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.
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.
For nearly a century creativity has been understood as a key ingredient of business creation across thousands of design who took shape as product, service, solution and social planning. Participative innovation comes with a new set of values to reinforce the creative potential of organisation. Participative innovation is ether understood as an internal phenomenon of organisation or a manifestation which is happening outside the boundary of the corporate structure. Initially we would have a look to both the aspects. In house participative innovation refers to the fact that workers and managers associate to create new business models and solutions for the consumers. We call participative innovation the point that the workers who are involved in the creative process are not supposed to be in charge of innovation contribution. Participative innovation implies that an organisation would have adopted a politic of democratization of the creative process across its managerial layers to leverage new business opportunities. For the past 3 decades, participative innovation has grown significantly. The company Google who institutionalized this value, made it mandatory to workers to involve themselves in prospective projects a certain amount of time from their schedule. It is believed that number of Google innovation came from this initiative. Giving workers some freedom to problem solving in the ever fragmented industry leads companies to new areas of business development. Today, there is a common acceptance that participative innovation is promising. More recently participative innovation has got a new sense by including public and user participation. Participative innovation advocates the importance of including the user on the conceptualisation of product, service and policy. This second aspect of participative innovation interest us more particularly has it may lead to social entrepreneurship.
To demonstrate the potential of participative innovation I shall dress a parallel with design thinking that is most of the time a non-inclusive discipline. Bruce Nussebaum has demonstrated that failure in design thinking is due to monopolistic approach by most companies and political groups towards the society with regards to value creation. Rather than wanting to “change the world” through design thinking and business it should be like society leaders support people in making the world as they want using participative innovation. In short, it is questioned that shifting the power of design thinking from the designer’s hand to the common man’s hand could lead to a more effective way of producing innovation. In this research I try to demonstrate that social changes lead people to be increasingly reactive to systems and solutions presented to them. We witness a re-appropriation of the industry, the politic and the social.
At the lecture of sociological concepts of identity, and essays from notorious designers, philosopher and business mam we assume that our economy could be at the beginning of a new economic order that would give power to consumer as a democratic necessity to balance the corporate lobby. This approach sometimes referred as ‘prosumerism’ would radically transform the purpose of design in the corporate environment. It is therefore believed that corporate would be re-elected to the role of social enabler rather that been the creative think- tank of the consumerist society has it has been the case since the Second World War. However, participative innovation leads to large questioning in time of economic recession and environmental instability. Participation is negatively associated to “working for free” with concerns in terms of intellectual properties. Today’s businesses are facing the issue of associating with the consumer through participative innovation while maintaining a climate of fair exchange.
By stimulating participative innovation business and society put themselves at risk that a large part of the creative potential slip from their hands and get developed by third party individuals and organization. However participative innovation requires the nest of a cybernetic environment for business development what make it mandatory for businesses to concede part of its intellectual production. As Prahalad and Krishnan mention in the New Age of Innovation; “"No firm is big enough in scope and size to satisfy the experiences of one single consumer" and that is the whole challenge of a participative innovation approach. User requirement get so fragmented that no business can have the capacity of responding to all the facet of the consumer experience. This statement also implies that ultimately, firms would depend on individual and/or start-up to generate the value necessary to respond to the needs of unique consumers.
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.
Rapid changes and profound disruptions are creating a shift in human consciousness. People are more deeply conscious now than ever before. People are leaning towards more collaborative, participative, transparent, creative, and innovative interactions and relationships with others – interactions and relationships that are meant to bring out the best in individuals and organizations, and transform communities for the better. This is what the Art of Hosting is all about.
The Art of Hosting is an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges. The global community known as “Art of Hosting” gave its name to the facilitation technic it origin from. Today there is numerus of independent institutes practicing the Art of Hosting within and outside the global community.
Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities
Today’s communities face unprecedented challenges that affect the well-being of their constituents and the community as a whole. What the Art of Hosting does is it guides participants in building unique relationships with their community. It is through collective learning that a community or an organization finds solutions the fastest way. Through the Art of Hosting, it’s possible for people to learn together and build partnerships that help them work better. The Art of Hosting allows individuals to connect with other heads of resilience and sustainability movements, deepen such connection, and come up with plans and practices to achieve a sustainable and resilient community.
When the world’s best entrepreneurs come together and realize a shared vision that will change the world for the better, we have what we call collaborative entrepreneurship. It’s an improved version of social entrepreneurship in which instead of helping entrepreneurs individually, entrepreneurs from different places are gathered to support and engage with other entrepreneurs. The Art of Hosting encourages entrepreneurs to engage in deep and meaningful conversations with other entrepreneurs, and work together towards a common goal.
Pre-sensing, participation, contribution, and co-creation are the four-fold practices that make the Art of Hosting unique and engaging. It begins with bringing our undistracted and prepared self to any situation or event that we’re in. We need to “host” ourselves first we’re able to “host” others. We need to be open to ourselves first before we welcome the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others around us. Being present also means being aware of our environment and the people around us. The next thing we need to do is to participate and practice conversation. And the only way to effectively do this is to speak our truth in a genuine way and listen deeply and with an open heart to the people around us. The third practice is about hosting conversations. As the host, we take responsibility for building and maintaining a realm in which people can collectively work at their best. We should be willing to start conversations that matter and ensure that we get meaningful and useful answers, learning, and insights from such conversation. Finally, we have co-creation. Here, we’re not mere audiences but key persons who positively contribute to the group. It’s more than just doing things together. It’s about sharing our knowledge and experiences with other people.
People are at their best when they engage in meaningful conversations and create deep connections with people around them. The Art of Hosting is a gateway for individuals to respond to challenges and problems in innovative, creative, unique, and effective ways. After the workshop, people get better at decision-making, their relationships towards other people improve, there is more room for innovation, and people respond better and faster to challenges and opportunities. The fact that the Art of Hosting is considered as the best dialogue tool to encourage people towards social and economic cooperation simply means that it is geared towards creating a more sustainable future for communities, businesses, and organizations. The Art of Hosting is a giant leap from existing traditional leadership practices that are more often than not considered outdated and ineffective.
Patrick Roupin is an expert in innovation, design, strategy & entrepreneurship.
Ashrefunisa Shaik is an expert in organizational transformation & sustainability.