Bonny Van Rest
3 Trends Pointing to a New Era in Business
Thriving Organizations in the ‘Human Age’
As we come out of the pandemic, questions and anxieties surrounding our workplaces and future workplace models have effectively taken over the market. Although important, and not easy to solve for, these questions merely reflect the tip of the iceberg and might be overshadowing a far more important topic: the world’s transition into the Human Age.
According to philosophers, scientists, and researchers a larger societal shift has been long coming, suggesting that the pandemic may have accelerated the transition but was not the sole trigger. For some time, it was believed we were living in an era of change, where technology was driving bigger and more frequent changes than ever and where the only certainty in life was uncertainty. A more recent perspective is that we’re not living in an era of change, but a change in Era.
It is believed we are entering an entirely new era, the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness, with increased focus and dedication to the wellbeing of humans and the planet.
When focusing on what this transformation means for organizations, employer and/or brands, it is important to focus less on the practicalities of hybrid work and lean more into things like: What could it mean for how we develop brands? Does it change how we structure our organizations? Will it change how we engage with people, both customers and employees? And what should leadership in this era look like?
Personally, I’m convinced the answers to these questions haven’t fully shaped up yet and are part of the discomfort some of us are experiencing. Here are three trends that might point us in the right direction:
1. The Distribution of Power within Organizations
One trend that has been seeing some traction this past decade is a transition into a more organic organizational structure, where power is more equally distributed among people and direction is provided through a shared sense of purpose. Ricardo Semler, was one of the first to implement a more value driven system based on employee participation, profit sharing, and open information systems. In 2015 Frederic Laloux published his real-life learnings on 12 organizations who let go of the traditional business thinking and were experimenting with something new. The similarities between these organizations, ranging from non for profits, large corporate organizations, schools, hospitals, to small businesses were stunning. He described this new organizational form as ‘Teal Organizations’, driven by a human evolution that show three core elements:
Self-Organizing Systems instead of Pyramid Structures
Work as a place to live in wholeness versus safety looked for in separation (fear)
Sensing into purpose versus predict and control
Built off the concept of the Teal Organization, Bryan Robertson provided a handbook on Holacracy, a management practice for the modern era, where conventional management is replaced by distributed power through transparent rules and roles. Everyone is free to do their best work while staying aligned with the big picture.
Each of these proven evolutionary models, in which power has been distributed more equally, have shown to significantly increase employees’ commitment, proactivity, and well sought-after sense of belonging.
2. The New Definition of a Thriving Business The success of a brand or organization has typically been defined by its ability to drive consumer demand, increase efficiency, and grow revenue. However, The Wellbeing at Work Report showed that an employers’ ability to contribute to the transformational wellbeing of their employees leads to a higher wellbeing overall. This insight is backed by some of the trends we’ve been seeing in the rise of purpose-driven organizations:
Consumers are 4-6 times more likely to buy, protect and champion purpose-driven companies
55% believe businesses today have a greater responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose
When organizations, academics, or governments try to define progress through creating a new set of indicators, they increasingly include measures of happiness.
A culture of care is the number 1 essential quality contributing to being a great place to work
Each of these stats show a change in mindset for us as consumers and employees. They suggest that purpose-driven brands are increasingly being favoured over brands that are not. We have also seen a significant shift from transactional contributions to more transformational ways. Instead of the more traditional annual donations to charities or corporate social responsibility programs that are developed outside of the organizations core business, we now see organizations, like Patagonia, lead the way on a more transformational approach with purpose being embedded in the DNA of the organization.
These are all indicators that the paradigm of how we define a ‘successful business’ may be shifting into a much broader definition, where profit and growth are no longer the sole drivers of success. This makes us wonder if an organization’s ability to contribute to the wellbeing of its employees, or the impact on humanity or the environment, should be weighted equally with traditional success measures?
3. The Reciprocity of our Relationship with Work
The gig-economy, the war for talent and most recently the great resignation and work from home are dominating topics. These are all very noticeable and painful symptoms of the fact that something is changing in the role that work plays in our lives and our human pursuit for wellbeing.
“The most exiting breakthrough in the 21st century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” – John Nesbitt
When looking across the globe there are countries that have been doing things differently and have seen a more rapid evolution in our relationship with work. When taking a closer look at Scandinavian countries, who have been leading the list of the World’s Happiest Countries for over a decade, you will find most people are not aiming to become gazillionaires, but they are looking for a good balance of life instead. Flexible work arrangements and part-time contracts are much more common and vacation and leave policies are more favourable. What stands out most is the different attitude towards working long hours, while many North Americans see working late as a badge of honor and a means to get ahead, in Denmark it’s seen as a weakness — it shows you can’t get things done in the allotted work time. In addition, there seems to be a strong realization that freedom comes with responsibility, and that employment is a mutually beneficial relationship.
The growing human demand for a better balance, will likely lead to the rise of new contract types and compensation models, more flexibility in how often and where we work, more focus on delivered value than invested hours and increased cross cultural collaborations. Acknowledging that some political, legal and cultural systems do differ by country, it will first be up to organizations, like Shopify announcing unlimited vacation days, to start experimenting with new ways and push the boundaries of our current thinking before systemic changes become a reality.
Are you Ready to Lead the Change?
When writing the Wellbeing at Work Report, I felt a revived passion for social innovation and pushing the boundaries on the current ‘norm’. It brought back memories of when I implemented an “unthinkable” flexible working concept in a large-scale sales department and spearheaded the early adoption of a self-organizing team with dynamic roles based on talents and personal growth ambitions.
“It’s being said that every revolutionary idea passes through three stages: at first, it’s ridiculous, then people find it dangerous, and in the end, it’s like it’s never been different” - Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher
Admittedly, even in a very progressive Dutch culture, known to have a lower power distance and masculinity score, a shift to organizations with best practices in work-life balance, more equitable and trust-based models still came with growing pains, discomfort, and a lot of convincing. However, if anything it brought increased customer satisfaction and a high performing team of brand champions. In speaking about the Wellbeing at Work Report with great leaders such as Marc Henry, it becomes clear what leadership and a thriving organization in the human age looks like. One of many great pieces of advice Marc offered, was on how he focusses on what an individual is looking to get out of work and how he can help them accomplish that (versus focusing on how an individual can be leveraged to contribute more to the results of the company). Conversations like these, in addition to this post-pandemic momentum, that strengthen my belief that there is a growing group of leaders ready for this transition. So, what are we waiting for?
Are you an entrepreneurial mind looking to build a thriving business in the Human Age, and could use a partner on the journey to discover what that means and how to do it? Let’s chat!
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(Photo description: Grayscale photo of crowd of people.)