“There is only one valid definition of a business purpose:
to create a customer.”*
No matter what the future of work looks like, securing customers and creating value for them is fundamentally what business will continue to be about.
I haven’t decided on a name for this framework, so for the moment I’m calling it the Big Value Picture. It’s simplicity conceals a multitude of ideas and insights from numerous practitioners, researchers, and theorists.
People Create Value
People generate value for customers (and they can destroy it) by what they do together, through their social relationships, connections, and the way they communicate with each other.
It turns out that informal social relationships play a critical and positive role in team performance, and there’s evidence for that from almost a century ago. If you look all the way back to the Hawthorne Studies in the 1920s and 1930s, you see that:
“Beneath the formalities of the organization chart was not chaos but a robust, informal organization, constituted by the activities, sentiments, interactions, norms, and personal and professional connections of individuals and groups that had developed over extended periods of time.”
The researchers concluded that:
“Mental attitudes, proper supervision, and informal social relationships experienced in a group were key to productivity and job satisfaction”
Although the Hawthorne Studies were flawed, the researchers were on to something. Informal social relationships were found to be linked to high productivity at the beginning of the 20th Century, and the evidence for the same thing has been suggested at the beginning of the 21st Century.
A team of researchers at MIT found in 2012, by measuring a range of behaviours captured through people wearing electronic badges, that talking to your pals away from work is associated with high team performance.
They say “the best predictors of of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings”, and concluded that socialising is “deeply critical” to team performance. The researchers go as far as proclaiming this discovery as “the new science of building great teams”.
The right-hand side of the Big Picture summarises formal systems that create performance environments underpinning customer-focused ways of organising (who does what, how, and who with).
At the core of customer-focused ways of organising:
- Is the belief that people create value for customers
- Through sharing their knowledge and capabilities
- Working together to solve problems
- Constantly learning and looking for better ways of doing things.
We should know all this. Formal performance systems create the conditions for people to work together, so that they can do what they need to do. They also create the conditions for supportive, social relationships to develop.
Acas Productivity Levers
It feels to me like a chasm persists between what researchers churn out, and what happens in real life in organisations.
I was recently made aware of the Acas Seven Levers of Workplace Productivity. A specific focus on nurturing informal social relationships in the workplace? Nope, not as far as I can see. Implied, perhaps, in that ‘relationships based on trust’ is one of their productivity levers.
I have to admit that my heart sank a bit when I read the summary on the website. I don’t disagree with any of it. It’s just that I’ve been around new ways of working and learning for too long. I’ve seen so many similar reports. And not a lot seems to change.
Mooching around the Acas website, my eye fell on this short paper, Rediscovering Human Potential, from Ewan Keep. What some people understand as ‘productivity’ would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling:
” Fifty-one per cent of 18-25 year-olds believe that attending internal meetings signifies “productivity” “
I’m not having a pop at young people. The same survey finds that:
“Seventy-one per cent of workers thought “a productive day in the office” meant clearing their emails.”
And everybody’s reporting working long, unproductive hours – ” 2 billion hours a year of unpaid overtime”, apparently.
He’s commenting on an another paper by Keith Sissons. That’s what drew my attention to the article in the first place. Would that be the same Keith Sissons who was one of my lecturers so long ago at Warwick University? Looks like it. I diverge ….
Professor Keep says:
“We need to go where policy makers and politicians have not gone for a long time – back to the workplace where, as Sisson states, “skills, capabilities and technology come together, where people acquire technical and social skills and where social capital is formed”.
I agree with Acas that first line supervisor skills, and nurturing these people, is important. I don’t think that’s where the main problem lies, though.
I think that our need to socialise flies in the face of decades of attempts to control social behavior. Messing around, not working. Get back to work.
It would seem that playful, congenial working relationships are linked to productivity. Who’s got the time? Seems like everyone is going round in circles. We need to try to stop.
It’s good to talk. And it’s productive.
* Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management New York,: Harper, 1st ed. 1954 ; Routledge, 2012. P37 (haven’t read the book, am taking the reference on trust)