This is how you should think about culture if you want to be ready for the future of work

This is how you should think about culture if you want to be ready for the future of work

Culture is not something your organisation has. It's something your organisation is.

What does that mean? Settle down comfortably and I'll do my best to explain.

Organisational culture became a thing in the 1980s. It was dreamed up as an American response to Japanese competitiveness. In very simple terms, Japanese workers worked longer hours and were more loyal to their companies than American workers. They seemed to live, breathe and sleep work in a way that the American worker did not.

The reason, it seemed, was because Japanese companies had strong cultures and American companies didn't. The Japanese workers understood and shared their company's values, beliefs and norms. That wasn't the case with the American worker.

For the American worker, work in the 1970s was purely technical. He didn't have to live it or love it. He just had to do it well and take home his check. That was the psychological contract. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work. While the Japanese worker's work infused all parts of his life, the American worker left his work at work when he went home.

Now it's a bit more like this!

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Designing the Millennial Workplace

Designing the Millennial Workplace

In the movie The Intern, a 70-year old Robert De Niro is hired to work in an online fashion start-up. Selling woman's clothes. With a highly personal touch. And great customer service. A bit like Zappos without any shoes.  

He's hired to work with the CEO. Who cycles around the office. Flits between meeting after meeting. Is late for everything. Has no time for anything. Yet somehow keeps the company going.

Bar her EA, everybody at the company seems to be having a ball. Totally relaxed dress code. Trendy industrial space. A good news bell. They cheer website clicks as they come in.  

The EA is highly qualified. But used as a dogsbody. Has to do everything. All the shit. And is woefully under-appreciated. Almost ignored. Until she has an emotional breakdown. 

At first, the CEO ignores De Niro. Gives him one five minute meeting. Then nothing. But he notices things. Does things off the bat. Remains professional. And becomes a silent mentor for her. Experience and old-style loyalty. Having her back. Helping her shape her day. Do her work. Respect her EA. Save her family. 

And then, because he's working in a Millennial environment, he stresses out. Grows a mohawk. And starts muttering to himself in the mirror. Or maybe I'm getting my films mixed up? Although the mohawk is important. 

Understanding the Millennial Workplace

Millennials have always lived in a fast-paced world. Instant information. Instant communications. Do it now, now, now. They don't work well with traditional control methodologies. Cope with technological pacing. Or bureaucratic formalization.  And definitely not cultural normalization. These things are not just pass√© to the Millennial. But evidence of managerial incompetence.  

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Playing Tennis with Rock Stars

Playing Tennis with Rock Stars

When I left academia, I was immediately offered a role in a mining company. With barely two nickels to rub together, I accepted. Not knowing that I was going to be spending a lot of time on the other side of the continent. And Australia is big. Very big. So, 3,938.1 km and a 41-hour drive. Or a 5-hour flight. 

My role was to shut down the company's Perth offices. Now, being surrounded by people who've just been made redundant doesn't bring many dinner offers. And I was going to be in Perth a lot. So, assuming my evenings would be lonely, I wrote to a few tennis clubs to see if I could get a social hit. A year and a half later, I'm still waiting on a reply. From any or all of them. 

There will now be a quick segue into something else. But this will become relevant. I promise. Trust me. 

My Tennis Club

Being on an international Ph.D. scholarship is not all it's made out to be. Want cocktail parties with glamorous people. Tuxedo dinners. To sail through the harbour. Then don't do a Ph.D. It's hard. And lonely. And, thanks to Australian visa and my university regulations, you can only work for ten hours per week. Which means how many companies are interested in employing you? At less than a shift and a half availability per week? Somewhere between none and a big fat zero. So, it's isolating. 

To stay sane and do something practical, I got involved with managing my local tennis club. As with many tennis clubs in Australia, it was in a perilous state. Declining playing numbers. Crumbling facilities. Frustration and apathy in the membership. The oldest licensed sports club in Australia, it was very close to shutting its doors for good. 

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Is this the Future of Leadership?

Is this the Future of Leadership?

What makes one leader sustainably great whereas another is only temporarily great, one moment a god amongst mortals, the next, like Icarus, hurtling back to the ground, his wings scorched and blackened by the sun, hoping the landing isn't too hard?

As with all questions about greatness, the answer to the second part of the question (why does a once great man fall?) is the easier. 

Reason One: The smartest leaders tend to get self-dazzled by their previous successes and end up in a myopic wonderland, feeling invulnerably magnificent in their sycophantic towers of luxury (as discussed by Dr. Travis Bradberry here and wonderfully illustrated in The Big Short, as detailed here).

Reason Two: If you become concerned and speak freely about what you see happening, you risk losing your head (as analysed by the Harvard Business Review here)

Reason Three: Because of problems one and two, irony, cynicism, sarcasm, mockery and ridicule manifest in the workforce as they are the only way to safely express what you are thinking about the increasingly obvious shortcomings of the powerful (as discussed by me, here). 

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The Long, Slow Death of Organisational Culture

The Long, Slow Death of Organisational Culture

The idea that culture was the best way for companies to ensure the beliefs and values of senior management were shared by their employees became extremely popular very quickly in the early 1980s. Books such as Corporate Cultures: The Rise and Rituals of Corporate Life, Theory Z: How American Management Can Meet the Japanese Challenge and In Search of Excellence kickstarted a powerful trend in research and practice. Given further credibility by John Kotter and James Heskett's Harvard-sponsored research, Corporate Culture and Performance, organisational culture became the hottest topic in management theory since Frederick Taylor first started thinking about the mechanistic organisation in the early 1900s. 

Culture gurus were everywhere, speaking at keynotes, offering consulting advice to anybody who wanted it (and a lot of people did) and generally making obscene amounts of money. If any company struggled, business magazines and newspapers would rush to blame some aspect of the culture and suggest it needed to quickly change into something else for the company to regain its feet (which kickstarted the change management boom, but let's not get started on that (too late, already have, here and here!)). But here's the thing. Companies that had been held up as the be all and end all of excellent cultures were also struggling or failing. Hewlett-Packard, one of the excellent companies named In Search of Excellence, is is the obvious No 1 contender after it very publicly fell into very hard times a decade or so after the book was published, but many others were too. So what happened?

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Disruption: Irony that Dares Speak its Name

Disruption: Irony that Dares Speak its Name

In my last post, I chatted about the charming energy and naive enthusiasm of a passionate disruptor in the wearable technology space. I suggested that she was an example of a restless decadent rejecting the decaying structures and failing values of contemporary organisational thought and life, striking out on her own towards novel and exciting pastures. I'd like to extend that observation here by discussing the relationship between disruption and irony.

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Is your Organisation Decadent?

Is your Organisation Decadent?

I recently went out for drinks with a lovely young lady involved in the early stages of a new wearable technology start up. She was all the things a great start up leader should be; charming, passionate, articulate, energised and energising, and very knowledgable. As the evening progressed, I was increasingly struck by her enthusiasm towards new ways of living and working and her naivety that she could avoid power relations and the vagaries of the market.

Reflecting on the meeting a few days later, I realised I had had a direct encounter with a restless decadent. More common parlance would call her a "disruptor", which is certainly what she calls herself. However, as I tend to look at the development of trendy organisational terms through an environmental or sociological lens, I am more focused on the organisational and social conditions that might have informed her personal journey. Which, for me, means a quick trip into the concept of organisational decadence. 

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Changing the Model for Playing Tennis in Australia

Changing the Model for Playing Tennis in Australia

Having read this very interesting post about declining participation in tennis in the UK and been part of similar conversations in Australia, I thought I'd leave behind my usual academic geekiness and give my two cents worth on why tennis in both countries is struggling. Although I will generally refer to the Australian system, I believe much of what I say still pertains to the UK. 

I was one of the lucky few invited to participate in the Tennis Australia Places to Play conference in 2012, from which I took away a lot of inspiration and excellent information. I also met lots of people extremely passionate about tennis in Australia. The conference was fundamental towards my building a working relationship with Paul Hoysted, once a board member of Tennis NSW and, in my opinion, one of the best and most innovative tennis coaches in the country.

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