A couple of updates:
First, the Re-frame pilot program at the end of August is now closed for new registrants. We are accepting waiting list applicants for future Re-frame workshops. You can sign up to the Re-frame waiting list here.
Second, please take a listen to my conversation with Andrea Joy Wenburg. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview. We covered the challenges leaders face today, "authenticity one" and "authenticity two", the five dimensions of integrity, the purpose journey and much more.
Value-defined Work and the New Paradigm
The ability to create new futures requires that we change our paradigms from those that no longer serve us well to those that open the door to exciting breakthroughs. Re-framing the relationships among work, structure, and value is one example of how to create new conversations that lead to transformative results. This article, an excerpt from my book Create New Futures, is one of the most popular reframing pivots that our clients find immediately impactful.
To facilitate the shift from a structure-first to a value-first mindset, I show a visual that illustrates the pivot from the old mental model to the new way of thinking about work and organizations.
In 20th century organizations, the prevailing mental model was structure defines work and work defines value.
When consistency and predictability were the top requirements for businesses, this industrial mindset had its merits. When those needs shifted, however, causing value to be redefined, this organizational system was very slow to reorient itself to the new opportunities. In fact, it often continued to produce work that no longer had value. Think of the reports no one reads, or tools that are obsolete, or appliances that no one needs any longer, or products that are unused.
This was the old model in which people performed a job, whether it served a purpose or not. The orientation was to serve the structure and the group itself, not to serve a client. Often this orientation led the organization to define growth as an objective unto itself, rather than service to its clients. When structure comes first, the preservation of the system trumps the purpose it was meant to serve, a mindset that usually hastens the system's decline and demise.
The new model redefines work by reversing the flow to put value first. Its mindset is that the work you do is defined by the value you create, not by your role.
The reframing of the mental model enables the shift from work defined by structure to work defined by the opportunity to serve and contribute value.
Imagine an adaptive, agile organization where the opportunities to create value and serve customers define the work employees do and how the work is organized. This approach requires a service-focused operating model, rather than one anchored in functional silos.
Value Defined Work
Listen here: Episode 66 - Value-defined Work and the New Paradigm
A great example of value-centered work can be seen in startup companies in which anyone can work on anything at any given moment, if that is what is needed to serve a perceived opportunity.
The entertainment industry is another case in point: the business model drives ad hoc teams. These teams form and organize to address the opportunity of a new movie, and they dissolve at the end of production. When a new opportunity presents itself, a different team will come together to address its needs.
When value comes first, the flow changes and instigates an agile approach to work. It changes the conversations that occur and guides the way people approach their activities. As opportunities continue to emerge and evolve, so too does the nature of the work necessary to serve the new needs. The new work informs managers how to reorganize the structure and deliver the value in the most efficient way possible.
For instance, the majority of the work I do in my consulting today is different from the work I did last year or three years ago. Why? I continuously evolve in order to provide value that meets or exceeds my clients' emergent needs.
During a meeting with a leadership team in one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, I introduce the new flow of work that results from the shift from a structure-first to a value-first mindset. To spark a new conversation by provoking and stimulating the discussion, I pushed this reframing mental model all the way to the extreme end of the continuum:
"To internalize the value-first thinking, try this thought experiment. Imagine an organization where people have no job descriptions. They simply come to work every day to discover where the greatest need is, and how the most compelling opportunity to serve can find them."
To even imagine this scenario is an obvious stretch for the executives. Theirs is a company in which safety comes first. Too many changes at the same time can create dynamics that feel unsafe, depending on the mental model you operate in.
Why do I introduce this reframed mental model and thought experiment?
I am not proposing that we do away with roles and responsibilities or that we actually eliminate governance and accountability structures. I put this imaginary thought experiment in front of this leadership team to provoke a series of new conversations about how they approach their roles as leaders. The new conversations we develop help us create value-first empowered thinking that builds new leverage as we move into the discussion about strategy, execution and organizational effectiveness.
What else must change when work is defined by the opportunity to contribute rather than by structure and role?
As the opportunities to contribute become the catalyst influencing how we prioritize our work, a new flow unleashes the emergent capacity of an organization to self-organize.
Now it's your turn. Turn the key. Ask the people you lead, "What are you working on?" Listen carefully. Do they describe activities defined by role, or do they describe the outcomes and the value they produce? Lead your team by focusing on outcomes-based activities and by working backward from your desired future.