Future of Work, Sense Making

The changing influence of culture and technology at work and the battle for the mind

I work in a field that frequently deals with changing the culture of work through managed change engagements. They are most often aligned to new technology adoption or digital transformation efforts. In all this work, the typical influencers present themselves: people, technology and process.

I’m exploring the first two in this post and assuming people as being synonymous with culture. Mindset is a relatively new component I also delve into. This is an essay capturing recent observations on the changing influence of all these elements. You may get more questions than answers ;)

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Art Making, Future of Work

If music be the food of work play on

I’ve produced some of my best creative work with the right music. It’s often accompanied by coffee, in a coffee shop. But the crucial ingredient is music. Here is a playlist I put together with some of my faves. Chill background music that get my creative juices fired up and don’t distract. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

Dharma Hacker, Future of Work

Welcome to the adventures

Thanks for visiting. This is a welcome post to orient you around the main purpose of this site and its core focus areas. I’ll break it down into three.

Purpose

A blog intended to capture adventures by the author and others, of the mind and at work 👉

Mind

So much of what determines progress happens in the mind and how we manage our attitude.

Work

So much time is spent at work and business is a driving force for so much that happens in the world.

Find out more about the author of this site, his adventures and latest work by sliding open the menu. And one more thing on “why”. Because in the words of a famous adventurer of the spirit who has come to inspire millions:

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

Helen Keller
Customer Success, Future of Work

Beyond Technology Adoption – Business Scenarios with Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is such an incredible work productivity tool. It doesn’t just bring work from other applications into the conversation but the whole tool itself. That plus the ability it offers to structure activities into logical workflows provides perfect context for bringing business scenarios to life.

Business scenarios are an important mechanism in beyond adoption to drive business value.

Check out a brief intro and demo I’m using with customers into the use of Teams in the context of an example business scenario (marketing), focusing on getting things done and driving value.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Meaning and models as future work motivators

We don’t all have the luxury to question why we are working and to what end.

Many are in dead end, soul sapping or even worse, life endangering jobs.

But the reality is they have no choice. No choice but to toil in whatever adversity they find themselves because there is no alternative

On the other hand, many in the first world are spoilt (and I count myself amongst them). We are lucky to have jobs and vast choices with global employment rates at all time highs.

We have incredible jobs, are highly paid and in fantastic industries.

And yet engagement levels at work are at all time lows.

I ascribe this near universal condition of motivation in first world employment to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once our basic needs are met, we will naturally incline towards the higher levels and that is what my enquiry in this post pertains to.

I believe it is in the higher levels that we are falling short and this is leading to so much dissatisfaction and lack of engagement at work.

Dynamics of meaning

I have explored (and still am) many aspects of motivation and meaning because it is so fundamental to outcomes and success in the work I do with customers.

I have taken Maslow’s theory and applied it to organisations and this seems to have resonated: The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I am exploring that further in a very detailed manner in terms of the things that are measured and how this drives behaviour: Leading the right behaviours through metrics and new work models.

I believe at a practical level, with robots and AI taking some of the lower level jobs that we are going to be forced (or have the luxury – depending on how you see it) to the higher levels: The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation.

I am not alone. The purpose or meaning driven organisation and defining the elements of its success have practically become an industry. Culture as an important contributing factor too.

Whether out of necessity or luxury I believe this to be meaningful work, to get a little meta.

However, as Maslow suggested and I too believe, we will constantly be forced by circumstance (e.g. losing a job) or simply because its healthy, to re-evaluate the lower levels.

As individuals, it might mean our excessive food intake has become a problem that needs addressing. So too organisations might be forced to re-evaluate their business models when the basis for the industry they are in is disrupted.

Dynamics of the business model

I have suggested in my hierarchy of organisational needs that the business model sits at the lowest level. I posit that it is as basic and necessary for business survival to have a good model as it is for individuals to have food, water and shelter.

And the basic business model of many organisations is under pressure to be re-evaluated and transformed like never before.

One such pressure I am currently exploring in a new eBook / trend report is coming from the subscription economy. Software as a Service has influenced enterprise technology and this has led to a broader As a Service trend (that’s a link to all posts with the tag where you can find material I am using in my work).

Business model transformation and innovation has become an industry in its own right too.

I would argue that this sits within a context and hierarchy of its own. The context is probably organisational transformation and what is currently very much in vogue, digital transformation.

It terms of hierarchy, it probably sits at the apex.

I’m doing some work at the moment around these very elements and have two charts that I use to demonstrate these aspects.

By “elements” you can probably see that I don’t mean those of the business model itself (which something like the business model canvas does very well).

In terms of effort and impact, you can see business model innovation is the hardest to do yet has the greatest impact over time and in value terms. Too often I see the focus on lower level transformations because they are easy.

The thing the diagram at right also points to is the limited impact over time that innovations or transformations have, hence the need to constantly be innovating and transforming.

This brings me full circle to the two pinnacles of my modern organisational hierarchy framework: innovation and creativity. The need to constantly innovate and create (or re-create, in a circle of positive creative-destruction) is key in the future of work.

In conclusion

This also brings me to the motivation element in the subject of this post.

One point I make is about the critical role of meaning in our future work roles, as individuals and organisations. About how we must spend time defining what creates meaning and will make a difference and this means going beyond the basics.

The other point is about how we cannot ignore the basics but in the case of organisational business models, how crucial it is to work on reinventing these for greatest impact. But here too, we shouldn’t waste effort on lower level efforts.

I am highly motivated by all this at the moment. In turn I strive to make it key motivator for the efforts of individuals and organisations I work with because I think it will make all the difference.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Leading the right behaviours through metrics and new work models

Metrics drive behaviour. Organisations also know that they can better manage, what they can measure.

So if you want to change behaviours, look at the metrics you are using and how they are driving behaviours.

You also need to look at the models and frameworks in which the metrics are contextualised and which drive them.

The foundation

A while back I felt that an overarching model or framework for the modern organisation did not exist considering the many accelerating changes we face.

An holistic one that encompassed business needs as well as that of the individual and collection of individuals that go to make a business work.

One that was current and kept up with the times.

Abraham Maslow defined a model for the individual that started at a basic level and went through increasing levels of motivation through to actualisation.

It has been broadly adopted in many fields, including business and has survived the times. It focuses on the individual. I wondered if a similar model could apply to organisations and the Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs was born.

The application of an existing and accepted framework/model to a new field is nothing new and works if the respective fields have similarities and largely they do.

The new framework/model has been well received and even replicated since which is validation to some degree.

What is missing?

For one, the quantifiable, measurable determinants that would validate the levels and allow it be applied in a real world context.

Further external validation of the model itself is needed too.

I teamed up with Natalia Dobias (a colleague at Microsoft and a change management consultant) and we set about exploring the options.

One task has been to look at whether we could make the current model measurable and the reason for this post.

There are other factors we are going to look at to validate and indeed improve the model if we can.

In this post I wanted to work openly to capture and progress my thoughts on measurement of business performance in the context of the existing model. A classic sensemaking piece.

My theory is that if there are valid metrics being used out there for the many different levels and aspects of the current model, that is a form of validation.

What do good measures in the current model look like

On the basis of some simple Google searches I found a few good posts in each category and chose the ones that ranked at the top and I thought did the best job of covering the category. The exercise was simply to see if the category was covered and how well, as a proxy for its importance.

  1. Business metrics. Loads of results for this category as you would expect. Here is a great post that captures a wide array of business metrics. The author has done a good job of collating a range of metrics covering financial, human resource, marketing, sales and SaaS metrics. So many of these sub categories fit into mine below, naturally.
  2. Technology and Space metrics. This is also a broad area so some elaboration. This post covers the technology side on the pure IT function metrics but that is just one area. How technology helps achieve specific business outcomes requires delving into each business category the technology supports in helping to achieve those outcomes. That’s another area, for example, CRM tools are clearly designed to focus on driving revenue metrics for sales teams. Then, as with Microsoft where I currently work and perhaps uniquely, there is technology to help track personal and organisational productivity through use of technology. On space metrics, there is lots on the facilities management front, this post for example. What I was keen to find out was the impact of physical space on employees and any metrics that were used to judge that. Do a Google search on the keywords in italics and you will find much on the subject. I’ve kept these two areas together because technology is increasingly intertwined with the physical, think IoT, digital twins, etc.
  3. Culture metrics. Lots of results on querying this category. Some great pointers in this post and I thought worth mentioning because of its well rounded and holistic views on how culture impacts other areas, eg, innovation, collaboration, etc.
  4. Performance and learning metrics. My first port of call is metrics that HR departments will use to manage employee performance – great post here on that and many more besides. Similarly on the learning and development side which is a pretty robust field of study with a good post on that here.
  5. Creativity and innovation metrics. As I was hoping and expecting, tons of results on the innovation side and not just focused on R&D activities, the traditional domain for innovation performance measurement. This article captures some really good alternative metric categories for innovation. Creativity is a little more nebulous but is often tied into innovation. This discussion thread and in the last comment a whole bunch of excellent onward links, identifies the challenges and opportunities for measuring these two inter-related areas.

Other factors and new work models

In early discussions, Natalia and I have identified a bunch of opportunities for improvements and further work to develop a more robust model. I’ll share those here as we progress.

Metrics are just one aspect but you have to start somewhere and this is as good a place as any. This post does work that I never did on the model too, so is also a good start.

Metrics have shortcomings when they are purely business focused as I have been in this post. Without a sense check on ethical, social, humanitarian and other grounds, you could be blinded. By any measure (pun intended) there are some classic mistakes of this having gone wrong.

So the one thing that I think is missing from the model so far is the social impact of an organisation’s activities. Also the collective effort of the organisation – the network or community which was a problem identified in criticism of Maslow’s original Hierarchy of Needs – see underlined part that comes from Wikipedia. An organisation is after all a collection of individuals striving to achieve a singular purpose.

Natalia and I have our work cut out. This is a beast of an exercise but imagine having a “theory of everything” for the modern organisation. I’m looking forward to the journey in any event.

If you have any thoughts, research or experience to share, please hit us up in a comment below.