‘What’s your own purpose then?’ That’s the main question I keep getting asked myself over and over again after I wrote about that very same topic a few days ago. ‘Is it still pretty much the same as when you were a salaried employee at a large IT firm? Or has it changed now that you’ve become an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation?’ The questioning goes on and on and on (People are curious, after all, I suppose) and I keep answering pretty much the very same thing as if I were asked the following question: what do *you* sell? Because, you know, after all, deep inside, whether we realise it or not, we are all both sellers and marketers. Thus, what do I sell then, eventually?, you may be wondering, right? What’s my purpose? Well, I have been giving it plenty of thought and, over the course of time, I have pretty much narrowed it down to a single keyword that has become my mantra from all along, even while I was at IBM: enablement.
Originally though, I always thought my main purpose for everything I do at work was all about empowerment, as in empowering others to take control back of their work lives and do something meaningful and purposeful with it. But, then again, my good friend, John Wenger (@JohnQShift), showed me otherwise and taught me empowerment is not really what I was aiming for, as he brilliantly put together on this particular article under the rather suggestive and thought-provoking title: ‘Why you can’t empower someone’, where the sub-header pretty much nails it for me in terms of describing what I do for work: ‘Effective leading is about enabling (not empowering)’.
‘What do you sell?’ Have you asked yourself„ out loud, that same question in the recent past and come up to a single keyword to describe it? Well, if you haven’t, you should. I can highly recommend it as an exercise to keep you focused and very down to earth on what you would want to achieve at work day in day out. To me, the answer to that particular question is pretty much the main purpose of doing what I do for work. Enablement. Now, I fully realise that in some cases both don’t align well with each other in terms of what we keep selling may well not be what our main purpose is right from the beginning, but, in my case, it certainly is. I don’t think I would be able to have it any other way, for that matter. That’s probably why, back in the day, I decided to stick around with this job title that pretty much describes what I love doing:
Organisations are pretty much broken. We all know that. They may as well have been for a good few years already and while I think everyone could venture to state one, of multiple!, reasons as to why they are pretty much borked, those folks who have been regular and faithful readers of this blog would recognise the one single reason I keep tooting my own horn on with regards to what I feel is the main problem with organisations today: employee engagement or, better said, employee disengagement. To me, all along, and over the years, it’s the main business problem out there that needs fixing and pronto! We are already pretty late, judging by some recent studies done over the years. It’s the most critical business problem to fix that clearly would impact a whole other set of issues currently happening at work, all of them tightly aligned with the overall employee experience. Let’s not forget, happy employees = happy customers. Unhappy employees …
Yes, I know, employee engagement is a fully loaded theme already, totally overhyped and perhaps too empty already from being abused left and right. On the other hand, my good friend, Perry Timms (@PerryTimms) is a big fan of Employee Involvement. And I quite like that idea for sure as it proves to be ever more refreshing and enticing into wanting to do things different in terms of what’s not working with employees at the moment: getting them involved in the first place! I do strongly believe there is a lot to be done in terms of helping improve the overall employee experience of knowledge (Web) workers at their workplace. That’s why, still today, my pet peeve continues to be employee engagement or rather the poor job we keep doing at it, if we look into the recent data put together by Gallup from 2013 where globally only 13% of active knowledge workers are engaged at work. And the data for 2014 (US only, alas) doesn’t seem to provide us with much hope for a huge % increase…
Plenty of businesses will keep telling you all sorts of different problems they may have, or perhaps new business opportunities they would want to explore. Yet, the lack of, or better said, the low % of engaged employees doesn’t seem to be much of a worry for them, because, after all, there is still this implied thought that employees should just be happy they have got a job that helps them pay their bills at the end of the month, and, as such, they should keep quiet and be ever grateful. And if they are not happy they can always leave the organisation that thousand other people would be waiting to fill in that position in a heartbeat anyway. Somehow it just feels like people have become, over decades!, hankies you can easily dispose off while buying some new ones. Awful, terrible state of things, isn’t it? Where did we go wrong in the first place? Where did we turn sideways from believing that the biggest asset from any organisation are their people, i.e. their knowledge workers, and, yet, they are the very first thing they get rid of when things get tough without even looking what what they themselves could well do to help out?
See? That’s why I get up every morning to come to work. A while ago (around 2007 to be more precise), and after thinking I could change the world and convince everyone there are better ways out there to get work done more effectively through social tools, while treating your employees with respect, trust, plenty of caring, and, specially, empathy, I realised I couldn’t change people. I still can’t today. Nor can we change organisations for that matter. We can only, essentially, provide the right conditions for people to come forward, self-empower themselves and change what’s broken for them and the work they do, from the inside, as if it were trojan mice, and as a personal transformation journey of sorts that happens within each and everyone of us and that’s usually triggered by doing something, making a start, like my good friend, the incredibly talented and rather smart, Anne Marie McEwan (@smartco), wrote recently on this very same topic quite brilliantly.
Thus, my purpose, i.e. what I sell, is to help people, knowledge (Web) workers, get enabled on changing the nature of work, for the better, for themselves, without having to wait to tomorrow for the future of work to arrive, but, instead, take action today to perhaps start making their own work a little bit more open, transparent, collaborative, less hierarchical and more wirearchical, and, overall, more social altogether while we transition into new operating models like networks and communities (i.e. Wirearchy). In a nutshell, it’s some kind of democratisation of the workplace (as Harold Marche – @hjarche – wrote not long ago), where the knowledge worker feels self-empowered to make the right decisions to keep learning, iterating and improving their own employee experience, so they can then influence their customers’ for the better…
In order to make this happen, it takes a bit of bravery and courage to realise that everyone would need to step forward and become, potentially, a leader, an open and connected one, constantly learning understanding that ‘if work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning’. And since all along I have been very much in favour of leadership as fellowship (more than fellowship) it’s the co-creative learning process we are all in together that does the trick for me, because I have always suspected that enabling knowledge workers to find their own potential leadership capabilities in whatever form and shape, while they connect and network with their peers accordingly, is perhaps our very own, and only, chance to change not just our own selves for the better, but also businesses and organisations, and overall our societies, as our mere matter of survival changing the world. Today. Not tomorrow.
To me, that’s where the magic happens, and why, 18 years later, I still love doing what I do, as if it were just my very first day at work: that is, helping others become better at what they already do.