Here’s something we can all agree on: businesses always do best when they are flexible, have a culture of innovation and collaboration and all work with a sense of purpose. I mean absolutely no one on the planet would want to work for a business that’s rigid in its approach, has a work environment of stagnation and isolation and completely lacks a sense of purpose.
See? How easy was that? Yet, when challenged business leaders and their charges often fail to come up with even a single good example that shows how the business they work in is flexible, how those inside it are innovative and work well together and hardly anyone really understands what their purpose is.
The gap between our thoughts and our actions is something I covered previously using specific neuroscience studies to explain it. Understanding why it happens, however, is key if we want to get to a point in the future where we can live up to the promise of the premises we use when we talk about business.
I am going to cheat here and give you the answer straightaway: a business can only, ever, truly live up to these ideals if it is based on a community-building approach and has community-building principles to guide it. My friend, Rachel Happe, has done some pioneering work in this space and she continues to lead in it. It is her thoughts and our frequent interactions which have helped me better understand my observations.
Now that you know the answer you can stop reading. But only if you understand why you need to establish a community-building approach to your business in the first instance. To make it clearer I’m going to use the example of street sanitation.
Everybody living in any city in the world agrees that keeping it clean is important. It improves public health, raises everyone’s quality of life and makes the city a desirable place to live in and its citizens proud to be there.
The average city spends well over $20m per year to collect and dispose of garbage household waste and keep its streets clean. Technically this is the job of the city authorities and the citizens of the city participate by paying local taxes. But none of this is sufficient to keep a city clean and its population happy. No matter how hard they try local authorities cannot provide a 24/7 cleaning service. Nor can they use their authority to make those living in it to pay more in order to provide a better service.
To make it work then every city relies on creating a sense of community values that feature cleanliness and environmental improvement. These values alter or moderate the behavior of those that live in it so they can contribute to the task without feeling they are doing unpaid work or are being imposed upon to shoulder more than their fair share.
Values, Perception And Behavior
Substitute “business” for “city” and the attributes of flexibility, innovation, collaboration and purpose instead of cleanliness and I hope you understand why the only way they can ever be made to work is if we view the business we are in as a community, our co-workers as community members and the work we perform as a task with a purpose.
Easy as it may be to have all this in as an example the fact remains that most businesses I see pay lip-service to the ideas but fail to execute them in a way more meaningful than a memo. The reason is also easy to understand: metrics.
Our motivation to do anything is based upon our understanding of what the thing we need to do leads us to. While flexibility, innovation, collaboration and purpose in a business deliver a demonstrable competitive advantage there is no viable measuring and reporting mechanism. Businesses traditionally treat flexibility as a way to ask their staff to do more for less. Innovation is often confused with incremental improvements, collaboration for teamwork and purpose for a mission statement.
In my latest book, “Intentional” I wrote how “What we call character in a person is called culture in an organization. Both are the result of behavior.” Our behavior is comprised of our expectations, perception, reality and beliefs. It is moderated by our values.
When all of this aligns, the way we operate changes in response. So if your business culture is not designed to measure, promote and constantly reinforce flexibility, innovation, collaboration and purpose your business will fail to possess any of these attributes irrespective of the amount of lip service paid to them.