the company's most important assets."

In my talk, I show how, by definition, whatever is said, businesses treat employees as liabilities, and account for them as expenses. The mechanical structure demands it. The Silver Foxes understood that message.

Employees as Assets - Essential for Gen-X and Gen-Y Employees

A key element to view an employee as an asset involves the ability for management and employee alike to realize the unique capacity of any individual to deliver leveragable value to the organization. This is a challenge to many mechanical thinkers, because we are used to seeing employees as tools, interchangeable and quite replaceable.

Such a condition is not as acceptable to Gen-X or Gen-Y employees as it was to Boomers or Traditionalists. For this reason, both the Traditionalists and the Boomers have a hard time interpreting the behaviors of the other groups, thinking them to be lazy, or disloyal, or selfish, simply because they don't desire the same things desired by, and offered by the older, more mechanical managers.

In closing, I told the old story of the man who bought the talking parakeet, only to discover that he had killed it by providing a ladder, a mirror, a bell, and a swing, hoping that these items would make the bird comfortable enough to talk. The punch line and the moral of the story is that, just before he died, the bird finally uttered these words to his attentive owner. "Didn't they sell you any seed?" In other words, "You got me everything except what I really needed."

Gen-X and Gen-Y want Different things than Boomers and Traditionalists

I applied this to today's Gen-X and Gen-Y employees. I simply said that offering them the same things that the two previous generations wanted out of their employment would lead to more of the same behavioral misinterpreted results. You see, it doesn't matter what we might think these new worker want, it matters what they really do want, and need.

I could explain the details of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, or the unique motivations of a generation that watched as Dad gave his life to his company only to be laid off in a downsize move. Suffice it to say that they are different. What's more, they are different in kind for each.

We are Quick to Box Everything Up: We try to Make it Mechanical

Here's where you can observe the transition problem at work. One of the advisors sincerely wanted to discover a fix for the problem. He had faced it in several of his clients. He asked this question: Could you give me a list of the top things that these Gen-X and Gen-Y employees want?

I mentioned freedom, value, participation, the opportunity to do something bigger than themselves. I talked about Self Actualization.

This answer didn't satisfy. It couldn't satisfy the mechanical mind looking for an answer. It was too organic. My friend wanted, even needed, a mechanical answer. He needed to put a manageable, maintainable, institutional answer in a tool box. He was looking for things like better benefits, higher pay, more vacation time. He wanted a mechanical formula, not a unique to every participant perspective.

There is nothing wrong with your set: This is just a habit that needs to change.

There is nothing wrong with my friend. He has been successful in the age of Mechanical Models. He expects them to continue. But the age of Mechanical Models is coming to a close.

I don't fault him. I do it all the time. Show me what works so I can generalize it, institutionalize it, and replicate it over and over again.

In fact, my own greatest weakness is failing to realize when my own thinking jumps back into mechanical process.

I expect that, in making the change in yourself, you may see that you suffer from the same tendency. Just don't give up.

CJ Coolidge is President of C4 Dynamics, LLC, managing director for The Institute for Inangibles-Driven Enterprise, and a consultant with Administaff, Inc. He also writes for No More Androids: People-Profits X Factor on Blogger.


Anonymous said...

CJ is exactly correct. As a Gen-Y employee, I want to be valued, to feel like my opinion matters. I want to be free to do the job I was hired for without being micromanaged. I want to know that what I am doing, my job, is making a difference in the company. I want public recognition for the ideas I come up with that make that difference. I also want monetary recognition for that accomplishment. Not necessarily a raise or a promotion, but a bonus for good ideas or hard work that paid off for the company. I want access to the CEO anytime I have something to share that I think would be meaningful without having to go through a "chain of command" to talk to him/her. Hope that helps, mechanical minded managers out there! Get more green. Go Organic!

Anonymous said...

I hadn't really thought of my problem with younger workers as a condition of a natural change. It seemed to me that these younger employees just didn't get it.

After reading your piece, I realize the one not getting it might just be me.


A "Traditionalist."

Craig Thompson said...

Appreciate the insight.

Changing behavior is most challenging with willing participants, let alone those not yet convinced. This seems to be the biggest challenge..... from a generation that has done it a certain way for a long time TO a generation that has lost some confidence in the ones that have been there.

My fear, the traditionalists will not be able to share the wisdom they have accumulated. Either because they won't have the appreciation for the new generation or the new generations aren't willing to listen. What a tragedy to let process or mechanics become the reason that a generations wisdom is discounted or worse, lost and new ideas may not be nutured to fruition.

Wisdom and experience of the old, supporting the ideas and creativity of the new.

Just seems to make sense.

Michelle Petersen said...

The issue of diversity in the workplace has morphed into mile wide generation gap. Not only is it about finding what motivates these employees, it's about communicating effectively with them. They are a technology generation who uses IM, text messages, social networking and other methods we might never dream of using. Gen-Y wants an answer quick so they can continue to focus on their day. Gen-X might feels offended that returning an email after an hour lunch isn't good enough. If we want to get ahead we need to bridge the gap.