More Great Work: boy makes clothes for homeless after being homeless himself

http://magazine.good.is/posts/10-year-old-sews-clothes

Advertisements

The line between for-profit and not-for-profit is blurring

…and it’s a good thing.

This is excerpted from Great Work.

It used to be that business was supposed to make money, government was supposed to provide a safety net and charities were to take up the slack. But as expectations of business have ramped up, including the expectations of Millennials that we discussed in the chapter 3, new organizational forms have emerged that are blurring the lines between business and non-profits. In this chapter, we will examine some of the most interesting forms and why they matter. Refer to the table 7.1 below, Spectrum of Organizational Forms that provides an approximation of the relationships between them.

Pure non-profits generally rely on grants and donations to function. While these are by-and-large well-meaning, the challenge with nonprofits is there is so much less wealth allocated to it than the for-profit sector. Most people in the United States donate perhaps 1-2 percent of their annual income to charity. To use round numbers, let’s assume 28 percent goes to taxes, which at least in theory should provide public services. The other 70 percent is predominately either spent or invested in business. The money going toward solving world problems is dwarfed by the problems themselves. Business has to step up.

Social ventures make a difference to the world

Social enterprise spans the space between pure nonprofits and traditional corporations. It includes organizations that expressly intend to make a social (or environmental) difference in the world but which employ markets like a business would. These span a huge range of industries, from education to economic development, medicine to manufacturing. Famous examples include the Grameen Bank in India with its microloans and Kiva.org, a US-based platform that allows individuals to lend small amounts interest-free to people around the world. CDI Ventures in Brazil turns Internet cafes into community centers to serve the poor.


Table 7.1 Spectrum of Organizational Forms

In the table below, different organizational forms are arrayed in a table with two axes: pure non-profits to full for-profits; and organizations that are designed primarily to benefit society vs. to benefit employees. Below each type, I provide a few examples that can be easily investigated on the Internet.

Pure Nonprofit
Traditional charities
Social Enterprise    All about Profit
Typical corporation
Benefits Society

NGO with for-profit operations
(Greyston Bakery & Foundation,
Newman’s Own)

B-Corporation
(Greyston Bakery)

Base of the Pyramid
(Danone, Aravind Eye Clinic)

WHY NOT BOTH?
Benefits Employees Employee Stock
Ownership Plans (ESOPs)

Employee-owned cooperatives (Evergreen Coops, Mondragon Cooperatives)

Democratic organizations
(Zappos, WD-40)

Grameen Bank was formed as an institution owned by its borrower members, who are poor women. Through its unique decision-making process, Grameen Bank has given millions of women the means to emerge from the shadows in a male-dominated society and to make something of themselves.

Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank
for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize

To get a sense of the breadth of this field, check out these organizations:

  • ASHOKA is an organization that helps fund ideas of social entrepreneurs that have the potential to go to scale and be replicated. The enterprises cross a huge range from education to economic development, health to human rights.
  • Lemelson Foundation also provides grants and support to social entrepreneurs and business incubators around the world that support them. Scan the list of ASHOKA fellows or Lemelson grantees to get a flavor for the field.

These social enterprises tend to fall into clumps based on their business model. See the examples below that map to the table above.

NGOs funded by their own businesses—Some NGO’s (non-profits) have responded by creating for-profit businesses where the profits go toward charities. For example, the late actor, Paul Newman, created a food company and 100 percent of the profits go to the Newman’s Own Foundation. They started selling his salad dressings and the company has expanded into a number of different food items including pet food. By 2012, the foundation had given grants of over $350 million to charities around the world, arguably much more than if they had stayed with a pure nonprofit model.

Greyston Bakery is a more complicated picture. I mentioned them briefly in Chapter 5. The bakery was created to provide jobs to people who needed them. They hire whoever shows up on a first-come basis. The profits from the bakery go to their foundation which then in turn funds more social programs.

B-Corporation—Because the for-profit operation is also providing an important social benefit, Greyston became certified as a B-Corp, a For Benefit Corporation. My company also became one. We had to fill out a survey and provide various pieces of documentation proving our social and environmental benefit. This helped us differentiate ourselves from other similar businesses and some states have written into their purchasing guidelines that they can give preference to B-Corps. It started in the United States but has now spread to 37 countries. Every two years, B-Corps are audited and recertified.

BoP—What was originally called Bottom of the Pyramid and then renamed Base of the Pyramid to be less offensive, was originally coined by CK Prahalad in his book, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. I put BoP in the upper right hand corner of the table because many of the largest consumer companies are experimenting with repackaging their products for the poorest of the poor. In Capitalism at the Crossroads, author Stuart Hart indicates that this may be the only remaining large market opportunity for companies that have saturated the developed world.

While on the face of it, it may seem immoral for rich corporations to sell products to the poor, the uncomfortable truth is that many poor people have to pay more for services than you do. You can buy in bulk, a liter bottle of clothes detergent, while they may be only able to afford a single-use packet. You purchase cheap electricity from your utility but they may pay many times that in kerosene. You may chafe at credit card interest rates but they are puny compared to loan sharks charging 25 percent a month!

…Business—more than either government or civil society—is uniquely equipped at this point in history to lead us toward a sustainable world in the years ahead.

I argue that corporations are the only entities in the world today with the technology, resources, capacity and global reach required. Properly focused, the profit motive can accelerate (not inhibit) the transformation toward global sustainability, with nonprofits, governments, and multilateral agencies all paying crucial roles as collaborators and watchdogs.

—Stuart Hart, author of Capitalism at the Crossroads[i]

So BoP efforts try to empower poor people to earn money selling these products. What’s interesting is that the lack of money is actually a powerful force for innovation, as you’ll see in these examples from Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid:

  • A division of Unilever is selling personal care products in single use packages, making a nice profit while making it possible for the poor to afford cleaning products.
  • Jaipur Foot is a company that designed a better prosthesis, allowing movement necessary in rural areas such as squatting and walking on uneven ground. The Jaipur foot sells for about $30, compared to products in the US costing $8000. They have camps now in 19 countries, helping those who lose limbs from landmines and other accidents or genetic deformities.
  • Aravind Eye Care has created a world-class and largest eye care for the poorest in India. They perform 95,000 eye surgeries a year. The surgeries, which cost approximately $3000 in the US, cost only $50-300 and 60% of their patients get the surgery for free! The people who pay subsidize all the people who cannot. They realized that they couldn’t afford intraocular lenses sold by others for cataract surgery at $200 each so instead they invented a process to make them for a few dollars. The quality of care is so good that the United Kingdom started sending patients to India for surgery to save on healthcare costs.
  • The Bank of Madura and ICICI offer through their ATMs the ability for the poor to save and also get access to credit through self-help groups that become accountable to each other.

Cooperatives make a difference to employees

If you mention cooperatives, most people think of health food stores where the customers are part owners. But there are a number of different forms of cooperatives including agricultural co-ops of farmers or dairies where it is the suppliers who are the owners. The form I want to highlight is worker-owned co-op because this form can spread power and wealth more equitably through the organization.

In 2014, the Harvard Business Review included an article called, “CEOs get paid too much, according to pretty much everyone in the world.” Gretchen Gavett puts the pay gap into historical perspective:

We’re currently far past the late Peter Drucker’s warning that any CEO-to-worker ratio larger than 20:1 would “increase employee resentment and decrease morale.” Twenty years ago it had already hit 40 to 1, and it was around 400 to 1 at the time of his death in 2005. But this new research makes clear that, one, it’s mindbogglingly difficult for ordinary people to even guess at the actual differences between the top and the bottom; and, two, most are in agreement on what that difference should be. [ii]

In her research, she discovered that most felt CEO’s should get about 4.6 to 1 as compared to unskilled workers. Clearly, trickle-down has gotten stopped up. It seems capitalism 1.0 has been really good at turning the fruit of others’ labor into wealth for those at the top. With technology replacing jobs and globalization undermining union wages, the gap is exacerbated and is becoming a source of social unrest.

While some companies like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company have tried to institute a pay cap for executives, in practice these often get snuffed out by stockholders and boards who feel it makes it too difficult to attract top talent.

One elegant solution is the worker owned cooperative, where the workers are the owners. Unfortunately, this form of ownership is often overlooked by attorneys who help entrepreneurs set up their businesses and the media. The United Nations established 2012 as the year of the cooperatives and I bet you never heard about it. However, they can be highly successful businesses where employees benefit directly from the wealth they create.

The famous example is Mondragon in Spain, which has grown into huge economic engine with a wide range of businesses. In 2010 they generated just under 14 billion Euros in sales and employed about 100,000 people.

They are committed to maintaining employment rather than profit margins, so if one business is struggling, employees get retrained and loaned to others. This meant that in 2008 while many in the United States and much of the world were thrown out of work by the Great Recession, Mondragon employees that were laid off were quickly transferred to other companies within Mondragon. By 2010 most were back at their regular jobs again. [iii]

They operate in a democratic fashion, emphasizing self-management. They invest about 10 percent of their profits to social activities ranging from research and education to cultural activities and social support services.

Some claim that the success of Mondragon was due to their homogenous culture and socialistic leanings. But cooperatives have been successful in many different settings, sometimes even started by youth.

Mountain Equipment Cooperative (MEC) was started by six students in 1971 in Canada with C$ 65 operating capital. They wanted to start an enterprise that would provide outdoor equipment with a low mark-up on the gear offered and operated with democratic principles. Forty years later, three million people in Canada and around the world share the original philosophy and are members of the cooperative which has annual sales of C$261 million. Widely recognized for its commitment to sustainability, MEC is Canada’s leading outdoor retailer. [iv]

The Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland were inspired by Mondragon. Having grown up in Cleveland, I know that the inner city had become hollowed out by poverty and racial unrest. But there are several keystone institutions—the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University—that were cordoned-off oases. Their employees would drive past people in miserable conditions, park and dash inside their place of business.

These and a few other local institutions bought over $3 billion in goods and services. They realized that if they pooled their purchasing power, they could launch businesses—employee-owned cooperatives—that could employ people from the surrounding low-income neighborhoods, providing services they needed at a lower carbon footprint, buying local with a twist. The first was a laundry but a number of additional co-ops are in the works.

Some of the employees used to be in prison or used to deal drugs. Now they are responsible workers and supervisors. After six months, an employee begins to contribute to an ownership fund. In a community where people lucky enough to have jobs only earn about $18000 in median income, these worker-owners are projected in eight years to have $65000 each in equity in their business. [v]

To me, this seems a more fair way to allocate wealth. Rather than having the lion’s share go to the CEO or people who only bought stock with a click of a button, why not have most of it go to all the people who work hard 40 or more hours a week to make it thrive.

Why not a bit of both?

It seems the real opportunity is to blend social enterprise with worker-owned and democratically-run cooperatives. Devise a venture that will do good in the world and at the same time, choose an organizational form to empower and enrich the employees.

Examples are hard to find but here is one that exemplifies what can be done.

Cooperative Home Care Associates in New York has a staff of 2300 owners, mostly poor, minority women who were unemployed. They provide home care for elderly or disabled Medicaid patients at home. In addition to being owners in the business, they get time-and-a-half for overtime, extremely rare in the industry. They’ve been in business since 1985. They are also a certified B-Corp.[vi] It’s as if they took my Figure 7.1 and stirred.

[i] Hart, Stuart (2010) Capitalism at the Crossroads—Third Edition. Pearson Education: Upper Saddle River, NJ. p 19.

[ii] Gavett, Gretchen (Sept 23, 2014) “CEOs get paid too much, according to pretty much everyone in the world.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/09/ceos-get-paid-too-much-according-to-pretty-much-everyone-in-the-world/

[iii] Social.un.org (Sept 2012) Harnessing the Cooperative Advantage to Build a Better World. United Nations. http://social.un.org/coopsyear/documents/ChavezSustainableLivelihoods.pdf

[iv] Social.un.org (Sept 2012) Harnessing the Cooperative Advantage to Build a Better World. United Nations. http://social.un.org/coopsyear/documents/ChavezSustainableLivelihoods.pdf

[v] Veysey, Graham (May 13, 2010) Evergreen Cooperatives. YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt_ZHUDhKjs

[vi] Tozzi, John (April 17, 2013) How three social ventures look beyond profits. BloombergBusinessWeek. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-17/how-three-social-ventures-look-beyond-profits

How did self-direction devolve into ’employee engagement’?

Why do workplaces revert to command and control

This is excerpted from Great Work.

Unfortunately, despite a fabulous and well-documented track record, these empowered workplaces are fragile. After about a decade of outpacing the performance of the other IT groups, the trucking company I mentioned earlier could no longer chalk it up to a fluke. They began transforming the entire company around what they called ‘team concept.’

You’d think that such a success would change the organization for good. However, when the trucking company was merged with another, getting a traditional president, the autocratic culture prevailed. People who were used to the highly-empowered, team-based environment we unwilling to devolve to that type of culture and most left for other opportunities. The organization didn’t learn so the best people left.

It also happened to AES, a global energy company with over 40,000 employees and $8 billion in revenues. AES had rattled Wall Street when one of their primary values was having fun; Wall Street wanted that listed as a risk. What the founders, Dennis Bakke and Roger Sant, meant what that people should be truly engaged in the business. Bakke put it this way:

Our main goal at the beginning was to build a company that we ourselves would want to work in. The actual type of business wasn’t really important, to tell you the truth. It could have been an energy conservation company; it could have been steel. It ended up being an electricity company. We just wanted to create a company that embodied the four principles that we felt mattered in any kind of community, be it a business, church, village, or whatever: fairness, integrity, social responsibility, and fun.[i]

Sant explained,

“We’re not talking about having parties all the time. That’s not why AES is fun. It’s fun because the people who work here are fully engaged. They have total responsibility for decisions.”

And boy, did they. Frontline employees were trusted to make multi-million-dollar decisions like bidding on and buying power plants around the world. They abolished Human Resources and Finance, letting teams of employees manage the pension fund and company investments. [ii]

Unfortunately the Enron debacle brought energy stocks to their knees in 2000. Instead of viewing AES’s unique culture as having perhaps kept them out of the ethical morass, the shareholders blamed the drop in stock price on it. Bakke resigned in 2002 and the company returned to centralized decision-making.[iii]

Meg Wheatley, author of numerous best-selling management books including Leadership and the New Science, has mulled this same conundrum:

There is a clear correlation between participation and productivity; in fact, productivity gains in truly self-managed work environments are at minimum thirty-five percent higher than in traditionally managed organizations. With so much evidence supporting participation, why isn’t everyone working in a self-managed environment right now? This is a very bothersome question because it points to the fact that over the years, leaders consistently have chosen control rather than productivity. Rather than rethinking our fundamental assumptions about organizational effectiveness, we have stayed preoccupied with charts and plans and designs.” [iv]

It’s a tragic waste of the human spirit. Now the conversations seem to have devolved into ‘employee engagement’ (too often code for how to get employees excited about what management wants to do) instead of sharing significant power with them.

What I want to know is, Why?

So many Millennials check out and stay or quit organizations because they don’t have enough of a say at work. It doesn’t have to be that way. Demand more.

[i] CBN.com (n.d.) Dennis Bakke: Joy at Work. The 700 Club. http://www.cbn.com/700club/Guests/Bios/Dennis_Bakke042105.aspx

[ii] Wetlaufer, Suzie (January 1999) “Organizing for Empowerment.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1999/01/organizing-for-empowerment-an-interview-with-aess-roger-sant-and-dennis-bakke/ar/1

[iii] CBN.com (n.d.) Dennis Bakke: Joy at Work. The 700 Club. http://www.cbn.com/700club/Guests/Bios/Dennis_Bakke042105.aspx

[iv] Wheatley, Margaret (July 1997) “Goodbye, Command and Control” Leader to Leader. http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/goodbyecommand.html

Organizational democracy: the new employment contract

Managers as parents or partners: pick one

This is an excerpt from Great Work

Underlying the autocratic, hierarchical organization are some unpleasant assumptions if you unearth them. Namely that:

  • Work is unnatural so you have to supervise people to make sure they do it
  • Only managers can have the big picture so they should set the vision and make major decisions
  • Ultimately most employees just come to work for the money and then go home.

But turn those assumptions on their head. I believe this:

  • Most people want to do a good job
  • If they’re not doing a good job, it’s likely something in the system is making it hard for them to do so
  • People are an excellent source of ideas about how to improve work and properly prepared, can make really important decisions.
  • People have a right to be involved in matters that affect them.

In Why Teams Can Fail and What to Do about It, Marsha and I explained the dichotomy. Managers can be parents to or partners with their teams. In the first set of assumptions above, employees need a Parent figure to make the important decisions. But that leaves the employees in the role of children. And unfortunately it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you treat people like children, they’ll often act like it.

But the opposite is also true: if you treat employees like partners in the business, just with another role, then you have an adult-to-adult relationship which is much more dignified for both parties.

It’s a pain being a Manager-as-Parent. You’re expected to have all the answers. If employees aren’t allowed to make their own decisions then, managers find a long line of employees outside their office clamoring for their attention. I once asked Eva, a carpenter who supervised a crew of mixed trades how she liked the new empowered team concept. “It’s great!” she said. “I don’t have to be God anymore.”

But you have to pick a single philosophy for your organization—Parents or Partners. If you are sometimes partners but then revert to parents when the employees aren’t making the decisions you want, then you’ve just been a Parent in an empowering disguise.

And then you have to do your best to live up to that decision.

In return make decisions in the best interest of the organization

The United States is all about freedom but we don’t talk as much about responsibility that goes with it. If employees want the rights associated with an empowered, manager-as-partner organization, then they have to accept their responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the organization. You have to balance rights and responsibilities.

Hopefully most decisions will be both in their personal interest as well as the organization’s. But if push comes to shove, that’s the deal. They get the right to be involved in decisions that affect them but then in return, they have the responsibility to make decisions in the long-term interest of the organization.

This is not just idealistic baloney. There are fabulous examples from around the world of large organizations operating in this fashion. Ricardo Semler inherited his father’s company, Semco, in Brazil. Not wanting to be as indispensable as his father, wanting to travel and have a life outside of work, he decided to implement a democratic workplace. Even the largest decisions of the organization like whether or not to acquire another organization or go into a new business were made by a vote.

Semler was not a fan of hierarchy.

The organizational pyramid is the cause of much corporate evil because the tip is too far from the base. Pyramids emphasize power, promote insecurity, distort communications, hobble interaction, and make it very difficult for the people who plan and the people who execute to move in the same direction.[i]

In a company of 800 employees, they had three concentric circles: a close-nit group of five ‘counselors,’ of which he was one, who integrated the company’s movements; partners who are the heads of the divisions; and everyone else, called associates who had people in ‘coordinator’ roles.

In the United States, we take for granted that we can vote for arguably the most powerful person on the planet, but we can’t choose our manager. But Semco turned that around. Twice a year, employees evaluate what traditionally we would think of as their bosses. A person can’t be promoted into a leadership position over others until the employees interview and accept that person.

Sometimes Semler and his other counselors got outvoted:

‘Employees also outvoted me on the acquisition of a company that I’m still sure we should have bought. But they felt we weren’t ready to digest it, and I lost the vote. In a case like that, the credibility of our management system is at stake. Employee involvement must be real, even when it makes management uneasy. Anyway, what is the future of an acquisition if the people who have to operate it don’t believe it’s workable?’ [ii]

I chose that example from the 1980’s to help you understand how long these practices have been going on. It says more about our culture’s biases than their effectiveness that you haven’t heard more.

But this movement toward organizational democracy, the pinnacle of empowerment, continues to this day. WorldBlu is an organization that develops ‘world-class freedom-centered (rather than fear-based), organizations and leaders.’ Their list of democratically-run organizations include names you would recognize, including Zappos (the online shoe retailer) and WD-40 (the ubiquitous lubricant in a spray can).

Organizational democracy is working for them. Why not your workplace?

[i] Semler, Ricardo (September 1989) “Managing without Managers.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1989/09/managing-without-managers

[ii] Semler, Ricardo (September 1989) “Managing without Managers.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1989/09/managing-without-managers

Power isn’t a limited resource so stop treating it like it is

Why hoard power when you can share it?

This is an excerpt from Great Work.

Face it, the Manager-Knows-Best style of leadership, if it was ever effective, is particularly dysfunctional now. As technology changes, the manager may never have done the work so is not in a good position to tell anyone exactly what to do. Managers may not interact directly with customers and top executives tend to be particularly isolated. We need employees to think, not just blindly do what the manager tells them.

Even the US Military, which many people think is a bastion of autocratic leadership, has been a big fan of empowerment since the 1990’s. Research showed that empowered teams of both Israeli and US soldiers could succeed, even when outnumbered on the battlefield, by being trusted, respected and empowered.[i] Especially with asymmetrical conflicts, the military needs battlefield teams to be able to adapt to changing conditions on the ground.

But it can be hard for attitudes to change. When I was managing a team of instructional designers at Pacific Learning Systems, the president hired Mike who had just retired from the military. He was quite a bit older than I and had clearly never worked for a woman.

In our team meeting, I tried to explain how we worked. I believed the best decisions came out of no-holds-barred discussions of all team members and if he or anyone else thought I was wrong or if they had a better idea, they should say so.

For his first two weeks on the job Mike poked his head in my office and asked, “Hi, Boss. What are my orders?” And for two weeks, I replied, “I don’t give orders, Mike. What do you think you need to work on today?”

After a couple months, he would invite me out to coffee if he had an idea to share. But still he wouldn’t contradict me publicly, despite other team members doing so without repercussions.

After six months, I could tell that while he had gotten used to my management style, he didn’t respect me. He thought power was a limited resource. If I gave it away, I was less powerful. That could have been true in his Army career but it was not my leadership philosophy.

We had a chat in his office. “Look, Mike, what you don’t get is the more power I give away, the more powerful I become. If I’ve empowered you so you can do all that I can do, then I’ve not halved my power; I’ve doubled it!” As long as those of us on the team were reasonably aligned, empowering people had a multiplier effect.

In that instant, he internalized the distinction, and he became a man on a mission. About two days later, the president came and asked, “What did you to do Mike?” He was bubbling with ideas and energy. Mike became a huge advocate for empowerment and was a crucial team player on the Cadillac job. He also stepped into my position when I left the company.

“In organizations of the old story [where we have dominion over matter], plans and designs are constantly being imposed. People are told what to do all the time.

As a final insult, leaders go outside the organization to look for answers, returning with programs and methods invented elsewhere. Those in the organization only see these prepackaged solutions as insults.

Their creativity has been dismissed, their opportunity to invent something new for the organization has been denied. When we deny life’s need to create, life pushes back. We label it resistance and invent strategies to overcome it.

But we should do far better if we changed the story and learned how to invoke the resident creativity of those in our organizations.

We need to work with these insistent creative forces or the will be provoked to work against us.”

—Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science

[i] Kirkland, Faris R (December 1990) Combat Leadership Styles: Empowerment versus Authoritarianism. Strategic Studies Institute. http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Articles/1990/1990%20kirkland.pdf

Employees have a right to be involved in matters that affect them

Shared leadership is a more productive way to run an organization

Based on what you learned about me in Part 1, it should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of collaboration and empowerment and not of command-and-control hierarchies. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s when I discovered this wasn’t just a personal preference. It’s a better way to run organizations.

You may never have heard of sociotechnical systems but you may have heard of self-directed or high-performance work teams which emanated from that research. During World War II, the British wanted to figure out how to get people to be more productive. They gathered social psychologists like Eric Trist and Fred Emery in the Tavistock Institute where they studied coal miners. They discovered that small teams who were allowed flexibility in how they did their jobs were happier, more productive and safer. This was the complete opposite of the prevailing wisdom of the time based on Ford’s assembly line.

The terminology that they developed was somewhat obscure. So in 1992, Linda Lord, a colleague, and I wrote “A Convert’s Primer to Socio-Tech” for the Journal for Quality and Participation where we translated the concepts into a set of Ten Commandments.

In a nutshell and in everyday language, the scientists at Tavistock discovered that people were more productive when these factors were present:

Meaning—Not the first time you’ve heard this term in this book! In too many workplaces, employees are given a task with no understanding of how that affects others downstream or even the customer. People need to know what they’re doing and why it matters. The miners likely realized they were fueling the fight against the Nazis.

But at a silicon wafer plant, we discovered that shift workers were postponing preventive maintenance on the saws that cut the wafers because it reduced their production numbers to take time out to do it. So instead the next shift workers experienced quality problems and were even endangered on occasion by the saw blade flying off the machine.

Autonomy—Not the first time you’ve heard that term in this book either! People need control over how they do their work. That includes trading around tasks amongst their team. Some people are better at certain tasks than others; and if you do the same task all day long, you’re likely to hurt yourself. So the miners as a team decided how to work best together. This means no more standardized, narrow job descriptions as you might find on a factory floor.

Whole tasks—People are happier if you give the team a whole piece of work rather than the job of just screwing on a bolt. Seeing something to completion provides intrinsic motivation. It also provides feedback on the quality of the work. And if there is a problem, the consequences fall to the team to fix. No more throwing problems over the wall. In the 1980’s Volvo shed its assembly line and formed teams that collectively assembled an entire car. [i]

These three factors translate into certain practices:

  • Cross-functional teams—Most work involves the cooperation of different people with different skills. So the organization is restructured around whole pieces of work rather than steps in the process. Getting this right is tricky so I’ll discuss this more later in Tips for Organizational Leaders and Entrepreneurs at the end of this chapter.
  • Cross-training and job rotation—In clerical or manufacturing work, people get cross-trained on different tasks so they can understand how their work affects others and can also step in to relieve a worker. In some workplaces the roles are rotated on a regular basis. This is less common in highly technical professional work—you don’t want the receptionist as your anesthesiologist—but it still can be done to some degree.
  • Shared leadership and process improvement—Leadership becomes a role, not an enduring right of certain people over others. In some workplaces, the team leader rotates along with other positions. At a minimum, meetings are run in a highly participatory manner and many decisions made by consensus or at least input by the affected parties. Work time is allocated to talk about how work is being done and how it might be improved. To a large degree, the team operates autonomously, like its own little business, planning the work and making decisions. The organization tends to have a flatter structure; while there still may be managers, the organization needs fewer layers to coordinate work when people can think for themselves.

Think about all the areas where these factors are still not designed into the work. We are still learning these lessons. In the construction industry, ‘integrated design’ —where the trades, users, code officials and others participate in designing the building—is still an uncommon practice. ‘Patient-centered healthcare’ is not yet the norm. Don’t you think that half a century is enough time to get these principles incorporated into job design?

The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.

Steven Spielberg, movie director

One of my long-term clients was a trucking firm; I helped them set up self-directed work teams in one of their information technology departments. For over a decade they had other subsidiaries that ran their IT departments more traditionally but year after year, the team-based group vastly outperformed them on most measures including customer satisfaction and talent retention. But still the corporation struggled to make sense of it.

[i] Lohr, Steve (June 23, 1987) “Making cars the Volvo way” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/23/business/making-cars-the-volvo-way.html

This was excerpted from Great Work available both in print and as three separate ebooks.