Marcus Aurelius once wrote “Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love,” and some would argue whom we love equally depends on who we are and who we want to become. Our relationship to the other is a function of who we are as we are a function of it.
The same is true for our ways of organizing. All organizations are a function of our being and relating to one another. Our fulfillment with those systems is a function of time. A home is a function of us, for example, a school, a business, a society. It is not until an act occurs within a given landscape, embodying the past and the future while defining the current human experience. Indeed, it is hard to miss detecting there are many worthwhile sustainable development opportunities for the current world in transition: Climate change, pandemic episodes, water resource crisis, the immediate need to reduce CO2 emissions, human trafficking and income, gender, pay inequality, etc. The common denominator of all is our humanity and the longing to unleash any untapped potential.
One of the places we feel most the impacts of this seeking is the corporate world which has been changing rapidly over the last five to seven years. While digitalization, globalization and democratization have reshaped the labor landscape, some critical questions continue to beg their way out into freedom: What is a business? What does it mean for us to work under one roof? Who are we together?
Do you ever consider that the first pioneers of the ‘Human Relations Movement’ took adequate time to think these kinds of questions through? Or do you presume they were merely some theorists of management history? Are the bureaucratic organizations we have witnessed develop and the manic environments we became part of, the experience they had intended for us? Do you feel they were carrying the spirit of progress during the industrial revolution? These are inquisitive questions that embody difficult and complex realities. In retrospect, when it comes to exercising pure foresight though, it seems irrational to have become attached to one theory in revolting. This is not for preference either, science would tell us sustainable revolt requires ideas to dance in the moonlight with a heart wide open.
“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” wrote Zadie Smith. Indeed, history shows us enlightenment that carries generations forward always requires a good mind and a heart together. A meaningful evolution of any organization at any time has always depended on its spiritual truth. The more applicable that truth becomes to human life, the more there is ground for a moral basis that can carry its constitutions to another reality.
So, what can we learn from the past that could serve future organizations?
For one, a future organization is centered around us, the individual, the human. Until we can imagine the kind of experiences, we want to be part of, we will continue being a “victim” to existing, disenfranchised realities. An organization can only be as strong as its weakest link. To be strong together calls for each of us to care. In other words, are we going to hold our space and claim our place or are we going to ride along and face the other way? Are we, for example, going to continue wanting to buy a shirt customized, for cheaper, delivered tomorrow while claiming for equal rights, opportunities and ecological sustainability? Are we going to want to work more efficiently, innovate to raise up our share and at the same time, resist to cooperate and collaborate with others on a daily basis?
Two, business needs to take a stance on who it is going to be, to support the making of a future organization… Is business about money or purpose or is it about advancing human lives? Is a technology firm who knows of users harassing others going to keep silent because money keeps coming, or is it going to act to stop the issue? Is a hospital going to burn its employees’ wellbeing, overlooking their need to be a human, in the name of saving others’ lives? Is a manufacturer going to be proud of its product volume while relentlessly polluting the environment?
Three, leaders need to completely refurbish their system management practices from top to bottom. The workplace reports that keep listing reskilling, robotics, data and analytics is of little use here. Even with solid core philosophies in place, the majority of existing global organizations don’t have the capability or capacity to capitalize on the kind of trends listed. To reskill or upskill, as an example, an organization would require an innovation hub that can foresee future capabilities and offer timely, relevant, contextual, adult experience journeys to activate sustained learning on a consistent basis. The majority don’t have such structure, competency or resources to achieve this. To break current routines, rather focus on defining your organizations core needs, invite your people into the process of re-imagination. Better yet, hire a few poets, painters and designers. Formal hierarchies don’t allow information to travel fast enough around the network, the authoritative power vested in top positions slows down decision making, jobs tightly defined get in front of mutual goal setting and dynamic teaming, behaviors of control ban development of speak-up and learning cultures, the extensive center of excellences become a bottleneck in process innovation.
Finally, no one no longer wants to work for a rank officer nor wants to be examined for past behavior. Reconsider promotion cycles – look for mature individuals who progressed through adult development stages and have demonstrated self-efficacy. The fact is many generations of people have grown up in educational systems that have corrupted their minds into deep beliefs of scarcity, individualism, autocracy and grounded them in negative emotions such as guilt, fear, shame, etc. that drive negative behaviors. Yet, it is time we accept as long as those people continue to occupy the highest positions in politics, economics, the media and all of the rest of organizations, we will not showcase new transcendent values nor the role modeling ability to reconcile existing transcendent values in the way we do business.
Do you truly believe we are all equal under the sun? If so, perhaps that could mean deep down in the human essence, we all are part of some common greatness.
The future organization needs to respect the unique value seeded in each one of us and allow space to rediscover our joint greatness. As history would demand in the course of that evolution, it becomes necessary for us to dissolve existing patterns of connection and rewire to build a more beautiful net, together.