It’s been said over and over many times – happy employees create a highly productive company culture. But as straightforward as it may seem, why do a lot of organizations still get trapped in the same pitfalls that have been around for ages?
Employee engagement is one of the most difficult conundrums facing businesses that want to grow. In a time of economic downturn, businesses are pressured to increase productivity to avoid further costs, interruptions, or losses, leaving out employee satisfaction in the process. It’s highly tempting for employers to just focus on extreme productivity and disregard the fact that employees also need to be happy in their roles.
When it comes to real-life business practice, a lot of companies still end up applying traditional relationship of authority which leaves employees disengaged and dissatisfied with their work. In fact, Gallup’s most recent data shows that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Creating a climate of trust between an employee and an employer is hard. And the so-called “engagement programs” that are meant to keep employees committed and productive are doing more harm than good. They often tend to be greedy strategies to get more work done with fewer resources.
France and its Happy Workforce
We all know that France has a reputation of having lazy employees. However, contrary to popular belief, its workforce is not as unproductive as they seem. And this is because of one simple yet powerful mindset they possess – embracing the concept of happiness at work. They started by figuring out what their workforce really needed, from mandating shorter working hours to creating labor policies that value their personal and social lives. Most French retails groups have now taken the politic of happiness at work tempting the public sector to do the same.
What is Happiness at Work?
A great number of large, medium, and small private and public institutions are starting to embrace the concept of happiness. But what exactly does happiness at work mean? Happiness at work may mean differently to different people. It could be a job where people can fulfill their personal interests – a job that allows them to get closer to what they really like and love. It could also mean that an employee’s strengths and efforts are widely recognized. Or it could mean providing employees regular feedbacks and thanking them for their genuine care and attention towards the business. Happiness at work could also mean ending a hierarchical employment system and putting the focus on collaborations and partnership opportunities instead. Oftentimes, it’s not so much of the salary, though it can also factor in on the happiness level of employees. More often than not, the factors are interrelated. Bottom line is, happiness at work is achieved when we feel good about ourselves in the work we do, it’s when we are able to give valuable contributions and get appreciated in return. It’s the feeling of belongingness, of enjoying our social relationships.
Like an Old Family Business
Is the concept of happiness at work new? No, it’s not. It’s just an old family business culture applied to corporations. Think about it. In the traditional family business, all participants get the work done regardless of hierarchy, department, and silos. Everyone helps each other to make the whole thing work. That’s the kind of mentality corporations are looking for while engaging into the concept of happiness at work. It sounds simple but it’s hard to execute when people have been used to hierarchical procedures. Fortunately, workplace happiness and satisfaction collectives and workshops abound. Today’s organizations are lucky to have resources at their fingertips. SYPartners, Ahead and KYU to name a few helps organizations and individuals transform themselves and their respective organizations using business leadership strategies that encourage collaborations. These agencies focus on changing traditional work cultures and promoting effective partnerships through different networks. Aside from discovering new things about yourself and others, you’re given a chance to widen your connections that could prove to be beneficial in the near future.
There’s No Turning Back
Like any other ideas, embracing the concept of happiness also has a risky side. Once you’ve fully embraced this concept, you cannot come back to old practices anymore. Once you have given your employees the freedom to manage their time and responsibilities according to what they believe is the best for the business, you won’t be able to take back the freedom you’ve given them.
Freedom can come with a price that’s why as a leader or an employer, you have to make sure you still maintain a certain degree of authority and professionalism. In the end, it’s all about the equilibrium of every aspect of human life and work life.
There is no place for individualists in this day and age of collaborative economy. Today’s business culture is moving from an “I” to a “We” perspective which speaks so much of the desire to include everyone in the process of a creative economy. It’s a concept that links social responsibility, corporate performance, and business excellence altogether. It’s an idea that values teamwork over self-interest as the driver of business models and economic systems.
We vs. I
Just how powerful is our choice of words in the way we deal with others and build personal and business relationships? Well, it’s powerful enough to make or break our success. Our choice of words is powerful enough to change views, opinions, actions, and situations. Take the power of “we” for example. Choosing “we” over “I” can prove to be one of the most crucial factors in creating a positive, creative, and productive workforce. In fact, there’s even a study suggesting that people who use pronouns such as “I,” “my,” and “me” tend to have an inward focus of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Meanwhile, those who used “we,” “us,” and “you” showed an outward focus and considered the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of others. Furthermore, the study revealed that people with lower status were more inclined to use the pronoun “I” compared to individuals with higher status who tended to use the pronoun “we”. The “I” perspective not only promotes selfishness, but it also lowers the morale of individuals, and disregards the efforts of others. The “we” perspective, on the other hand, creates a harmonious relationship among individuals and avoids unhealthy competitions brought about by self-centeredness. Admit it or not, partnerships, trust, and collaborations are as crucial or even more crucial factors than salaries and perks in any organizational setup. A lot of individuals, no matter how high-paying their jobs are, quit when work becomes too individualistic and competitions abound. This also speaks true for some people who, despite having a lower-paying job than their high-paying counterparts, remain committed to their work because they are engaged and their efforts are being acknowledged. Now, what does this study say about leadership? Or what does this even have to do with leadership?
Leader vs. Boss
Would you rather be a leader of a boss? If you think you’re the type of person who tends to use or apply the “I,” “me,” or “my” concept a lot, then you’re likely to be identified as a boss. On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who always considers others in your decisions or actions, then you’re likely to be called a leader. A leader empowers and serves others while a boss wants power and demands to be followed. A boss instructs while a leader mentors others hands-on. A leader inspires while a boss uses fear or authority for people to comply. Why do these things matter? Truth is, the more that we engage others in our endeavors, the more that we become effective and productive. By being a leader and bringing out the best in others instead of focusing only on your own goals and growth, everyone is given the opportunity to rise, grow, succeed, and discover their potentials that would not have been possible if teamwork did not exist.
Raising a “We” Culture
Just imagine how fulfilling it is to be able to contribute to your organization, more so on a greater scale. So, how do we create a “we” culture? As the leader, how do you shift from an “I” to a “we” perspective if you’re the “I-centric” type? As a team member, how do you embrace collaboration if ever you’re not used to it?
Today, more and more individuals and teams are shifting their work paradigms from an individual-focused culture to a team-oriented one. The Power of We Consortium (PWC), for instance, is providing the residents of Michigan’s Ingham County a model for organizing and leveraging resources using the power of communication, collaboration, and accountability. The PWC believes in the interrelatedness of issues facing communities and thus, collaboration and engaging all community resources are the only means of solving the challenges effectively. Isn’t it amazing how the power of “we” can create a self-sustainable community? But what’s more remarkable is the fact that we’re able to discover a lot of hidden skills and talents, and maximize the resources we have.
Alternative business schools are also changing the academic landscape by molding learners to be more socially, economically, and environmentally responsible individuals. Take Knowmads for example. More than teaching about the technical aspects of businesses and economies, they encourage individuals to think beyond themselves. They ask questions that make students think deeply and conscientiously. Questions that let these learners create projects or models that impact positive changes to societies. Again, we can see how the “we” perspective, the others-centered mindset can make a huge difference in the world.
In gist, what these two organizations are telling us is that we can cultivate a “we” culture by learning about others – what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they are passionate about, what they can contribute to the group – and integrating the things we’ve learned from others with the things we know about ourselves. Cultivating a “we” culture starts when we stop thinking about ourselves.
We’ve come to a time where people are getting smarter and more outspoken about their working conditions. A lot of people are discovering that they can make the most out of everything because of technology. The power of mobility is not only giving them the freedom to balance their work and life but more importantly, it’s creating an avenue for collaboration and innovation outside their fields of expertise. This idea has given birth to co-working – a concept that embraces diverse collaboration among social and creative individuals who want to be in control of their work space and make an impact to the society.
Co-working spaces are reinventing the future of our economy. Across the globe, we can see the emergence of these collaborative working environments that focus on business or social entrepreneurship. As today’s industries require more cross-functional skills, co-working labs might just be the central hearth of productive workspace serving businesses and societies.
Unimaginable and Unconventional Breakthroughs
Co-working spaces are actually by nature cross-disciplinary and rarely focus on one single business vertical. Believe it or not, some of today’s biotech breakthroughs were made possible through collaborations of biologists with designers and choreographers. Unimaginable? Yes. Unconventional? Absolutely. It sounds weird from many angles and definitely disruptive especially for those who have kept a definitive boundary in their disciplines, but this growing trend might actually just become the norm in the next coming years. In fact, a study by software company Intuit revealed that by 2020, over 40% of the workforce, at least in America, will be freelancers and independent workers. The study also stated that 90% of the people they surveyed at co-working spaces said they felt more confident when co-working.
The idea of co-working is promising, creating opportunities for sustainable connections and collaborations. The question now is how do we break barriers between knowledge domains and create a collaborative atmosphere among people who have never worked with each other before? It all starts with engaging ourselves in collaborative efforts – by joining a collaborative hub. Knowmads and Impact Hub are just some of the various places that cultivate a culture of openness towards cross-functional disciplines for co-working newbies and experts alike.
These co-working hubs are reinventing the future of businesses by focusing on the human aspects of development. At the end of the day, the human attributes are the only thing that can genuinely connect us all. Knowmads, for instance, uses multiple tools to connect people based on human progress. Imagine a situation where a geo-strategist, a painter, and a nurse can start working together? Work differences and opinions might become hindrances but because co-working spaces offer free-form approaches that let collaborators engage with each other progressively without forcing things, the idea of different professionals working together harmoniously brings new opportunities and innovative solutions that make the world a better place.
Co-working provides a number of benefits that a traditional workspace can never offer. The feeling of being in control of your job, having the freedom to choose the projects you care about, and connecting with others and being a part of a unique circle are just some of the many things that co-working can provide individuals. And if there’s something that traditional businesses and organizations can learn from co-working spaces, it’s that giving people more space and support to be genuinely at their best can yield results that enable effective, sustainable, innovative and more socially responsible solutions to the different challenges we face every day.
Transformation has taken a new definition in this era of constant disruption. It’s no longer just a concept or a theory; transformation has already become a necessity and a reality.
Most of today’s societies – both developed and underdeveloped, face growing global crises and unprecedented changes that have profoundly shaken the core of traditional norms and practices. Disruption is starting to shape industries, markets, and our future. And people and businesses need to continuously grow and adapt to such changes in order to achieve and maintain success. If there’s anything that we can learn from these things, it’s that shifting our perceptions and strategies, and embracing disruption can lead to transformational results that we seek.
For the Presencing Institute’s Otto Scharmer, the global crises and unprecedented changes we currently face can be framed in three major divides namely the ecological divide, the social divide, and the spiritual-cultural divide. The ecological divide speaks of the disconnect between self and nature. The way we treat our environment has long-lasting effects be it on the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. The social divide, the disconnect between self and other, speaks of the gap between social classes. Inequality, poverty, and violence continue to plague our societies because opportunities are not equal. The spiritual-cultural divide, which is the disconnect between self and self, is a reflection of the disconnect between our current self and our emerging future self. It speaks of the way we deal with our innermost self, thoughts, and feelings. Burnout, depression, and other mental health issues are manifestations of the spiritual-cultural divide. These three divides represent the massive failures of our institutions – we have created results that nobody really wanted. Thus, we need to change the way we view and face these challenges. We need to change towards a more humane and sustainable world that values every individual.
From Ego-system to Eco-system
How then should we shift our outdated economic and business thinking into contemporary practices that consider everyone’s well-being? Scharmer offered quite an interesting and informative article regarding this by introducing eight institutional innovations that as a set can help businesses run more intelligently across silos and boundaries. It seems that shifting our economic logic from an ego-system to eco-system awareness is the key create an economy that considers the well-being of all. From nature, entrepreneurship, money, technology, leadership, consumption, governance, and ownership, reinventing our processes and concepts, and encouraging collaboration in these vital areas can redefine the business environment and change the way individuals treat life and business on a fundamental level.
U.Lab, a hybrid massive open online course (MOOC) platform run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (M.I.T.), recently offered two social innovation-focused programs – Leading Awareness-based Systems Change and How to Sense and Actualize the Future. The two programs offered unique insights on collaboration, co-creation, and succeeding in the emergent future. The programs’ introductory film says it all – a business cannot continue to run the way it goes and there’s a need to bring sustainability principles on core values of a business. True enough, what we need in this disruptive age is to create a profound innovation. We need new ways to connect to the more genuine aspects of our self and encourage consciousness in the way we manage things. Perhaps you would also agree that today’s businesses need to integrate personal and ethical values into their system to help make it more sustainable.
Futhermore, the edX-U.Lab course “Transforming Business, Society and Self” that Scharmer hosted is highly recommended. The course presented his Theory U framework and offered excellent and effective community practices that will really make you think deeply about how you can resolve the different divides.
Following U.Lab since its inception, it has brought a great first impression on a personal level. The courses offered new and authentic insights – leaving old business principles and gearing towards a fresh and spontaneous approach that really fuel growth and competitiveness. It’s actually quite idealistic but this approach will surely revolutionize today’s markets. These programs strengthen our individual capacities and the capabilities of organizations in responding to disruptive challenges through an innovation ecosystem.
Today’s emerging approaches are life-changing. Often we’re so consumed of the challenges the world brings that we somehow forget the very essence of our human existence. We forget about the people around us and focus so much on the problem instead of creating solutions. Understanding the concept of Theory U will make you realize that today’s challenges can be solved by allowing our current and best future self to listen with each other. It’s as simple as listening to others, listening with your heart and mind wide open, co-evolving, co-creating, and allowing inspiration and common will to emerge.
The New Economy Called Sharing Economy
Exclusivity is out. Collaboration is in. Working together is the new way of doing business which brings us to the concept of sharing economy. What does sharing economy mean? As kids, we were taught early on that sharing is an essential part of being. The definition of sharing that we knew back when we were starting to learn about numbers and ABCs is no different to the idea of sharing when referring to the sharing economy.
Uber, Airbnb, Grab, ebay, Fon, HomeAway, and Elance – do any of these companies ring a bell? These are just some of the growing number of sharing-focused businesses that are shaping today’s industries and economies. Companies built on collaborative ecosystem and sharing management culture are transforming businesses and the way people deal with daily life and work situations.
The rise of social media
Admit it or not, social media has become a part of the daily lives of most people. Unlike traditional communication tools, social media offers a two-way communication stream that allows people to be proactively engaged in discussions and the decision-making process. Social media is a tool aimed at collaboration and sharing. Imagine how easy it is to order food, look for a job, shop, book trips and appointments, join organizations, and even set-up a date right at your fingertips. Years ago, we were stuck with lengthy paper processes, charged with exorbitant fees, and even traveled miles away just to do such things. And today, social media has become a fundamental element of the sharing economy as witnessed in the companies mentioned earlier. The advent of social media has changed people’s perception and attitude towards others. Since then, people have become more willing to open up about their lives to strangers as seen on a lot of vlogs and social media posts. People are more engaged and unafraid to share their opinions and recommendations. Subconsciously, these are behaviors that can very well be attributed to the idea of sharing. What started out as a simple idea of sharing information turned into something even bigger – the sharing of resources.
If you don’t evolve, you dissolve
Why do we need to understand the sharing economy? Why does it matter to us? If we are just mere consumers and not into the business and technical side of the sharing economy, then why should it matter to us? The answer is simple. Life is chemistry. Everything around us affects us. And if we don’t evolve and adapt to changes, we will get left behind and stop growing. We need to understand the basic principles of sharing economy because we are a part of it. Our contributions, no matter how small, make all the difference collectively. A deep understanding of this emerging economy can lead us to better opportunities, allow us to reach new horizons, and provide us foresights that will allow us to make strategic decisions. We can’t just always be on the receiving end all of the time. It would be an irony to benefit from an industry that capitalizes on sharing but could not receive its fair share of time, resources, and efforts from the people it caters to.
So, you want to be a part of the sharing economy?
What does it take to be a part of this emerging economy? Just like in any other business or venture, we set values and traits that help us succeed in our undertaking. The values and attributes required in a typical business are no different with the values and traits one needs in the sharing industry. Sharing-focused businesses operate on trust, transparency, accountability, cooperation, open-mindedness, and the willingness to adapt to changes, innovate, and constantly feed your mind with knowledge. Apart from these values, it’s also necessary to come up with a strategic plan for your planned shift to a sharing-centric economy. How will a sharing economy affect your existing business model? Are you well-prepared for disruptions and the transition? Have you thought about the mindset of your market? You need to consider these questions on your planned economic shift. And you need to integrate all the values mentioned earlier in answering and creating solutions for such questions.
Entrepreneurship that creates opportunities for all
The sharing economy is empowering entrepreneurs and reshaping how they do business. Entrepreneurship is evolving because of peer-to-peer marketplaces. Pooling together, sharing resources, and reducing overconsumption or unnecessary purchase of things are redefining the concept of community-building in the perspective of a sharing economy. What sets the sharing economy apart from the traditional economy is its ability to provide business opportunities for all. In a traditional set-up, only those who have enough capital to build or buy apartments or condo units can actually sell or rent out these places. Imagine having an unused room in your apartment that’s just building up dusts and cobwebs. Thanks to the sharing economy, you can now have your room easily rented.
Is it sustainable or not?
This leads us to the question on whether this kind of economy is sustainable or not. Yes and no. Like all things, the sharing economy has its own pros and cons. When it comes to sustainability, it will depend on how we treat and view it today and in the future. It could be sustainable because it creates jobs for people and reduce the unemployment rate but it’s not sustainable for governments because of loss of tax revenues. Will sharing-centered enterprises last long if the number of similar businesses rises? Will it still be sustainable socially and environmentally speaking? The answer will depend on how a business sees the opportunities in challenges. Again, it all boils down to the values mentioned earlier, especially one’s open-mindedness, and willingness to adapt to changes, innovate, and constantly feed their mind with knowledge. These are what will make the sharing economy successful and sustainable.
Companies and organizations need to give back more than what they take from the environment and the society. For a company to be net positive, it needs to outweigh all the negative impacts on society and the environment with positive impacts. Net positive is a way of transforming businesses by having them innovate their products and services in a way that helps consumers have more sustainable lifestyles and restores the environment.
Why the Need to be Net Positive?
Nothing in this world is permanent. We live in a time of profound disruptions, rapid changes and unprecedented social, economic, and environmental challenges. These factors have made significant impacts on our lifestyle and the way we view our environment. When a business or an organization fails to positively respond to these changes, adapt and adopt appropriate measures, it usually leads to failure and eventually, closure of business. This is why becoming net positive is important. Net positive aims to encourage organizations and businesses to leave a positive impact to the environment – you put more resources into the environment than you get. Is it achievable? Yes, it is.
The 12 Principles
Through the 12 principles of a positive net approach, organizations and businesses understand net positive better which in turn help them adopt this new approach more efficiently. Here are the 12 principles of a net positive approach:
Net Positive Leaders
A lot of companies are already geared towards a net positive plan. Companies like IKEA, Coca-Cola, Capgemini and Kingfisher are among the key organizations making a positive impact to the society and the environment. These companies go beyond doing less to zero harm to the environment. What they do is they set clear guidelines and common set of principles to increase their sustainable practices while innovation. The net positive principle is a great way to avoid companies from greenwashing since in going net positive, you don’t just simply label your products or services as eco-friendly. In net positive practice, you show proof that you are indeed returning more than what you get from the environment. Coca-Cola, for example, returns and restores the water it uses in its products. They’ve set a concrete goal with a definite timeline in replenishing all the water they use in making beverages.
This goes beyond just merely restoring the water they use. Coca-Cola incorporates social responsibility through launching community water projects all around the world. These projects range from protecting watersheds to improving access to potable water. Meanwhile, IKEA’s net positive strategy focuses on generating renewable energy. Energy-saving initiatives such as installation of wind turbines and solar panels on their stores and distribution hubs have helped IKEA reduce their energy use globally. Their strategy is also encouraging consumers to change their mindset regarding energy consumption.
Gearing towards a net positive impact will not only drive a restorative economy. More importantly, it will create societal and environmental values that drive sustainability and help build community resilience.
We hear it everywhere, we talk about it among our colleagues, family members and circle of friends in business meetings, social media, and advertising platforms. It’s a concept born out of the need to combat the exploitation of natural resources and to meet the needs of today without compromising the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs.
How can we address the issues of energy, food, climate, chemicals, renewable resources and globalization well within ecological limits? Sustainability is a key in addressing such challenges we face in our daily lives. It’s a concept that everyone can work towards because even the smallest things we do can gravely impact our future and make a difference.
Capitalism vs. Shared value
Capitalism, being the dominant economic system, plays a crucial role in the formation of a sustainable society. However, times are changing and what used to work before might not work now. What’s more, many of today’s environmental, social and economic challenges are being blamed on corporations. So, if we want a sustainable future and society, we need economic systems that really work. And creating shared value is the way to go – it’s the way to reinvent capitalism. But just what is shared value? It’s more than just creating economic value. It’s about realigning your business to create values that address the challenges and needs of societies.
Is Fair Trade Really Fair?
What started out as a simple means of helping people in developing countries has now evolved into a multibillion-dollar trade that’s helping address poverty and empowering producers in poor countries – or not! Not that we’re being skeptical of fair trade policies but as socially conscious consumers, we can’t help but ask ourselves if fair trade is really being fair to our farmers in poor countries. Are we sure that our money is really going to good causes? How do we gauge it? Who is making sure that it is really fair and ethically acceptable? Who is ensuring that the rights of farmers are not being violated? Critics of the fair-trade movement are arguing that fair trade doesn’t help the poor rather, it’s more beneficial to traders in rich countries. They argue that joining the fair trade requires specific quality and political standards that are obviously difficult for poor farmers to comply with. Another argument is that little money reaches farmers. It’s difficult to find out if the extra money we pay for the goods is really reaching them. There’s not much evidence proving that farmers receive a good sum of the money. Our purchasing power is crucial in helping producers in developing countries but the more critical factor is our discernment of these fair trade-marked products being sold to us. It’s becoming more of an appeal to our emotions rather than helping consumers have a better grasp of the situation and become more proactive in exercising their purchasing power.
Going organic is Green Washing?
Going green is a growing trend among health-conscious and eco-conscious consumers. It’s seen as a sustainable means and ecologically responsible practice of using natural resources. However, this growing trend has recently come under fire mainly because of the integrity in labelling goods as organic. A lot of organizations spend more time and resources in claiming to be eco-friendly through marketing and advertising than they actually practice. It’s a form of deception that is making everything all the more complicated because we have consumers who really want to positively impact the environment but the more that they “go green,” the more that they unknowingly harm the environment and help these deceptive organizations profit.
The Principle of Permaculture
How then can we gauge if something is legitimately eco-friendly and not just greenwashing? Understanding how permaculture works is one way. Permaculture originated from the words permanent and agriculture. It is an ingenious agricultural design process that incorporates ethics and social design principles geared towards sustainability and self-sufficiency. As a consumer, understanding how permaculture works is one big step in being self-sufficient and avoiding greenwashing. It’s a way to avoid greenwashing and counter the linear economy perspective. In permaculture, you are guided by three interwoven ethic principles – care for the people, care for the earth and the concept of fair share. Agroforestry, rainwater harvesting, intensive rotational grazing, fruit tree management and natural building are among the common permaculture practices adopted today. Permaculture can be likened to the circular economy where wastage of resources is avoided. It’s a more viable and legitimately eco-friendly practice than simply buying green-labelled products. And what permaculture does on a larger scale is that it contributes to sustainable economic development.
Shared value, capitalism, fair trade, greenwashing, permaculture – all these things relate to sustainability in one way or another. Understanding the core principles behind these concepts and terms is important just as much as it is important to understand what sustainability really is. For without enough knowledge on these concepts, a surface-level understanding of sustainability would not suffice.
Patrick Roupin is an expert in innovation, design, strategy & entrepreneurship.
Ashrefunisa Shaik is an expert in organizational transformation & sustainability.