Making magic work – part 1

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Written by Liz Hill-Smith on 23 December 2014

I’ve recently become a fan of Philopher Alain De Botton’s School of Life. It is a fascinating collection of short videos on various aspects of philosophy and modern interpretation. Subjects range from an explanation of Plato, to “how to deal with a sulker”. One that got me thinking was an exploration of the idea of mis-employment. That is, jobs that we count in our national employment statistics, but are negative jobs, that kind of get in the way of human advancement. A man with a sign luring people into a Casino is an extreme example but anything persuading us to buy stuff we don’t really want or need could get tarred with the same brush or making stuff that is bad for us or useless.   

So this creates a debatable spectrum from mis-employment to largely undisputed and highly valuable roles, such as teaching or healthcare. 

We know that when people are engaged in meaningful work, the opportunity for real engagement is high. But what really works is when people are engaged in work that has a real purpose, and that their inner work life, and the way they are engaged within the organisation to do that work, makes a real difference to performance. 

Work is a large part of our lives. If our inner work life is poor and the purpose of our work is hard to sanction, that has an impact on who we are as people and how we show up in our family and communities. 

We know, from our work with our clients, that when we start to align the core purpose of the work and get clear about how that creates real value in the short term and the longer term, we get a bit of magic happening. When we combine that with creating a culture that really does treat people as good, honest and capable of growth, we multiply that magic. 

So in this first blog in a mini-series, I want to explore the crucial elements of a culture that supports this.

It starts by getting clear about the value thing. Having a clear value proposition that makes it abundantly clear why the organisation exists and what problem it is there to solve, is a critical starting point. This means thinking across the whole eco-system of the business about what really is best for customers, what propositions really add value for them and in many cases for the different customers you might serve in the future. Rather than taking a narrow short-term perspective, it means creating proactive and innovative approaches to evolving the business. Rather than reversing backwards into the future as we see happen so often, it means engaging across the organisation in this debate and being open to valuing the different perspectives that debate brings. 

In the companies that we see creating this purposeful culture, new ideas are welcomed and explored. Innovation is seen as exciting and essential. Where it is absent, purpose, future and innovation are almost taboo words. Too hard to discuss. 

It is interesting to observe the growing groundswell of leadership thinking in this space. Frederic Laloux’s recent book – “Reinventing Organisations” explores organisations that fit a new paradigm.  He calls these “Teal” Organisations – working to a paradigm that is starting to emerge. His excellent book explores the inner workings of a handful of decent sized companies that are leading the way here. 

In upcoming blogs, I want to explore what this new paradigm means for the individual leader, in particular the mind-set it demands and the skill-sets needed. I’ll move on to look at the way in which they can engage others in new ways of working that enrich both clarity of organisation purpose and the inner work life of the organisations members.

Watch this space!

Liz Hill-Smith is a senior consultant at DPA 


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