Our Commitment to the Future of Work

Why we founded August

Sep 14, 2015 · 5 min read
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There is something incredible happening to the way we work. In places, it’s starting to look more like play — something we don’t just do for the money, but something purposeful that inspires us and makes us better people while we do it. We see signs of it everywhere.

But this change is hardly true for everyone: the majority of workers are not engaged at work; even in industrialized nations many work for less than a living wage as CEOs earn record paychecks; winner-take-all markets push companies to trade human dignity for scale. What’s more, nearly 50% of currently available jobs will be replaced by computers in the next two decades.

The processes, planning methods, and hierarchies of the industrial era served us well in the past — they laid the foundation for incredibly powerful, large organizations, and set us on a path toward ever-improving global living standards — but today they’re getting in the way of meaningful work. Confounding the need to accelerate adaptivity, industrial-era firms are organized to execute instead of organized to learn. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.

Leaders, middle managers, and front-line workers are starting to see that the most effective teams are fundamentally different than those of the previous era:

This is clear evidence of an economy-wide permanent shift to a new way of working and organizing, and those companies that adopt it first will win.

This shift depends on the organization as a whole, of course, but the irreducible unit of our work is the team. Specifically a team of people who work well together, with each other, with other teams, with competitors and partners, and with customers. August is designed for this purpose: to help teams become more capable so that organizations can make a bigger, positive impact on the world.

We’ve spent the last decade doing this kind of work in our own business and for some of the world’s biggest, most important organizations. In founding August, we are iterating on everything we have learned from these experiences to build something better, smarter:

  • Every single one of our teams will be dedicated 100% to a single project.
  • Our pricing is approximately 30% lower than what we know the market can bear, forcing us to stay lean, and we’ve developed a set of discounts for purpose-driven organizations to make it easier for companies to buy our services.
  • We’ll standardize critical operating patterns, but allow great flexibility in the application of theory (ours and others’); our clients want a change program suited for their culture, not one we pull off the shelf.
  • We’ve established transparent and dynamic capital, budget and policy structures to ensure August outlives our Founding Team.
  • We chose a full-time employment model because there’s no virtual substitute for a culture built with time; true to our purpose and service, we want to be a high-performing team capable of learning and adapting quickly, together.
  • We’re organized as a Benefit Corporation, to ensure that our purpose is protected, no matter what.

All of this is part of a broader pattern, where August represents the edge of applied organizational theory: we use our own firm as a fully-transparent lab to find the methods and practices that will radically transform the way leading companies operate.

The six of us at August met as teammates at Undercurrent. In April 2015, Undercurrent was acquired by Quirky. After a very fast and unfortunate spiral of Quirky’s finances, we found ourselves going from the most profitable we had ever been to shuttering the business on July 31.

The very next day, the Undercurrent team was back on the market, many of us still believing in three fundamental truths:

  1. This is the most meaningful work we will do in our careers
  2. Now is a critical time to be doing this work
  3. We’ll never go back to working “the old way”

With this in mind we went back to pursuing our collective purpose the best way we know how: by bootstrapping our little outfit and growing it into a firm of the character and consequence that our purpose deserves. There are several other ex-Undercurrent ventures out there pursuing this purpose — we know of Nobl, Median, Mere Mortals, and The Ready — and we’re honored to be working alongside such a talented cohort. Further, we’re committed to putting our work in public so that all of these teams can benefit from working together.

This attitude comes from knowing that for many of us, August will be our life’s work. This is our calling — it’s the defining challenge of our professional lives. To every straphanger on the 4 train, every commuter on the 405, and all those in between, we commit: our work is not done until your work is as meaningful and fulfilling as ever and your team is equipped to thrive for years to come.

By Erica Seldin, Clay Parker Jones, Mike Arauz, Mark Raheja & Alix Zacharias

With special thanks to Daniel Blundell, Amrita Chandra, Michael Dila, Chris Finlay, Joseph Katona, Shel Kiman, Peter Kotvis, Paul McEnany, Cecily Sommers, Sam Spurlin, and Robin Zander, who helped us write this in public.

21st Century Organizational Development

August’s efforts to understand how the Future of Work…

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