Article critiqued in this episode:
Harvard Business Review – Future-Proofing Your Organization
By Michael Mankins, Eric Garton, and Dan Schwartz
September – October 2021
From this episode:
If you constantly give everyone the same thing to do, don’t think for yourself, follow these set of things, and we promise it will work, what you’re doing is telling people they aren’t intelligent enough to read the energies, to see where things are going, to understand their customers, to understand planetary processes. That creates people being dependent on other people for what they do. And now what we do is have not only workers but citizens and families where we raise children that way and no one can think for themselves and create a future for how democracy could work. No wonder we can’t get people to see this planetary genocide we’re involved in and the racial problems that we have that become systemic.
In this episode:
This article provides six suggestions for future proofing business against large scale disruptions like the ongoing global pandemic. Their focus on how to prepare for skills in people and get the right talent is not a sufficient answer. We offer six practices from a regenerative paradigm that are show to make a business non-displaceable.
Zac: Welcome back to the Second Opinion podcast. We’re always excited to bring you another episode. This Second Opinion podcast digs deep to explore business and business practice. And in the process of examining them, we view a second opinion. As you know by now, a contrarian opinion, but one that’s well tested and proven to give you the outcomes you want without the nasty side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn about how to work more closely with us, stay tuned at the end of the show. I’m Zac Swartout and with me as always, is Carol Sanford, our in-house, positive contrarian, responding to big and hard questions with a radically different take.
Zac: Hi Carol.
Carol: Hi Zac.
Zac: Ok, so last episode we covered this idea of future proofing your business. We used HBR articles, we always do, which title was basically the same thing: “Future Proofing Your Organization” by some of the partners of Bain & Company, which is a Global Consulting Firm. And in that article they covered six key practices that the authors believe will future proof any business. And so just to do a bit of a recap here they are:
Think Ahead When Defining Business Critical Roles
Redefine What Great Looks like
Don’t Cut Back on Management Development.
Tech up the HR Function
Get People to Engage with Tech
Figure out What Tomorrow’s Stars Want from You
We covered our first three as a way of examining how we would seek to future proof a business as a counterpoint. So Carol, what were those again?
Carol: The first one was “Stay connected to your essence.” That’s what makes you non-displaceable which is the key here. Secondly, learn to read ahead of trends. Not trends, but what David Bohm called the implicate order. The way that you do that, is you know what is healthy and produces vitality and evolution for all the stakeholders in the system. That’s where everything is headed, so keep going there. And number three is, based on your essence, based on your understanding that sense of what’s good for the whole of a system, and you have to have that articulated, you want to have a clear what we call “corporate” body of a whole direction and bring about a unique offering for specific audiences. That’s what really makes you future proof.
Zac: Perfect, ok. So the next one, number four that we have here. It’s a big one and as I was thinking about it I think when we talk about these things people think that this is something that you can kind of just do overnight, but can you speak about what you mean by removing toxic HR management in work design, more like a process a bit?
Carol: Of course, one of the things that most people try to do and are doing better or improving is “add on” to what they’re doing. Find out what the best practice is. If you go look at HR departments, and of course they are trying to tech up the department, we want the capability up, but we want to get rid of the things that have been aggregated and created like an aggregated cement block of toxic things. That takes an incredible examination and education process where people understand what’s behind it.
The key one here, there are many and it’s in a lot of the communities that we run, but the key one is, based on the behavior model of everything being externally determined. So you have to look at every practice you have and how it is based on the idea that humans can’t think for themselves, they can’t be self directed, they can’t choose what they want to take on. They have to be managed by managers, by incentives, rewards, recognition, feedback, performance reviews. And the rejuvenative business has thirty of those practices and that’s where you start.
Zac: Got it. Ok, so as a counterpoint, in the one that they mention, and you kind of touched on this already, so number four for them was “Tech Up the HR Function” right? So this one left me a little bit speechless. So in this practice, the authors are pulling from an example of a Chinese company called Ping An, I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, and they’re the largest insurer in China with a massive workforce. So the authors propose that in the cases of large workforces, relying too much on models that have high levels of human interaction, are not cost effective. So I just want to leave that hanging there for a second…
Carol: Yeah, yeah.
Zac: Yeah, so therefore, Ping An collects data to generate characteristics of top sales performers and then combines this with views from outside experts and then uses AI driven interview assessment tools to assess possible job applicants. So this is the future, the authors claim, and they know of no company that is fully exploiting the information that this workforce, kind of tool, is using. So Carol, you’ve got to help me here please.
Carol: Well, the reason they don’t know when they’re explaining it is – generic practices kill companies. You can’t go survey, find out what your average current sales person is doing, build some specific model out of that, and then spread it wide and far. Because what makes companies enduring, we might say, is the ability to read the future and build capable people to head toward that.
Now what they’re talking about with engagement being cost ineffective is because they don’t build capability. They are looking at participation and other kinds of models. What we really have to do, and there’s a worse side effect then it costing you more money, which is you dumb people down. Now just think about that. If you constantly give everyone the same thing to do, don’t think for yourself, follow this set of things and we promise it’ll work – what you’re doing is you’re telling people they are intelligent enough to read the energies to see where things are going, to understand their customers, to understand planetary processes. That creates people being dependent on other people for what they do.
And now what we do is have not only workers but citizens and families where we raise children that way and no one can think for themselves and create a future for how democracy could work. No wonder we can’t get people to see this planetary genocyde we’re involved in and the racial problems that we have that become systemic because we tell people they’re going to get a generic program. So it’s very depressing, this suggestion that they create for our democracy and for the planet.
Zac: You know what I’m reminded of? I know I’m going off our script outline a little bit here, but I feel like… you told a story one time, I think when you went to Colgate or Proctor and Gamble, when you arrived there were consultants following people around with stop watches. Can you tell that story?
Carol: Well that’s happened two or three places a long time ago. I think the one you’re thinking about is Kingsford Charcoal. Because the company that it was inside of was Clorox. And Clorox had a German investor who deeply believed in the model of Time and Motion Studies. You put all of those folks out, you clock them, you figure out who the fastest was, well maybe not all the way the fastest but pretty close. And you make that the standard. And then you pay people for time and motion and you teach them the routine automatic way for operating. That one was without the “tech”ing part, or at least it had the external though.
We took them into Proctor and Gamble where we had people show them how to do multiple things simultaneously like, you’re running a machine to make Tide, but you’re also learning how to maintain that machine and figure out how to redesign it. And those are like different levels of work which intelligent people who have been building the capability to understand the machinery, to take on big promises that the team commits to do. And you know, Kingsford, they didn’t want to do it either. They were being forced to by their bigger company. But then we were able to show Clorox, look, we’re going to build the kind of thing that PNG has and that’s why you’re remembering the PNG part.
Zac: Yeah it just felt so familiar. Kind of trying to get people to function in a certain kind of outline of behaviour. So, let me just gather myself here for a minute. So I don’t know if you’re going to do another toxic practices list or if it’s just basically something like this just throws all thirty of them into a bucket and kind of tries to win with that kind of formula… but this might win some kind of backwards work design award or something. I don’t know. In the end, this is like Frederick Winslow Taylor’s dream realized to its fullest extent as far as I can tell.
Carol: Oh it is.
Zack: Yeah, assessed by machines, and then moved into positions to behave like machines. And frankly if this is the future work I think you can count us out.
Carol: Yeah I think you’re right. And I gave you the behaviour story but there’s also the machine story. And the royalty, those are different worldviews, we have kings and queens telling people what to do and we’ve still got that more toxic stuff. But let’s move onto the fifth approach that we want to recommend which is: Everything that is not working in a company, and a family, and everything on the planet, is a capability problem. It’s a capability shortfall. So if you look at your child and you can see that they’re not doing something that you think would be good for them and for the family. It’s not a matter of you changing the behaviour, which you’ve been told to do, but giving them capability. How do you build and create an infrastructure kind of process so that they can learn.
Well in a company that means that what you do is you setup so that regularly you have development. In Seventh Generation we had a monthly, all day. I get companies mostly to look at every other week doing a couple of hours in natural work teams, which is one set of the infrastructure, to be coming together and learning living systems thinking, framework thinking. We’re learning self managing and all the kinds of things you hear us talk about on Business Second Opinion and that we offer in the communities that we invite people to join. Capability building forever is what really keeps you going forever.
Not training, because training means you’re giving them the Time and Motions study version. The most practiced version. No, you want every individual to be able to express their essence, see the essence of the buyer, see the essence of what the company can bring in its unique offering. If you keep doing that, and keep that alive then people are getting smarter every year, every decade, their entire life, you will be future proofing individuals, you’ll be future proofing the company at the same time.
Zac: So as a counterpoint to this, just to kind of tie this back into what Carol is saying here against what was offered in the Bain article. So number five was actually: Get people to engage in tech. So as you can tell by the title this is all about externally determining work and behaviour. Right? So you’re getting people to engage in tech. So the authors use the example of USAA which is an insurance company that’s actually focused on ex-military members and their families. So USAA in recent years has started to employ AI and machine learning based algorithms to better support their claims assessors.
This was all done in the spirit of trying to have machines take care of lower order work like fraud detection and stuff like that, giving the assessors the ability to help USAA members navigate their systems more easily and get their claims paid. But the others claim that this has led USAA to become named one of the most beloved financial brands on earth actually. However, a quick Google search on review sites suggests that perhaps USAA isn’t totally knocking it out of the park for their members. So while the behavior change might be working internally to generate better feedback, it’s not necessarily trickling over to their customers, at least as far as I can tell.
Carol: Yeah, I didn’t go look it up, but any time you depend on technology what you’re doing is causing people to have zero interaction. You don’t develop thinking, you don’t develop understanding, you’re not connected to customers. It’s abstracted away from anything real that you’re serving. That, by itself, is a terrible thing to do to a company, to customers, and to employees, all suppliers. All of them to be working with abstractions. There’s also again another downside for us as a nation and for the planet. The minute that we people getting connected to tech like they’re recommending, well what we end up with is no capability building.
We end up with everyone depending on social media and surveys and the kinds of things that are technologically driven, looking at the averages, and polls. And no one is talking about what’s right, they’re talking about how to beat the polls, how to beat the game, how to play the game again because it’s all behavioural. You’re not really caring that you build great citizens with a mind that can be great in their communities and their families and their governing structures. Instead it’s like a massive game like keeping track of baseball and people bet on the elections. No thank you. I’m sure you can get people participating in that, which is what they’re claiming, but it actually doesn’t make them whole human beings and build their potential to really contribute in the world and help govern what we do.
Zac: I think also the thing to keep in mind here is Carol and I aren’t saying that learning technical skills isn’t necessary. Right? That is necessary I think in all walks of work. But Carol and I are talking about core capability building for all employees to be self-determining based on a shared sense of how they see industries and markets moving, which I think is very different. And what’s dropped out from this practice is a real involvement in the lives of the members USAA staff serve, rather than mediating every engagement with a customer through a data screen for example.
Carol: Yeah, and it also drops out, assuming they can get smarter and better and being able to make decisions that you said earlier about self managing and self determining. In other words, they become the instruments of the technology, not the other way around.
So, let’s look at number six shall we. So I talked about one type of infrastructure which was a ritual of events where you’re bringing capability that people are applying immediately in natural work teams. Like with Seventh Generation where we met for a week a month. In the room they were in natural teams where they were working on things together, given new ways to think and apply them immediately and see the power becoming more systemic. To go with that, our number six, you need a way to have an infrastructure through which people can feel like they’re getting promoted without a limited number of positions based on job titles and based on the idea that they have to compete for that because it gets narrower as you get to the top. So when we build regenerative businesses and developmental organizations there is a hierarchy but it is of contribution and as many people as want to climb to the top of the hierarchy, which would take a long time to explain, but basically it’s different types of work as I was saying earlier where not only can you run a machine or create coding but you can be figuring out how to be improving what you’re doing and redesigning the system at the same time.
If you start to create the kind of infrastructure that I’m talking about, people can make promises because they can see something that needs doing that is beyond what they know how to do, beyond what the customers are getting right now, or all of us getting, the stakeholders. And they are a team of people committed to make that happen. Inside of the hierarchy, as it’s done, they’re able to get people to assess how they’ve done, there is money tied to being able to be compensated, there can be a full promotion and pay salary level because your contributing can show the earnings, margins, and cash flow of the company. And everybody could be side by side by side so the hierarchy isn’t a peak at the top, instead it’s an inverted peak where you get more and more power on the other end with the infrastructure that is non competitive among the people internally but only competitive externally in helping the customer, the consumer, the user, the buyer. All the stakeholders are getting more for what they need. That’s opening the future because you’re not making sure wherever the world is moving, your entire organization is going there with them.
Zac: So again, as kind of the last points counterpoint, in the article they talk about figuring out what tomorrow’s stars want from you. So in this practice, the authors give the example of ServiceNow, which is an enterprise service and software company. The company has taken great steps to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. We’ve discussed the idea of diversity and inclusion previously on the pod a couple of times, but in short it’s incomplete unfortunately and riddled with biases. It’s a symptom of working developmentally and contributing to the evolution of all life, not actually a fundamental business strategy.
Carol: And I want to speak again like I have on each of these, the impact on our democracy and our planet for what they’re suggesting. Here what happens when we have people, and this really relates to all six of what you suggested for them, is we make anything that we are going to try to do differently a separate thing like a program. And so instead of getting, like I suggested, and infrastructure which gets wider at the top where people are contributing more and the reason for that in every promise they make in every change they want to contribute, they’re adding in gullible and planetary social imperatives.
That means we don’t have a separate social responsibility to department, CSR program, we don’t have some kind of philanthropy department that gives a way for other people to do some kind of good. Instead, every action comes in every contribution each person inside an organization since they want to create, they have to write into it that plan that they’re going after to change the consumer or customers life. They have to write in how they are simultaneously improve the social and planetary processes. When they can show that and they come back in the end, they don’t get promoted they don’t get paid more, they don’t get any of the accolades unless they can do that work for the customer, the work for democracy, and the planet and the work for the business in earnings, margins, and cash flow. We are making smarter people who see how financial systems work better when they’ve integrated the kinds of things that tend to become a separate program, a separate department. And then it’s not counted in the overall success ratio.
Zac: Which is, as Carol is saying, is a whole, complete way of working right? But you know, as like, kind of thinking for a second about what the downsides are of trying to figure out what tomorrows stars want from you. As we talked about before with diversity and inclusion, much like how western doctors are focused on treating symptoms, well, more treating symptoms than the actual root cause of the issue. Diversity and inclusion strategies are focused on arresting the disorder of symptoms. Which is why they use terms like anti-racist, anti-oppression, and so on – ultimately reducing people into categories and then trying to kind of restrain those. This fragmented approach unfortunately drops out looking at a person as a whole, with a distinctive potential and essence and who can, over time, make an incredible contribution to life greater than they ever could have considered. This happens through self development, not behavioral training.
Carol: Right, so our six again are: Now what the essence of the company is. Drive from that. Get very clear about how you create a corporate direction to make sure that that is part of where you’re going. Build the capability of people to be self managing in that context. Be able to contribute and have everyone growing so that they can make a huge difference with their customers, suppliers, and earth and democracy at the same time. That is what will keep your company around for hundreds and in theory even thousands of years and any moment you step into these automated processes you have created a deathenal for your company.
Zac: Don’t forget to check The Regenerative Business Summit on Wednesday December 8th, 2021. The subject this year, drumroll please, The Three Underpinnings of Systemic Racism, Divisive Conflict, and Planetary Genocide, and how to Accelerate their Transformation, This Decade. To find out more check out the regenerativebusinesssummit.com.
Carol: And two things I would like to tell you about. One is, my last book was called The Regenerative Life based on nine mega roles. And when we learn to bring those into our life they bring meaning, significance and transformation to everything around us. It was built based on an action learning project which had 150 people involved. There are about half of those people we have a story in the book. It is now a project which you can do what they did to create the book. If you want to be involved in that we would love to have you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It might also become a part of the Regenerative Life Hacks YouTube program. I want to add to this, one of those roles was the regenerative parenting role. What it really means to raise children. What’s the essence of regenerative parenting. What we are doing is creating a community around that one when it starting on October 23rd. We begin that community, and if you hear this you will be able to go back if it’s already past the 23rd, you’ll be able to go back and let me know that you want to sign up and be a part of that and you can listen to that recording and we can get you in the final of where we’re going. Maybe Zac can tell you a little bit about the book clubs that go with this.
Zac: Totally. So your organization can also sign up for the book club for The Regenerative Life or The Regenerative Business using an extensive workbook and video online Workshops for Free. 50% discounts on bulk buys through Carol’s publisher and free shipping. Find out more at carolsanford.com under books.
Carol: Thank you Numi Tea for dedication and determination to keep sponsoring and underwriting the show notes for this and for the show overall. We hope all of our listeners discover what an amazing product they offer, but the whole story behind them about their global creation of Numi Tea and how they’ve transformed the lives in rejuvenate in agriculture in every country that they buy from.
Zac: This has been Business Second Opinion