High-Performance Authentic Organizations: A Paradigm Shift

Authentic Organization

We’re delighted to share an excerpt from the new book Why Should Anybody Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization, by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. Published by Harvard Business Review Press, the book challenges the status quo — and looks at how organizations can evolve in new and flexible ways to retain talent and support great work.

The authors don’t suggest that it’s a snap to do this — as they explain below, in this excerpt from the book’s introduction, the best practices they’ve identified are “not easy and simple to realize or implement.”

But are they worth it? Absolutely. Read on to find out why.

Why Should Anybody Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization

A talented young product designer with an unusual perspective and skill set is repeatedly told that her ideas are too offbeat and she should get with the program. She starts scanning the web for other opportunities.

A smart, ambitious middle manager feels growing frustration at the poor communication of a strategy by his boss and other company leaders. How can he effectively manage his people if he doesn’t know what’s really going on?

An experienced marketing executive in a large consumer products company yearns for a greater sense of purpose and meaning in her work, and wonders whether it will be possible to find it at her current company.

Create an Authentic OrganizationA new employee at a large, forward-thinking professional services firm comes to work thinking about how invigorating the onboarding process has been, and how the organization will actually help him to reach the next level of his career.

We used to think that successful, high-performance organizations had “strong” cultures within which individuals did or did not fit. But the paradigm is changing. Organizations no longer hold all the cards, and can no longer dictate all the rules. Instead, they are finding they must increasingly adapt to the needs and desires of the people they would like to be part of their enterprise. Sustained high performance, it turns out, requires nothing less than a reinvention of the habitual patterns and processes of organizations.

* * *

Consider the depressingly low rates of employee engagement around the world. According to a recent AON Hewitt survey, four in ten workers on average report being “disengaged” worldwide (three out of ten in Latin America; four in ten in the US; and five in ten in Europe).

This finding resonates with our research. But instead of focusing exclusively on the sources of disengagement and dysfunction, we explored people’s positive visions for organizations and how they are attempting to make these a reality. For more than four years now we have been asking people around the world what their ideal organization would be like—that is, one in which they could be their best selves.

Although individual answers varied widely of course, we found that the responses grouped naturally around six broad imperatives, which just happen to form a handy mnemonic:

Difference — “I want to work in a place where I can be myself, where I can express the ways in which I’m different and how I see things differently.”

Radical honesty — “I want to know what’s really going on.”

Extra value — “I want to work in an organization that magnifies my strengths and adds extra value for me and my personal development.”

Authenticity — “I want to work in an organization I’m proud of, one that truly stands for something.”

Meaning — “I want my day-to-day work to be meaningful.”

Simple rules — “I do not want to be hindered by stupid rules or rules that apply to some people but not others.”

These attributes can often run counter to traditional practices and habits in companies, and they’re not easy and simple to realize or implement. Some conflict with one another. Almost all require leaders to carefully balance competing interests and to rethink how they allocate their time and attention. Of course, few if any organizations possess all six virtues — and even if they did, it would be quite a feat for them to excel at all six.

* * *

[W]e are optimistic but not starry eyed. The challenges are huge. There will always be reasons not to act; to push the pursuit of “dreams” down the list of priorities. The logic of capitalism is inevitable—so expect everything from disruptive new entrants and game-changing technologies to cheaper alternatives and pressures on costs.

But, crucially, this is not a matter of either/or. Building better workplaces is not an alternative to, but rather a means for responding to the new challenges of capitalism, for building productivity, unleashing creativity, and winning.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Why Should Anyone Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization. Copyright 2015 Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. All rights reserved.