If you work in a typical corporate environment you will probably have come across something like this:
“We want to be a high performing business. We will achieve this by driving performance throughout the organisation to gain a competitive advantage. We need to focus on employee engagement and require agile leaders who can drive results. We also need a resilience training programme so that we can stay effective as the pressure ramps up.”
I come across this kind of language every day in my consulting work and have been wondering if there is a different way for a business to perform at the highest levels.
For the last two hundred years we have become conditioned to the view….
For the last two hundred years we have become conditioned to the view that the only way to improve performance is to work harder. Businesses realised that if they were faster and more efficient than their competitors then they could reap the rewards. Although this relentless drive has brought us unparalleled prosperity it has also created many problems. One of them is that at some point the wheel of competition spins too fast for people to keep up. When this happens either people get replaced with machines (that can keep up) or they get treated like machines (in the hope that they will keep up). I am all for technology but think there are better ways for people to work.
I am all for technology but think there are better ways for people to work
To illustrate what I mean, I want to look at how a Dutch company, Buurtzorg, provides community nursing services in Holland. In the 1980’s community nursing teams had significant autonomy to provide care to patients and families in their area. As time progressed, the Government introduced regulations and incentives (tied to specific procedures) to try and manage and reduce costs. The result was more paperwork and less time spent with patients. The ‘Administration’ was happy but the nurses and patients weren’t. (Sound like the NHS ?).
This situation was turned around by the vision of Jos deBlok and a team of colleagues who created a new model called Buurtzorg (Dutch for neighbourhood care) in 2006. They believed that ‘Nurses don’t need management, they just need each other’. Or in other words, Nurses are trained professionals and can be trusted to organise their work, deliver high quality care and make sound financial decisions. This is exactly what happened. Nursing teams of 10-12 people came together and established their own service. They run independently of each other but share information and good practice. They are supported by the company but not managed by them. Buurtzorg now employs approximately 70% of all the community nurses in Holland and provides very effective health care for about 40% less than the previous model.
The key shift in thinking was the realisation that patients are people not procedures
The key shift in thinking was the realisation that patients are people not procedures. Buurtzorg nurses spend more time with their patients than under the previous model, but because they get better faster (as a result) they need less care. The ‘Administration’ had simply not considered this approach because it was locked into trying to improve performance by controlling and managing activities. The beauty of Buurtzorg is that nurses are happier and more productive, patients feel really cared for and get better quickly and of course the Government spends less money.
What makes the Buurtzorg approach work are three fundamental principles.
- A strong meaningful purpose that guides the organisation and motivates all who work there. When people believe (at a heart level) in what the organisation is doing they don’t need to be motivated by their leaders
- Genuine Self-management. Teams are trusted to make their own decisions in the best interests of patients and the company. Self-management doesn’t work if delegated powers are removed as soon as management feel uneasy. In other words, you either trust me or you don’t.
- People are valued and respected for who they are. Nurses listen to each other and both give and take advice in the spirit in which it is meant. Competition between teams is healthy and not about winning and losing.
The biggest obstacle to changing your organisation is your mindset.
The biggest obstacle to organising and running your organisation this way is your mindset. If you believe that they only way to become a high performing business is to work harder and smarter then I suspect at some point you and your people will run out of steam. If you are willing to step back and look at what you are trying to do with fresh eyes, then there are different ways to operate and they come with many benefits. The typical company statement might then become:
“We want to be a high performing business. We can get there by being clear about our purpose and by knowing what value we add to the world. When people understand what we do they will be motivated without management direction. Our people have energy and ability in abundance, which can be released if we step back and trust them to take responsibility for their work. Instead of managing their time we can focus on providing the support and training they need to work together well.”