People and Process
Over the last couple of days I’ve come to an astounding realization. While I had always considered that the culture of a company - its people and practices - made a difference in its day-to-day operations, the scope had eluded me.
This month’s issue of Inc. magazine featured an article about a law firm that is changing the way they do business. After noticing depreciating morale, and low outcome they revolutionized the way their office was run by implementing a strategy known as ROWE, a results-only work environment. Standing up against the “tried and true” 8-5, more hours is better, work hard play hard, meeting frenzied corporate culture, this approach seems insane. Forget about classic work culture for a moment and think just about how to get work done effectively. It might actually make sense to work when it’s most convenient for you, balance your personal affairs the way you need to, and set your own deadlines. These are all practices that ROWE embodies, even down to the receptionists. It’s the results that matter, not the logistics. Of course, it requires some discipline, but wait a second, do you want to employee people that need a schedule to be productive? That doesn’t really jive with having “passionate” employees, does it?
37Signals, of course, has tooted this horn for quite some time now. 4 day weeks, they say, has boosted productivity, catapulted morale skyward, and absolutely energized their company. It’s all about working “fresh;” maximizing your personal time to explore new opportunities and expand the mind to bring to work your absolute best.
Of course, Google, is the ultimate example of this.
What is interesting to me is that none of these approaches is domain specific. A law firm, a software company, and a search engine, all practicing new approaches to corporate policy, all claiming increased productivity and performance. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but how you do it - the process behind it.
When I was working at William Lawrence Camp as a counselor, I remember being a part of the tradition of “Beach Day.”. It’s a pretty grueling process for the staff, but the kids really enjoy pilling into buses, driving an hour and a half to the beach, and pilling on sun screen. When we get back, we always close the day out with a barbecue. I’ve always enjoyed grilling, and when we got back from one such trip, I jumped at the opportunity to help out on the grill. The head counselor, who was keeping an eye on things walked over to me and said, very simply, “Andy, you’re doing a great job, and thanks a lot for your help.” Buried in a billow of smoke and charcoal, I thanked him and noticed that instantly I wanted to help out even more. The urge was overwhelming.
It’s the amazing power of positive reinforcement. I think the tendency is to think that these philosophies don’t really apply in the “real world.” After all, we’re all adults here, and we have to put on our work clothes and just “get the job done.” That’s what it’s called, right? “Work.” So many “work” cultures are just that: a place where it’s not about being a part of a team but just producing, however that needs to happen.
I’m very fortunate to be involved in the career of my choice, something that I am tremendously passionate about, and I can understand that a lot of people, from a lot of walks of life, don’t share similar circumstances, but I doubt that it would matter very much. My point is that what you do, is far less important to how you do it and who you do it with.
The image from Iwo Jima, for me, conjures up the emotion of the later. That tremendous feeling of camaraderie. It’s the root of patriotism, and could be, arguably, the root of U.S.A’s strength. Imagine a business running on that fuel.
And as for how, I think back to companies like the ones I mentioned above. It’s a common theme of bringing employees closer together, while renouncing micromanagement and promoting quality results. Within my field of software development, “agile” processes come to mind, and I’m sure each industry has its own parallel.
This is of course more a science than I may be suggesting, but can’t it be measured through emotion? Think again about the feeling that photo conjures. Do you feel like that at work and don’t you think you’d get a lot more done if you did?