Holistic Workplace for Excellence

Workplace got cemented in the twentieth century. The power of the twenty-first century workforce got restricted by the limitations of the twentieth century innovations. Ray Lane, when he was the COO of Oracle, mentioned in late 1990s that the next 5 years will bring more changes compared to the last 50 years. At the same time Larry Ellison, Founder and CEO of Oracle, also said, “Internet changes everything.” Yes it has changed the way we manage teams, communicate, collaborate, learn, watch movies, greet people, sell, buy, and conduct business.

While getting amazed at all these changes, we must also question whether these innovations have transformed workforce into exceptionally happy superstars. The employee engagement surveys report that most of the employees are not happy at work. Time-consuming search for information drains productivity, and the cost of learning is increasing exponentially. Both learning and working are getting more and more complicated.

I have closely observed the workplace innovations and also how workforce embraces these changes. Based on my curiosity for learning and transformation, I can confidently say that although twentieth century brought so many changes it could not take the workplace into the future beyond a point. Exploring deep into the whole new world of imagination showed me the possibilities and gave the confidence to move beyond.

The New Age Challenges

Today’s organizations are entirely different with respect to the demographics, size, ambition, expectation, technology, necessity, and possibility. Getting enlightened on why existing models and systems have become a barrier is the spark for a great beginning. Realizing the intensity of the challenges helps you appreciate the need for revolutionary thinking.

The involvement at work, of unhappy workforce, is extremely low resulting in poor performance as well as unhappy customers. Therefore, stress level has gone up at workplace making the work life miserable and unproductive. The Gallup survey report State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide (2011–2012) shows that 63% of the employees are not happy at work. With this level of happiness how can any organization deliver their best collective performance?

Unorganized and fragmented workplace interactions have resulted in repetition of conversations, duplication of work and ineffective learning. This frustrates both the customers and the workforce. The Internet revolution has helped companies expand across the globe with ease. Ample information got generated owing to the social networking phenomena. This freedom to publish our thoughts to the entire world has also resulted in duplications, information overload, and low quality information.

Too many opinions, thoughts, feelings, and ideas are thrown into public domain. Fragmented knowledge and confusions deteriorate knowledge access as well as the quality of learning. Learning has become like the story of four blind persons touching different parts of the elephant and arguing about what they believe and who is right. This is so unfortunate that workforce generate such noisy interactions without realizing that their experience and understanding are narrow.

As per McKinsey (www.mckinsey.com) article Boosting the Productivity of Knowledge Workers (September 2010), “Workforce interaction takes half the time. Organizations around the world struggle to crack the code for improving the effectiveness of managers, salespeople, scientists, and others whose jobs consist primarily of interactions with other employees, customers, and suppliers, and complex decision-making based on knowledge and judgments.”

Millions of low-end jobs got created during the last two decades. Simultaneously, automation and robotization continue to replace many of these low end jobs. It further pressurizes the workforce to upgrade or develop new skills. However, they get stuck due to lack of visibility and absence of effective learning and thinking.

As Daniel H. Pink mentioned in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2006), “Left-brain thinking kind of jobs will get automated.” As jobs involving routine work gets automated, up-skilling of knowledge workers to do high-end jobs involving right-brain thinking, interaction, and collective decision-making becomes a big challenge. Rainer Strack at the TED talk (www.ted.com, October 2014) on “The workforce crisis of 2030 — and how to start solving it now” that “technology will replace a lot of jobs, regular jobs. Not only in the production industry but even in office, workers are in jeopardy and might be replaced by robots, artificial intelligence, big data, or automation”. He also mentioned, “Yes, technology will replace a lot of jobs, but we will also see a lot of new jobs and new skills on the horizon, and that means technology will worsen our overall skill mismatch.”

Fragmented Best Practices and Systems

Too many silos of systems have complicated the work life. These systems include people directory, task and time management, team management, face-to-face meeting planner,online communication, discussion groups, project management, employee helpdesk, talent management, career planning, learning management, knowledge management, skills certification, self-service helpdesk, enterprise social network, idea management, agile project methodology, employee performance review, and so on.

The core aim of all these best practices is to make workforce learn and easily perform faster and better. All these practices are designed for driving high productivity, business profitability, and customer satisfaction. Intentions of having numerous best practices were good. However, it has accumulated problems that are blocking organizations from growing beyond.

During the past 20 years, companies acquired many platforms for internalizing these best practices at work. Departments such as customer support, sales and marketing, and research and development acquired monolithic tools to meet their specific requirements.

In the name of minimum viable products (MVP), many established organizations and startups have built several enterprise software solutions with specific problem in mind. Initially it will be quite exciting to use some of these products in enterprises. However, think about how many vendors you will deal with and how you can align everything to overall organizational goals. If we start thinking about how these fragments of the system need to be related and used to effectively perform the tasks, our minds will get blasted into pieces. All the pressure is on the individuals to assimilate and synthesize the systems in mind. This is the primary reason for why the system adoption rate is extremely low in all organizations.

Centers of Excellence

Over the years, organizations started collecting many tools, building many new taskforces, and training their workforce. Each of the taskforces tries hard to create awareness and influence workforce to embrace these platforms and practices.

Imagine employees dealing with these change agents preaching about transformation from their own perspective. It is like patients consuming so many medicines to keep themselves alive. Instead of healing their pains, it only makes workforce feel sicker owing to the side effects.

Performance Expectations vs Reality

Whenever new systems and organizational model were implemented, everyone had high expectations. Everyone thought that they will be very happy and all these new developments will bring massive increase in workforce productivity, customer satisfaction, and business growth. Employees thought that their work will get immensely simpler and easier. Overhype and overcommitment made by these taskforces, consciously or unconsciously, have widened the gap between expectations and reality.

Think about how many employees wake up in the morning joyfully without getting terrified by alarm bells. Even after driving so many changes, workplaces are spinning in the same old orbit and definitely with some debris. However, workforce productivity, engagement, happiness, and life at work have not improved significantly. It is our duty to save workforce from miserable life and to provide right environment for them to feel comfortable and confidently deliver their best.

It was obvious that small enterprises could not afford to invest in many of these tools, implementation and management. Small enterprises neither faced the problem of having many complex systems nor could address the challenges faced owing to lack of system thinking as well as lack of affordability. Even the large and midsized companies that invested in all these systems did not meet workforce productivity expectations. Prior to exploring and visualizing better possibilities, it is important to understand what is really causing all these problems.

The Root Cause

Atomistic thinking that has led to too many disintegrated systems is the primary cause of all the problems affecting work performance and employee as well as customer happiness. Introduction of too many tools requires super smart people to understand and embrace them. Thereby, it defeats the very purpose of having the best practices and platforms that are supposed to make even the below average performers smarter.

When people were faced with a specific business problem, some experts and thinkers got excited. They focused and enthusiastically designed solution to address a particular problem using specific thinking. Therefore most of these innovations related to the best practices and systems took place in bits and pieces at various points.

The atomistic thinking has destroyed the beauty and power of all these best practices. Therefore, no organizations have truly succeeded in institutionalizing all these best practices. The exorbitant cost associated with implementing these monolithic systems and having an army of experts in managing them has prevented the small and most mid-size companies from having these systems.

The excess of tools bombarded workforce with too many platforms and practices. They get confused about what to use and when, how to use, and what knowledge is available and where. Therefore, employees spend 30% of the time searching for information. This has direct impact on learning cost, workforce productivity, and work quality. Imagine a workforce with a monthly salary of $5000, spending $1500 per day just searching for information. If this is not a business pain then what else can be? In addition to this productivity drain, lack of knowing who knows what further deteriorates quality of work.

Instead of being an asset, it has become a liability. That is why many of these systems are idle at work. Systems overload has started to pressurize employees and ultimately made the work environment disorganized and complex. These pieces of the bigger puzzle were looked into individually but never designed to fit them together for addressing the big picture.

Reinventing Workplace for the 21st Century

Reforming and building this next generation workplace involve the following big shift:

1. Humanize

Happiness has direct correlation to involvement in learning and working. High level of employee involvement is essential for high performance at work. Through better organizational model, simplicity, and efficient system, the workforce should be made comfortable, confident, and highly competent.

2. Revolutionize

Incremental innovations and rudimentary changes can bring only marginal improvement. Implementing several such changes with old thinking can make the workplace only messier and unproductive. If you strongly believe that some of the best practices are relevant even today, continue to follow that approach. If some of the best practices such as top-down approach and classroom education are meaningful only for certain context, then use them selectively. However, aim for a big jump into the next orbit. Paradigm shift is necessary to take the giant step to move the workplace to the next higher level.

3. Optimize

Most of the past innovations are nothing but the automations of the manual processes. Complexity and unnecessary steps in processes only make organizations less efficient. As a result of these difficulties and the need for long learning curve, people embraced only a small part of the system. Effective adaptation depend on how quickly one can learn and how easy it is to use the system.

Processes have to be redesigned and optimized for easy, smooth, and quick flow of knowledge and work. As far as the new generation of workforce is concerned everything must be simple. People like Steve Jobs have shown the taste of simplification. Days of nonstop struggle to figure out things are gone. Simplify and refine everything to get the best out of workforce by facilitating adaptation. The new set of best practices should not be confined to the traditional approach. Therefore, completely exploit the current technological development and design highly optimized best practices in line with today’s possibilities.

4. Personalize

Do not look at workplace of the future as factory and training center as people making machine. Although there may be a few similarities among the employees, no two persons have same skill sets or knowledge gaps. Entire learning and work must be personalized to make workforce deliver optimum performance.

5. Socialize

Personalizing does not mean that everyone should be compartmentalized or fed differently to make them learn and work on their own. In a traditional enterprise, task owners leverage only the few people around them. Workforce need to be connected online as well as offline to exchange knowledge, help each other, and deliver their collective best. Although socializing and networking are not new, here we are talking about systematic socialization in the workplace context to collectively meet the individual, team and business objectives.

6. Harmonize

All the interrelated best practices need to be optimized and perfectly aligned so that the whole becomes bigger and better than the sum of the components. Natural integration leads to greater user experience. When workforce smoothly and seamlessly embraces the related best practices, they will be more enthusiastic and empowered to deliver great performance. The ability to connect the dots is the true human intelligence. Therefore, the knowledge workers need holistic thinking to smartly perform.

The future workplace is a holistic workplace created as a result of revolutionary thinking, highly optimized, and creatively converged practices with a human touch. Building high-performance team to drive operational efficiency and organizational excellence is possible only through a holistic approach. Connecting all the knowledge silos, departments, best practices, and systems is highly necessary to eliminate inefficiencies in learning and working and to actually take the workplace to the next level. 

To learn more about the solution, implementation and transformation methodology read my book Holistic Workplace for Excellence. Kindly share your thoughts. It will help refine the thoughts, solution, and implementation approach.

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