Most of the business principles that we operate from, even to this day, come from the 19th century.
It goes back two hundred years when people were coming off the land and selling their labour to the industrial revolution.
People were considered disposable parts and workers rights were very hard to come by. Over time, that led to a social change in labour, specifically unions which while needed, unfortunately reinforced those stratified interests and divisions between management and workers.
Today, people don’t expect to be ‘command and controlled’ as then: they look to be consulted and developed. In fact, currently, younger workers expect to be entertained.
So today’s workplace is much more of a community. The credo is ‘I’m not working for the guy at the top: I’m working for my colleagues’. In that way, it’s more of a living space.
One of my strategies is to to turn the workplace into a living and breathing space that fosters people to willingly contribute, instead of a rigid system of incentives and control. People won’t put up with that anymore.
This is a fairly recent phenomenon over the last 25 to 30 years, especially in industries where knowledge is of paramount importance. Withholding labour is obvious to the eye: someone doesn’t put the effort in and it shows. If you do that with knowledge you are withholding the ideas in your head and today’s economy needs that knowledge. It needs to be given freely.
If the environment isn’t collaborative and energizing, the question arises: ‘If I think of an idea, should I patent it myself or contribute it to my company?’ These aren’t theoretical questions but very real value propositions taking place in workplaces today.
Some organizations say ‘We pay you for your ideas and own them’ and then kick the person out the door. If you do that, what results is a work culture zeitgeist where people don’t contribute their knowledge. In the adaptive world, it’s all about the learning, sensing and responding and that requires a lot of knowledge, collaboration and experimentation.
One thing is clear. You can’t run a company on 19th century principles anymore.