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7 Values Transforming Today's Workplace

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"Radical transparency" is one of those really good ideas that few organizations actually implement because it consists of taking drastic steps to promote the availability of internal data. It is wildly exciting to the public, but in my experience, most executives just don't get why they should knock down the doors to explain their screw-ups.

Put aside their legitimate fears: demotion, firing, litigation, unpleasant publicity. Part of the problem with getting organizations to open up is that they genuinely don't understand the values that underpin our expectations. For example, despite the fact that the deed is already done, I do believe that the public would appreciate knowing how exactly $6.5 trillion dropped out of view at the Pentagon.

Consider also the low uptake of "holacracy," the currrent trend toward destroying the management hierarchy to promote empowered self-management by teams. In 2015, according to a Gallup survey, only 32 percent of U.S. employees were actually engaged in their work. There is no way to say this nicely: Disengaged employees don't care. But they are taking a salary from the company just the same.

Again, I do believe that the gap in results that we are seeing has to do with a lack of understanding of the values that underpin employees' expectations of the workplace. We have moved on from the factory-based economy. Service, knowledge and collaboration workers expect and need to exercise some measure of control over their efforts, including the space they work in. Yet oddly, the dominant values of most organizations continue to be authoritarian, hierarchical and even arbitrary -- like Starbucks' micromanagey employee dress code.

There are multiple value shifts associated with stakeholders’ new expectations of organizations. See graphic below:

Here is a brief explanation of each shift:

Empowerment versus authority: The individual and the small team make decisions rather than having decisions dictated to them from on high.

Disclosure versus concealment: Telling what's going on, the earlier the better, leads to forgiveness whereas hiding the truth is unforgivable. The cover-up is worse than the crime.

Frailty versus bluster: People are respected for admitting their faults, and projects are similarly honored as bold attempts even if they do not fully succeed. Those who brag, but have little or nothing to show for it, are quickly outed and mocked.

Insight versus information: The numbers themselves no longer tell the story. People who understand the numbers and can offer useful insight based on studying them in context are prized.

Truth versus loyalty: The public today simply wants to know the truth. Whereas in the past, keeping secrets out of loyalty to the organization was a mark of pride (you would "throw somebody under the bus" so that they could "take one for the team"). Today, this would be considered disgusting.

Advancing a cause versus promoting yourself: In the recent past, it was fashionable to use work as a platform for Brand Me. Today, employees and customers alike expect organizations to be giving something back. Meaning is a primary value; selfishness is not.

Sharing versus hoarding: The notion of a sharing economy extends to workplace spaces, assignments, and distribution of wealth associated with project success. Put simply, people expect to co-work and receive a share of the profits, and they enjoy being part of this kibbutz-like collaborative effort. On the other hand, holding all the money back for oneself, or all the credit, or all the power, is loathsome, and people will take great pains to distance themselves from such a person.

As the above is only the product of my own observation and amalgamation of the content I see crossing over the transom, more study is clearly needed. Hopefully these thoughts will spark further research and discussion.

Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer or any other organization or entity.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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