Managers must encourage employee involvement in workplaces

Inaki Amate

By Inaki Amate for South China Morning Post

Companies must strive to create an environment that can promote living businesses.

Businesses should have employees that care about their business, employees who view their work as a positive part of their life, not just a job. Companies should strive to create an environment where this is possible.

If that happens – if people genuinely love their work – it is likely that the business itself will become, what we call, a living business, or one that almost has human characteristics. The business will be responsive, emotive and ambitious. It will be able to change with the times.

Sounds good, but how does a company become a “living business”? Focus on four vital signs.

Develop a personality: This is the behaviours, beliefs and values that shape the experience of interacting with your company, whether as a customer or a colleague. Much more than just the brand, it is everything you exhibit to the world.

Nurture instinct: This is how your company responds to difficult situations. If you empower and trust your colleagues to make decisions without needing to feed up through higher management each time, change will happen more nimbly.

  Hone craft: This is the essence of what your business does, and what each person within the business contributes. It is about the combination of skills that make its offering unique – and impossible for your competitors to replicate.

Value relationships: This refers to every relationship within the ecosystem of the business, including each colleague, customer, supplier and wider society. Great business has always been founded on great relationships – but nowadays this is more important than ever.

What does this mean in practice? Let’s look at case studies. Here is a typical client issue we hear. “We are part-way through a huge transformation programme but we don’t think our team shares our vision …”

At Fjord, here would be some of the vital sign evaluations we might ask.

Look at instinct: Were employees empowered to react adeptly in the ambiguity of the transformation programme?

How about craft: Was the in-house design team engaged? Did they feel they owned the design process of the transformation or were they left out?

Here is one solution to how we would handle this issue. We would reframe the ask of the client – ask them to jointly create a vision and the experience they expect (to enhance the level of craft within the organisation and to encourage trust of instinct). Then we would co-create a transformation process. We might suggest that for six weeks the client might shadow Fjord while we co-implement changes that were co-designed, then we would shadow the client as they run it for the next six weeks.

Here is another typical client issue we hear: “We have a unique opportunity to redesign our workspace. Our current spaces stifle collaboration, and hence stifle innovation.”

We might ask: Does it fit the personality? Are the clients and customers able to connect with it and love the company? Is the new spirit of innovation palpable in the space?

If the answer is no, perhaps it is important to reframe the ask. How can we physically embody a promise of innovation and energise our people and clients?

The solution may be a physical space that aligns with a flexible, “constantly temporary” paradigm. It might mean making room for more collaborative efforts while simultaneously setting aside space for longer-term projects. How this is designed varies from company to company but how the question is framed can transform the way employees think it through, how willing they are to put forth new ideas and how accepting they will be of the outcome.

A living business deserves the respect we accord to life – it needs to be nurtured and treated with care in order for it to grow. For this to happen, employees need to believe in the values of the company for which they work. In short, to build a living business, start with your people.

Inaki Amate

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