The media paints a fairly negative picture of the workplace. Wages are too low. There’s gender inequality. Work-life balance is a problem. Productivity or skills are poor. There are scandals of every variety and mistakes in mergers, outsourcing and financial trades. Today’s workers are frustrated, unproductive and miserable – or so you would think from the coverage.
Is this really an accurate picture? And to the extent that such problems do exist, can we improve things? Are we really, in Western society at the beginning of the 21st Century, just terribly bad at management?
Over the past 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to research in great depth what makes for strong leadership and an effective workplace, and I’ve put some ideas and models into action. I’ve learned three key lessons:
- It isn’t all bad – there are some great leaders and fantastically dynamic workplaces.
- The difference between the best and the worst workplaces is huge.
- Leadership is a defining quality of an effective, productive workplace.
The challenge is converting this knowledge to action. It goes beyond implementing new
processes and methods—mindsets must also be changed. It’s actually a historic shift away from the exploitative mindset: “Let’s squeeze every drop out of the people and environment to feed the company” towards an empowering mindset: “Let’s harness people’s energy and ambition to create an innovative and resilient enterprise.”
This better alternative is not just an option for trendy hi-tech or creative firms, but for every enterprise, whether you’re in design or food production. It’s actually the way in which the most resilient and successful businesses have always governed their affairs. It’s not utopic and not everything works all the time, but there are certain core habits and principles that maximise the potential for success.
“The Management Shift” is a shift:
- From a controlling mindset to an empowering one.
- From setting rules to establishing principles.
- From issuing instructions to creating teams.
- From overseeing transactions to building alliances.
- From a focus on short-term profits to serving all stakeholders.
In short, we know how to make workplaces more productive, engaging, innovative and rewarding. The challenge is a cultural one: to grasp that this transformation is possible and to learn the disciplines to make it happen.