Information technology changed the global environment and how we operate in our own companies. Does your culture still operate using pre-internet-world traditions or has it changed with the times? How can you tell?
Let’s start with the boss-worker relationship. Gallup surveys indicate only 13% of the global workforce engages at work. Much disengagement comes from the relationship between individuals and their boss. Perhaps it is time to evaluate your company’s boss-worker relationships and shed light on this disconnect.
The old boss-worker relationship stifles innovation
The historical boss-worker relationship works from top down. A worker’s job was to ‘do what they were told and not cause problems.’ You might characterize this relationship as supervisor-subordinate. Although this model built the most successful economic engines in the world, it worked best when change happened slowly. Today’s world is very different.
Successful business cultures shift the boss-worker relationship to one that is horizontal, or peer-to-peer. This doesn’t eliminate the need for managers and decision makers; rather the old manager’s role of supervision and discipline changes to mentoring, coaching and team development. In this model, individuals are trusted and encouraged to think more independently. As a result, innovation can flourish.
Do your people act as equals and treat each other as peers? Do managers treat people with respect and require accountability? Are people self-managing (i.e., they don’t need to be told what to do and don’t need to be disciplined)? Do they take ownership of projects? If this is the exception rather than the norm, your company’s success may be at risk.
The supervisor-subordinate paradigm was always problematic as it inherently treats the worker as inferior. This often causes demoralization and resentment and leads to negative behaviors and outcomes at work. Companies with strong remnants of this old system can expect to have a highly disengaged workforce and are less likely to innovate.
Peer-to-peer, internet-world relationships create success
The challenges of building a self-managed, engaged, peer-to-peer culture are plenty! Legacy issues from the old culture may make people feel nervous about being direct with each other. But people must learn to deal openly with issues and conflict. Owning honest mistakes then becomes an opportunity for growth rather than punishment.
In the old world, bosses created the rules and structure and workers became accustomed to taking their issues ‘to the boss.’ In this model, bosses become problem solvers instead of great leaders. In the internet-world, everyone needs to be a problem solver and drive solutions that support the team and the end result.
Successful cultures resolve day-to-day issues in peer-to-peer dialog. To facilitate this, teams can develop ‘operating agreements,’ which define how people agree to behave with each other. These replace many of the old boss functions by providing a structure for feedback, accountability, correcting mistakes, and conflict resolution. Ultimately, they create a self-policing workforce.
Today, robots and information technology do most of the repetitive and dangerous jobs. Perhaps supervision and discipline were needed when people did such repetitive and hazardous tasks. Today, everyone at your company is a decision maker. If your people still need supervision and discipline, then you likely have one of the following problems: you may not have the right people, proper job training may not have been provided, or your company’s boss-worker relationship has not evolved.
Innovation is the natural outcome of a peer-to-peer culture
In the new culture, managers are happy for ‘subordinates’ to grow up to self-managing peers. What they often fail to realize is that they also have to change—from controlling and bossy to direct, strategic and accountable.
The new manager offers respect and expects results. They mentor, coach and develop people, but do not ‘fix all the problems.’ They continually challenge each person to grow in capability and accountability and encourage self-expression and creativity. The new manager asks for quality and excellence, but tolerates honest mistakes and turns them into opportunities for growth and learning.
A peer-to-peer environment is a culture of trust among individuals and departments; one where colleagues have each other’s back. Innovation and productivity are the natural outcomes of this culture, even when mistakes and conflicts occur. People know what their job is, what they can decide, and when issues need to be escalated to a manager. In this environment each person can grow and find the essence of their capability and desire, including discovering when it is time to move on to something new.
When information moved slowly, decisions were held up because people could not obtain data in a timely manner. That’s not a problem in the Internet world. Unresolved people issues are more likely to slow down decisions and actions. Successful companies need a relationship culture that has the efficiency to resolve issues quickly, without leaving a trail of resentment and disengagement.
Does this describe your firm? Your answer will likely predict your future.
Interested in learning more about building a peer-to-peer culture?
Contact us to learn more about our non-financial programs and how we have helped other companies make the shift.
Darrell Mullis is the Founder and Program Director at MetaMark Learning. He has over 30 years of experience teaching finance and business acumen to professionals around the world. Having worked with hundreds of companies from small local businesses to fortune 500 companies as well as co-authoring the incredibly successful book The Accounting Game™ Darrell has vast experience helping companies understand and improve financial performance and strategic thinking. Visit our website or contact us for more information about our firm and training programs.