AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Millennium 2

 

Copyright 1999 AXIS Performance Advisors.

Millennium 2

So it’s here. Now what?

by Marsha Willard

Millennium Bridge, courtesy adamr, Freedigitalphotos.net

Millennium Bridge, courtesy adamr, Freedigitalphotos.net

Much has been said about the dawning of the new millennium, probably too much. Still it gives us pause, arbitrary though this man-made milestone is. We can’t help but wonder what this new millennium will bring and what we should be ready to deliver. Our musings have focused on four particular trends that we think will impact lots of organizations beyond just our own.This issue of the Advisory describes what we see happening around each of these trends, what we think they imply for most organizations, as well as what we are doing at AXIS to be ready for them.

E-Commerce

Nothing got organizations scrambling faster in the last few years ofthe 1900’s than the Internet revolution. To enter the new millennium withouta web page of your own is like showing up at the neighborhood ball parkwithout your glove. No one is going to let you play.

But web pages are only the beginning. Many pundits predict that moreand more business transactions will occur over the Internet. Data showsthat the Internet attracts seven new users every second! We’ve already seenan explosive growth in the number of purchases made electronically. 60%of all stock trading occurs on line as does 36% of all bill paying. Siteslike ExpertCentral.com are also delivering consulting advice on everythingfrom home repair to personal financial. (As consultants, this got our attention.)Government is even jumping into the fray. The IRS is promoting electronicfiling and some jurisdictions are considering voting via the Internet.

Looking at our times through this new digital lens makes some of ourways of doing things look very odd and archaic. For example, why is my teenagedaughter lugging 40+ pounds of expensive, quickly outdated, resource consumingtext books to and from school everyday? We could dramatically reduce schoolexpenses and save the spines of a whole generation by enabling studentsto access homework on-line. Shifting our thinking from atoms to electronswill enable us to radically rethink the way we do business.

AXIS debuted its web site in 1998. For us it’s been an elegantly simpleway to share our store of articles, learnings and announcements for free.We like the unobstrusiveness of a web site. Anyone can come check us out;no obligation to buy; no annoying sales calls. We’re also dabbling in on-lineconsulting. The Internet provides our clients a convenient and efficientway to stay connected, get answers to quick questions or privately shareideas and thoughts. Our most dramatic electronic move yet will occur thisspring when we offer a web based course on facilitation through Oregon StateUniversity.

21st Century Workforce

See anything different when you look around you at work these days? Perhapsyou’ve noticed some of the trends described in the newly released Workforce2020. The earlier edition of this book (Workforce 2000) accurately predictedthe increase in the number of women and minorities in the work place. Tomorrow’sworkers are likely to add further diversity as more and more workers willbe hired from developing nations. The US is in a global war for talent andemployers are finding the need to look beyond our borders to fill the pool.60% of all new jobs now require skills that only 20% of American workerspossess.

This statistic makes business nervous because they realize that in thismillennium business success will be based more on brains and less on capital.The challenge is you can’t “own” brains the way you can own machinesand technology. Competition to attract, retain and engage people with goodideas and the skills to implement them will make or break many organizations.

Add to this the change in attitudes among today’s workers; they are lesseasily manipulated by money, more motivated by opportunities for personalsuccess, and more demanding of a balanced work/home life. (See the insertin this issue for the results of our Natural Work survey.)

Organizations will have to engage people in a different way. We’ve beentalking for years about shifting from a management paradigm based on “parenting”to one in which all people are treated as business “partners.”According to Peter Drucker, this shift is increasingly important in a competitivelabor market.

We know our clients “get” this and want very much to createorganizations that enlist the full talents and energies of their people.Believing it and doing it, however, seem to be two different things. We’vetaken a new tact in our service offerings to help managers live out theirideals. We’ve created a new product we call Team Boosters which is a subscriptionto a series of team meeting “packages” that help managers elicitmeaningful participation from their staffs in the process of getting realwork done.


Team Boosters

  • Do you wish your meetings could be more fun, interactive and effective?
  • Could your team members be more open about what they think and feel?
  • Do you want to build a more cohesive team?

If so, subscribe to Team Boosters!

Most managers can facilitate a good meeting but don’t have the time todesign effective and engaging interactive processes. Team Boosters solvethat problem. For around $25 a piece, all your managers and team leaderswill get a new Team Booster kit in the mail every other month. The kit providesthe instructions and materials for achieving particular meeting outcomeslike building skills, generating ideas to improve performance, or stimulatinginnovation . Click on Services for more information.


 

Social Responsibility

Just in case you hit the snooze button, the November World Trade Organizationmeeting in Seattle and the accompanying protests provided a ringing wakeup call for businesses all over the world. The concern among most protesterswas not about free or open trade. It was about the loss of local controlover issues like jobs, the environment, ethics and equity. It was inspiredby the fear that “business” will rule without local accountability.Americans pride themselves in keeping tyranny out of government. What theWTO protesters believe is that today’s power resides not in our country’scapital, but in corporate headquarters all over the world. For their part,businesses are beginning to recognize that along with the rights to earnprofits from around the globe comes the responsibility to manage the welfareof that globe and its inhabitants.

Investors are expressing similar sentiments through their checkbooks.The Green Money Journal reports that for the first time assets under managementin socially responsible portfolios exceeded $2 trillion. That amounts to$1 in every $8 of managed investments. The same journal predicts that by2010 that ratio will increase to $1 in every $2.

Fortunately some of the country’s leading organizations have figuredout that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive; in fact inmany cases doing right by communities and the environment has increasedthe benefits for shareholders, owners and employees. The Social InvestmentForum reports that socially responsible investments grew at twice the rateof all other assets under management. At a recent gathering of the WorldEconomic Forum in Davos, Switzerland participants agreed that corporatesocial responsibility was an idea whose time has come. Their agenda includedsuch topics as corporate transparency, the human impact of globalization,and closing the economic divide between the “haves” and the “havenots.”

Locally AXIS has been very involved in Portland’s own chapter of Businessfor Social Responsibility. Darcy is on the board and has facilitated a post-lecturelearning circle for the Millennium Speaker Series sponsored by Nike, PGEand the Oregon Natural Step Network. She has also helped plan a series ofradio spots for KMHD featuring local businesses promoting social responsibility.We try to model what we espouse by publishing an annual corporate reportthat details our activities related to our business, our community involvementand our environmental impact. We also “adopt” a non-profit agencyeach year to provide pro bono consulting services. This year we are lookingfor a non-profit interested in implementing The Natural Step or other sustainabilityplans.

The Ecology of Business

The trend that seems the hardest for everyone to get a handle on is theparadigm shift from organization as machine to organization as living organism.We see the new paradigm applying at several levels.

At the team level we see a need to shift the way projects are staffedand managed. Traditional project management strategies are very lock stepand linear and seem to have little to do with the way work really gets done.What we recognize as naturally occurring evolution of ideas, most projectmanagement tools see as disruptive change orders. On a larger scale we seethe paradigm shift changing management style and structure away from hierarchy,control, silos, and task specific job duties toward more networked, self-organizing,flexible, organizations with broader spans of influence and job duties.At an even higher level we see organizations beginning to acknowledge oursymbiotic relationship with the earth and our need to care for it so itwill continue to provide for us.

Though many organizations are yet to fully acknowledge this shift, weare confident that it will present the biggest challenge of the century(See our past newsletters on Natural Work and The Natural Step for moreperspective). We continue to educate ourselves about what we think willbe important to our clients.

On the team level we are researching different strategies for managingprojects that allow for real time decision making and take into accountthe “human” aspect of collaborative work. (Notice our sessionon project management in the upcoming Symposium on Self-Direction)

We are also building competence in the area of supply chain managementto help organizations discover and leverage “eco-efficiencies”in their purchase and consumption of raw materials. And we are continuingour involvement with The Natural Step (a science based framework for achievingsustainability). We did twelve introductory presentations on The NaturalStep for private businesses, government agencies, schools and professionalassociations last year and already have several scheduled for this quarterof 2000. We cant’ help but notice that interest is on the rise. (Call usto schedule a free introductory presentation for your organization)We’renot fortune tellers by any means, but the indicators behind these four trendsare too compelling to ignore. If you’d like to learn more about any of thesetrends, we’d be happy to talk with you about them, or check out the resourceswe’ve listed below.

 

Suggested Reading

Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, and Amory and Hunter Lovins

When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten

The Living Company by Arie de Geus

Workforce 2020 by Richard Judy and Carol D’Amico

“Beyond the Information Revolution” by Peter Drucker in Oct99 Atlantic Monthly

“Information: As If Understanding Mattered” by Jill Rosenfieldin March 00 Fast Company

“Learning for a Change” an interview with Peter Senge by AlanWeber in May 99 Fast Company

“Getting Real About Virtual Commerce” by Philip Evans and ThomasWurster in Nov-Dec 99 Harvard Business Review

 


Symposium on Self-Direction 2000

September 28 & 29, 2000

Portland, Oregon

Whether you’re just beginning to consider creating a high-performanceorganization or well on your way, there is something for you to learn atthis conference and the pre-conference workshops.

New this year! Two pre-conference workshops on teams. If you need a goodoverview so you can put the conference into perspective, check out the introductoryworkshop, Everything You Need to Know About High-Performance Teams. If youhave had teams for a while or want to learn about long-term challenges,sign up for Advanced Teaming: Lessons from the Field so you can avoid commonpitfalls.

The conference day following the optional workshops is full of highlyinteractive sessions presented by consultants and practitioners from allsectors and business types.

Come for either or both days and energize your team efforts!

Click on Events for more information.

New this year! Two pre-conference workshops on teams!


Natural Work Survey Results

 

At AXIS we consider the trend towards empowerment and interdependentwork teams not as a new discovery of the twentieth century, but as a returnto a more natural, age-old way of working. Having “grown through”our early mechanistic view of how organizations operate, we are recognizingthat nature provides better models for structuring our organizations anddesigning our management systems. Evidence suggests that organizations thatalign with the tenets of both nature as well as human nature find successthe “natural” outcome.

Three Levels of Natural Work

Designing natural workplaces involves aligning your businesses practicesand systems along three lines:

· Operating within the limits of the natural environment

· Honoring the nature of human beings

· Accommodating the nature of individuals

 

The Survey

We were curious how many “natural work” practices organizationswere using so last fall we designed and administered a survey which askedrespondents to consider each of the elements of natural work described onthe following page. We asked participants in the survey to first rate theirorganizations on a scale of 1-5 to indicate how well they felt each issuewas currently being addressed and then to pick up to five items that theyfelt their organization should adopt or expand.

We used the participants at last year’s Symposium on Self-Direction asour sample. Admittedly, since these were organizations that had an interestin empowerment and teams, they could be considered biased toward issuesof employee well being. Also the audience was made up predominantly of governmentand service organizations. Manufacturing and heavy industries were not wellrepresented in our sample. About half of the 130 people who attended theconference completed the survey.

 

The Findings

When we examined the items related to the inner two circles of our model(individual differences and human nature), we see satisfaction is higheston three issues (as evidenced by a higher than average rating and a lownumber of “should do” responses). #3 and #13 deal with givingpeople a chance to flex their work schedules and balance home/work life.Other research studies identified flex time as the number one reason peopleselect and stay at their jobs. The third item, #8, deals with working ina “human-sized” work unit. This satisfaction can be accountedfor by the bias in our sample; these were, after all, all people from teambased organizations.

There were three areas respondents wanted to see change in their organization.They all relate to basic organizational design and management systems: #7has to do with designing jobs around a whole process or product so thatpeople are able to derive a sense of meaning from their work. #14 dealswith fair and equitable rewards & compensation, while #15 addressesassigning leadership responsibilities based on skill rather than on position.

When we looked at items related to our outer circle, we find that Natureis still not on the radar screen for most organizations. In our experiencethis is true in general for service and government organizations which madeup most of our sample. Since we administered the survey, however, the Governorof Oregon has announced his intention to issue an executive order requiringall state agencies to operate in a “sustainable” manner. We wonderif we weren’t just a little ahead of the times and if people would responddifferently were we to ask them to consider environmental issues again nextyear.

 

Aspect of Natural Work Average rating(5 = max score) Number of peoplewho checked this as “should do”

 Accommodating the diverse nature of individuals

1. People are encouraged to follow a career path which takes full advantageof their gifts, talents, and interests.

2. People have choice over what tasks they take on.

3. People are allowed to work flexible hours to accommodate differencesin work style and home life.

4. Job descriptions and responsibilities are loosely defined so thatpeople can trade off tasks based on their interests and skills.

5. The organization or team employs a diverse group of people, respectingthe unique gifts each brings.

 3.04

2.85

3.21

2.48

3.27

 18

11

6

13

14

 Accommodating the characteristics of human nature

6. People have significant control over how and when they do their tasks.

7. Work is designed so that people derive meaning, satisfaction and asense of pride for having achieved a goal or completed a whole project orproduct.

8. People are associated with a “human-sized” work unit (i.e.,teams of <12 or autonomous business unit <200).

9. Work areas give people exposure to sunlight, vegetation and freshair.

10. All work offers a balanced mix of physical and mental tasks.

11. The organization has built in time for play or other social activities.

12. The organization creates opportunities to learn and assures learninggets shared across groups.

13. The workplace allows for a satisfying work/life balance.

14. There is fair and/or equitable distribution of rewards and resourcesamong members of the organization.

15. Who assumes leadership depends many times on the situation and theskills or abilities required of it rather than a fixed hierarchy.

16. Competition in the organization is contained to discrete events thatare bounded, safe and public.

17. People are strongly committed to the organization’s mission and findmeaning in their work.

 3.07

2.84

3.67

2.58

2.48
2.41

3.07

3.29

2.81

2.89

2.88

3.10

 8

25

9

13

13
12

19

8

23

20

5

16

 Accommodating the requirements of nature (Based on the systemconditions of The Natural Step)

18. The organization does not rely on materials from beneath the earth’scrust (e.g. fossil fuels, heavy metals)

19. The organization does not rely on artificial chemicals, especially
ones that are persistent in nature (e.g. plastics, pesticides, etc.)

20. The organization does not contribute to the degradation or depletion
of nature (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, urban sprawl, etc.)

21. The organization invests time and money in pursuing socially responsible
practices (i.e., does what’s good for workers, customers and community.)

 3.28

3.09

3.94

3.98

 1

1

3

3

 

 

 

 

 

 


Click here if you want to see PastIssuesof the AXIS Advisory tosee articles on such topics as virtual teams and technology, “green”practices, helping managers adapt to their new role, and peer review practices.

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