To reinvent our organizations we must first reinvent ourselves

There’s a lot of talk these days about reinventing organizations. The world has become fully digital, which has caused the total disruption of business as usual. For the vast majority of working Americans, the people in positions of leadership aren’t clear on what changes to make that can propel them ahead of this disruption, yet they know they need to adjust their course and bring in modern thought leaders to help co-create their futures.

Cisco’s CEO says digital technologies are the most disruptive forces we’ve ever seen, which is absolutely right. We’re hyper-connected, constantly-communicating, and always-informed in ways we’ve never been before. The paradox is, we’re also more overwhelmed, overworked, and overloaded than any other point in history.

A few leading companies seem to be at the forefront of making changes, and ironically, they’re some of the largest organizations on the planet. GE has worked hard to embrace startup methodologies and cultures, Samsung is calling for changes to its corporate culture to move it away from top-down management while fostering open dialogues, and PwC is turning its offices into “coworking spaces” so they can encourage flexibility and attract and retain Millennials.

While these organizations are in the midst of reinventing themselves, they serve as clear indications that we need a new way of business, of organizing, and of working, that’s designed specifically for our lifestyles in this modern, fully connected, global world. But what many aren’t talking about, is that we also need a new way of life.

At no point throughout the growth of personal technology within society have we taken the time to disconnect from life as usual and look at the big picture spectrum of our daily lives as they relate to our technology habits and use. As part of America’s workforce I’ve been involved in the machine. Using the tools of the modern knowledge worker — email, Slack, Asana, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, iMessage, Google Apps, et al — I’ve been intimately connected with my colleagues, peers, partner organizations, friends and more. I’ve partaken in mass email threads, community Slack groups, conference calls and video chats, and all the other communication channels we have available to us today.

Similarly, I’ve sat in on multi-hour meetings, regular one-on-one’s, weekly team meetings, company town halls, strategy sessions, status meetings, and so many other types of gatherings that occur in the middle of the business day and pull us away from our work. Our creation. Our state of flow.

What I’ve observed lately is that so many people — from organizational design consultancies to Deloitte, McKinsey, and even The New York Times — are all talking about the future of work. They’re talking about reinventing organizations and changing the way they’re designed. There are stories of Holocracy, self-management, flat structures, flexible cultures, and so many other ways of bringing people together to join forces and accomplish common missions.

Yet what I haven’t noticed a lot of, are people talking about reinventing ourselves, as a way to combat all the changes brought about as our world became hyper-connected and life because increasingly stressful, busy, and overwhelming. Most folks blame post-industrial organizational designs for the problems our modern workforce, talking about hierarchies, command-and-control models, and the factory-driven squeeze for increased efficiency, productivity and growth.

While I agree with everything they’re saying and believe in their mission to help leaders at the top become change makers and drive us towards the future of work, I also believe focus should be put on the individual. The employee. The manager, executive, business owner, entrepreneur, recent graduate, and every other person working within the confines of these post-industrial organizations.

While it’s important to drive change from the top down, it may be even more important to drive change from the bottom up.

The clash of these antiquated organizational models with our always-connected, fast-paced workflows is a leading part of what causes so much stress, anxiety, and overwhelm among the people living in this modern age. The clash contributes heavily to the saddening statistics about employee engagement, where only 13% of worldwide employees feel connected to the work they’re doing. While much blame is put on the shortcomings of corporate environments, these statistics are also tied directly to our individual workflows, daily operations, and undefined work/life expectations within these environments.

Furthermore, people are not connected with their work because they’re not able to truly focus on their work. With all the distractions, interruptions, and complications of getting stuff done, so many people feel as though they’re not having an impact — no wonder we’re all disengaged!

What I’m proposing is that we need to consider change will be driven by leaders throughout the entire organization, and not just at the top. Leaders like you and me who decide the way we work isn’t working, and begin making small changes in our daily lives that ultimately lead to greater impact across a larger cohort of people. And while those at the top focus on redesigning their organization’s structures and operating models, the rest of us will immediately benefit by redesigning our daily workflows, processes, communication styles, technology habits and more.

Small tweaks can lead to large results

We can start by making sure each individual feels comfortable blocking out the time needed each day to truly focus on work; time when they know they won’t be interrupted or required to answer emails, IM, or phone calls. Furthermore, by encouraging colleagues to disconnect from their devices at a few points throughout the day, we’ll afford ourselves some gap time to let our minds get in to creative flows that produce levels of clarity and insights that aren’t achievable when we’re constantly connected, communicating, and functioning.

By bringing a bit of gratitude in to our days we’ll begin to reconnect with the tasks at hand, re-envision the bigger picture, and start to feel as though our work and output is actually making a difference, and thus, having meaning. Simple practices such as appreciating the parts of our work we’re grateful for, recognizing the enjoyable parts of our jobs, and appreciating the challenges we’re actively overcoming, can all serve as small changes that lead to mindset shifts having lasting positive effects on how we approach our work, as well as the tangible work we produce.

From that point forward, once we’re all reengaged with the mission we’re on and the work we’re partaking in, and are functioning with positivity and control instead of negativity and overwhelm, we’ll have reinvented ourselves and the way in which we approach our work, which is the first step towards greater change and organizational impact.

And there, from that place of positivity, we’ll be able to have further positive impact on our colleagues, peers, friends, and all people within our networks. And that’s the change we need to see. Everyone reevaluating how they’re approaching their daily workflows in tandem with the leaders at the top reevaluating how they create positive organizational environments that empower the modern knowledge worker to produce their best work and enjoy how they spend their days.

There’s no better time to adjust work habits and reinvent our lifestyles than today!

If you want to further discuss, please feel free to reach out any time @miketnnnbm.

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