Early in my career I thought that everything in business was a system or a process. However I soon worked out that there are no rules in business, there is no system. Just a bunch of people trying to get stuff done. In fact the only rule in business is Profit = Revenue – Cost, everything else is fair game.
Then as I read books like Good to Great, The Innovators Dilemma and Drive I began to see a common thread: people are the single biggest reason companies either succeed or fail. Not how robust their systems and processes are, but how much their people either love or hate what they do. And profit targets just don’t get people excited. They never did.
But business is changing. Thought leaders like Gary Hamel are gaining in popularity, even McKinsey are promoting him! People keep trying the old methods of compliance, structure and processes but they’re not working anymore. The fluffy stuff about engagement is all of a sudden becoming important – because leaders are now realising that companies are really nothing more than huge systems of people. Systems designed to not only create profit, but to create value – something meaningful, something with purpose. Purpose and meaning is what drives every single individual and its what brings out the best of human potential.
Now this might all sound a bit evangelical, so how do we practically apply any if these ideals? Jeremy Scrivens recently introduced me to something quite remarkable called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Its a method that revolves around the fact that people are hard wired to be good at certain things – they have natural strengths. When people are working to their strengths, they’re fully engaged, they love what they do and they achieve extraordinary things. Traditional management has focused on what we don’t do well and fixing weaknesses. By only fixing weaknesses, you severely limit human potential. AI unlocks potential by aligning natural strengths so weaknesses become irrelevant. Jeremy explains that the process starts by reflecting on when things have worked extraordinarily well.
So lets try an experiment. Ask one of your employees when was the last time they were truly engaged in their work or when was their last really satisfying day at work. What were the circumstances and why? Post the responses here.