Rules of the game
More than a century ago during the period of rapid industrialization, the ‘human factor’ and his or her contribution was fitted into standardized structures and processes. Being successful in large and ever-growing organizations required the individual to understand and play ‘the rules of the game’ well. And - in most organizations - that meant and means up to now, to play Mikado. Do you know Mikado? A Japanese game with the aim of picking up the pieces stick by stick without moving the other sticks – the person who first moves the entire stack is eliminated from the game, while the others continue until one is left – the winner of the game. Companies have consequently developed to perfection the art of picking and leading employees in a way that makes sure they ‘fit’ into the organizational framework and their specific workplace, assuming that - based on technical skills and knowledge - they will somehow find the person who will best contribute to the overall success of the company. Leaders naturally judge the performance of their team members by evaluating how closely they delivered on the results they were asked for and how they obeyed the overall direction that was set. Those who question and deviate from the preset path usually do not receive any recognition but rather the contrary – criticism and incomprehension. Also, as advisors and coaches, we are often asked to ‘better fit’ individuals into the organization. Team Coachings are targeted to find commonalities and streamline team efforts rather than encouraging and valuing differences. And of course there are the happy few who are involved in or even determine the writing of the rules of the game. However, this right is still reserved to those who already made their way through the ranks and reached the top level - but surely not for those who are entering an organization or are still on their way to find their position.
However, with the Generation Y and following generations and their differing expectations about, and negotiation power in the job market the ‘art of playing Mikado’ seems no longer to be the decisive success factor. The digitization of standardized work processes as well as the increasing importance of creativity and innovation as competitive success factors for companies throws a different light on how to attract and ‘develop’ people in larger organizations. I remember one insightful discussion about one of my team members when my then supervisor explained to me that the expression ‘developing somebody’ rather meant to outplace the person outside of the company than to support her progression within the company. I was surprised. But I found more and more data points supporting the perspective that those who were different, who wanted to move things forward and/or even develop themselves in a way to irritate and annoy their surroundings – sooner or later – find their development by leaving that work environment and looking for another one. But now with the growing shortage of skilled workers this logic of standardized application, employment and leadership is likely to change forever.
Room to move
This skilled workforce shortage will create a situation in which ambitious companies will rather ‘apply’ for attractive candidates than the other way around. Once these candidates enter the workplace, retention strategies will play a far more important role then ever. Companies that have acquired one of these precious ‘personnel assets’ will probably a) try to give him or her the best position to grow and prosper and b) do everything possible to make him or her stay. This requires a different perspective on what makes this single person special - about what exactly the individual’s talents and personal strengths could contribute to the success of the company. And as this cannot be standardized, companies will be forced to focus more on an effective and enabling framework that encourages those candidates to develop their talents rather than fitting them into pre-configured workplaces. This also requires a different leadership structure with flat hierarchies where no longer one single person’s ideas of how to do things determines the work environment but the power of working together in a network becomes the relevant practice. Flexibility of working hours, places and teams is another prerequisite for modern workplaces - but there is much more that companies can do to leverage the individual power of their employees - who no longer act as ‘employed’ but rather as entrepreneurs in with a joint mission.
Agility and individuality
Agility is already and will be even more the success factor of the future and that means that organizations among other things have to internalize the art of ‘trial and error’ and getting involved and engaging into approaches and ideas that they have not foreseen but that are brought up by individuals and that are worth a try. There are also tools and mechanisms to help companies and their employees to find and develop their special strengths and abilities. Followed by the question where these could best be deployed and used. These can be, for example, diagnostic tools and well as 360 degree Feedbacks and individual coachings as well as team coaching. It goes without saying that this ideally starts already in our educational system where children no longer learn to ‘sit still and obey’ or to memorize lots of facts that can be looked up in seconds in digital encyclopedias - but to use their own heads and find their individual strengths that let them excel overall.
Trust is (not) all we need, but essential
So what else does it require to deep dive into the new art of working and leading without the Mikado rules? Above all other things it is a question of trusting and making positive assumptions about people who work within your company and around you. Trust in the fact that they are all trying to make a positive contribution and that they all have something special to contribute. It is obvious that the flip side of the coin is that everybody accepts and obeys some jointly accepted rules and regulations. Which does not mean to create bureaucracy which will only instill unease and suspicion in employees. But it means to tear down barriers and to make trust a top priority. This will generate loyalty, dedication and high performance from those who will ultimately determine the success of your business - people.