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Book Summary: Brave New Work – Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?


Do you ever find yourself living in the matrix?

You’re doing the same thing everyday, but not questioning why?

It’s the same in our organizations. There are a set of assumptions under which we operate at work without questioning why we need them.

Ever stopped to wonder:

  • Why do we need managers?
  • or budgets?
  • or performance reviews?

We just inherited them from those who came before us. We think that’s the only way to run and manage a team/organization.

The book that I’m share with you today “Brave New Work” is about breaking free from these assumptions. It invites you to reconsider new ways of working.

So let’s get right into it.

Aaron makes no bones when he says our current business operating systems are broken! We spend money, time and labour in countless heavily data centric models that draw focus on methodology rather than long-term business planning.

As W. Edwards Deming says, “94% of problems in business are systems-driven and only 6% are people-driven.”

Current Organisation Management – Legacy OS

Over the last 50 years, all fields have evolved and innovated in the way they do things, but the way we run organisations remains the same. It is an outdated model which does not cater to the current generation of employees.

Our organisational operating system which includes all the rules, regulations, norms, policies, procedures et al, is so deeply embedded in our psyche that we fail to recognise its flaws and question it.

We don’t question why we need managers, performance reviews, budgets, because if we did, we would be questioning an age old system called the Legacy Operating system.

This operating system functions on our assumptions of what we believe to be the human nature. We have compartmentalised our ideas and have set rules based on those compartments.

Do we really think we as people are untrustworthy or unreliable?
Are we lazy or industrious?
Can we self-manage or must we be controlled?

The author invites us to change the way we look at people within the organization – ie respect people and not treat them as dispensable resources.

People if given the right opportunities hold the capability of managing themselves and focusing their energies to where they can add the most value.

People are also capable of delivering targets and driving their individual performance without the need for constant monitoring or incentives; a fact that has been corroborated with the current remote working situation that the world has adapted to swimmingly.

So if we were to adopt a new Operating System for the organization, what does that look like and how do we achieve it?

Future 2.0 – Evolutionary OS

Organisations following the Evolutionary OS are a new generation of organisations that have reimagined the way they work. Some key features of such organisations are:

1. They tend to make informed and practical decisions faster thereby resulting in positive outcomes.

2. Resources are allocated dynamically without stringent team structures with individual strengths playing the most prominent role.

3. They refurbish and reimagine their product or service and the processes that run the business.

4. Business growth is organic without the loss of their trusted OS or the culture they have built.

5. Practically speaking, they lay emphasis on quality over quantity thereby working fewer hours but getting more done.

6. They are big on sustainability without compromising on their profitability.

7. They create prosperity, not just for their shareholders but for employees, customers, and communities.

Aaron then goes into a road map of sorts to help organisations transform to an evolutionary model, highlighting 12 key points that make organizations evolutionary.

The OS Canvas: A Map to Build an Evolutionary Organisation

The author highlights twelve domains where we most urgently need to question and reinvent our approach. They are:

  • Purpose
  • Authority
  • Structure
  • Strategy
  • Resources
  • Innovation
  • Workflow
  • Meetings
  • Information
  • Membership
  • Mastery
  • Compensation

I won’t go into all the 12 domains in this post. However I’ll highlight 5 that stood out for me.

1. Purpose: What is the reason for being?

For legacy organisations, the purpose is generally defined as making more money or raking in the moolah. This tends to be counterproductive because we then end up treating our people as dispensable resources who can be replaced if they fail to bring in the profits.

In comparison, evolutionary organisations believe that a great purpose is aspirational, but it’s also a constraint. It focuses our energy and attention to a point of unification.

A good way to achieve this is to take the time to discuss the connection between each individual’s calling and the organisation’s collective purpose. When organisations get their purpose right it orients people from serving their bosses to serving a higher purpose.

Recognise that motivation is connected to a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging.

2. Authority: How do we share power and make decisions?

In legacy organisations, power rests with a few on the top. They are the decision makers who only delegate duties and impose rules as per their understanding and convenience.

Even though many claim to have an open door policy, actual implementation is lacking.

Whereas, evolutionary organisations ensure that everyone has the freedom and autonomy to serve the organisation’s purpose. The default assumption here is that you can do anything, unless a specific policy or agreement prohibits it. We’re starting from a position of trust.

In legacy organisations, authority is generally concentrated in the hands of the few making them seem like the only smart ones in the room. Recognise that freedom and autonomy feed motivation. Create an environment where it is safe to try and safe to fail and teams will learn and grow in extraordinary ways.

3. Structure: How do we organise our team?

The following questions can be applied to the organisation as a whole or the teams within it. Use them to provoke a conversation about what is present and what is possible.

How would we describe our current structure?

How do products, services, geographies, functions, skills, and customer segments show up in our structure?

What is centralised?

What is decentralised?

What about our structure is fixed?

What is fluid?

What about our current structure is causing tension?

How would an ideal structure serve us?

What benefits would we expect to see?

Within teams, how do we approach roles and accountabilities?

How does our structure learn or change over time?

Moving away from a vertical hierarchy system where it is top down, command and control structure, we can aspire for our organisations to act like dynamic networks.

Members of a system that works this way have the freedom to organise (and reorganise) around projects and programs in order to seize opportunity and accelerate their personal growth. Over time the whole thing comes to look more like a marketplace than an organisation chart.

Sure, hierarchies still emerge, but they are hierarchies of influence, reputation, and the work itself. They are messy. They are dynamic. And they are held lightly. It requires a shift in mindset to be able to accept other contributors as equal.

Recognise that people are capable of self-organising if the conditions are correct. Create simple rules or agreements about how teams are formed and changed, then let people go where their skills and energies take them.

4. Meetings: How can we have cost-effective meaningful meetings?

The average employee attends sixty-two meetings a month and considers more than half of those meetings a waste of time. The salary cost of unnecessary meetings is now $37 billion for U.S. businesses alone.

In most organizations meetings are held at the drop of a hat without clear agendas and actions. This leads to team members disregarding the purpose of meetings and believing them to be a farce.

There are cases where hour long discussions happen without any definite action plan with everyone present leaving the conference room as confused as they were when they entered it.

So how can organisations solve this recurring issue?

The solution is not to ditch meetings. They’re valuable because human beings crave connection and relatedness. Sharing the same space every once in a while matters.

One of the best ways to increase meeting effectiveness is to ensure that someone is responsible for the structure, flow, and output of every meeting. Two roles that we have found to be particularly effective are facilitator and scribe.

The facilitator role keeps the meeting on track, enforcing whatever format and ground rules the team has agreed upon and the scribe makes a note of points which are relevant to the team as a whole.

Rather than treating all meetings as social free-for-alls, let the purpose of every meeting dictate its structure. Some should work with our human nature, and some should help us transcend it.

 There are different formats of meetings which can be explored based on the needs of the team and situation. There are Holacracy’s tactical and governance meetings where teams meet at regular intervals to decide what to do meet their objectives, and to set constraints on how and when things will be done.

I clearly remember dreading meetings before implementing Holacracy (read about our journey here). It used to be an arduous exercise where people would either come in to complain, put up issues to the boss to solve, and leave the meeting confused without any clarity.

However, the problem was not with the people. It was the way we had structured our meetings. The moment we implemented tactical and governance meetings from Holacracy, our session became interesting and everyone looked forward to them. Some key reasons for its success were:

  • There was clarity on who’s responsible for what.
  • The facilitator of the meeting would hold the space to discuss just one agenda item at a time.
  • The secretary would note down the action and project (if any) at the end of processing an agenda item

If you would like to explore more on how we conduct meetings, check out our free webinar on how to run meetings that are effective, focused, and produce results.

5. Compensation: How we pay and provide?

Legacy organisations work on the assumption that money is the primary motivator for individuals to perform at their optimum best. This might hold true for a while, but there are a lot of factors that go into creating a wholesome and motivated employee. Unless there is a feeling of belonging, the employee tends to bow under the pressure and eventually quit or continue disgruntled.

Evolutionary organisations understand the human need for acknolwedgement. Satisfaction often isn’t the opposite of dissatisfaction. Rather, satisfaction and dissatisfaction appear to be driven by two completely different sets of variables.

Motivators included job characteristics such as recognition for achievement, meaningful and interesting work, involvement in decision making, and advancement or personal growth. Addressing these factors increased satisfaction by improving the nature of the work itself.

Hygiene factors, on the other hand, included company policies, job status and security, supervisory practices, and—of course—salary and benefits. Addressing these factors reduced dissatisfaction by improving the job environment.

So what does this mean for the world of compensation? It means that increasing salaries that are too low can reduce job dissatisfaction, but increasing salaries that are already generous won’t increase job satisfaction in any meaningful or lasting way. Compensation is hygiene. Don’t mistake it for higher purpose.

Only transparency, dialogue, and judgment can make sense of what is fair, and even then you’ll be grappling with inherent issues of bias and privilege that will not be easily eliminated. Compensation can’t be solved it must be tuned. In fact a team that is well-adjusted can also be taken into confidence when things aren’t going too well for an organisation which gives them a sense of companionship and togetherness.

Some studies have even shown that environments with transparent pay are measurably more productive. It may still feel like a radical choice, but websites such as Glassdoor and are giving employees a platform to share anonymously right now. Glassdoor, for example, has more than 40,589 user-contributed salaries listed for Microsoft in the United States alone. The cat’s out of the bag. Transparency is the future.

The Future is Now

We need a new approach to organisational transformation.

We can start by accepting that organisations are complex adaptive systems, not complicated mechanical ones. They are living systems, not machines. They are the sum total of the principles, practices, mindsets, assumptions, and behaviour of hundreds or thousands of people.

How do you change a complex adaptive system?

You live in the now. By accepting that your organisation is complex, you are compelled to change both the OS and the manner in which you change it. You can’t blow up bureaucracy with a bureaucratic change process. You can’t build a culture of trust with a program full of oversight and verification. Start the way you mean to finish.

It’s not just about reducing costs and enjoying profits. Legacy system focuses on sharing the cream with shareholders, whereas the public benefit corporation, a relatively new form of incorporation allows an organisation to prioritize a purpose or mission—beyond profit—that provides a benefit to society.  We want to create organisations that are People Positive and Complexity Conscious—full of humanity, vitality, and adaptivity.

Today less than 1 percent of all organisations are experimenting with these new possibilities. The tipping point is far off in the distance. It is people like you who will draw this future closer and make the impossible possible for the next generation of founders and teams.

This is just a summary based on my learnings from the book. I’d encourage you to read the book and also check out Aaron’s podcast, where he discusses these principles in rich detail with examples.

Would you like support and coaching to build an evolutionary organization? Contact us today!

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