The essence of the smart enterprise: lower surveillance and higher trust levels

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While reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb I discovered, among many other titbits of interest, that when we put in too many traffic signals, regulatory and restrictive signs in systems that over-control the driver, there are more accidents. The greatest number of pedestrian deaths don’t happen when crossing where they’re not supposed to taking risks, but when they use zebra crossings properly. Terrible. Because when you illegally jaywalk, your senses wake up to protect you, but when you take the legal path you relax, trust, you don’t look sideways, you’re not alert, … and you get run over. So, the alert level drops when personal control is transferred to the system. So much so that in Drachten (Netherlands) they decided to do a rather radical experiment and eliminated all traffic signals! And the outcome? Safety increased. Many other Dutch and German populations decided to follow the same path and deregulate. Food for thought, isn’t it?

Obviously, it’s not about getting rid of all the rules of society, or work, where we’ll be focusing, but there is a message worth rescuing: if you don’t (over)regulate me… I’ll self-regulate. But if you keep an eye on me marking out my path – managing my time and productivity – too much, … then I’ll quit. My level of alertness, action, proactivity will drop… and I’ll trust the “system” will provide and be (again) the one to tell me what to do. That’s just the opposite of what organizations need today, right when we need more proactive, creative professionals (employees/collaborators) that participate and who are on alert and active. That’s how important it is to lower the level of surveillance, and to raise the level of confidence. Nowadays with the option for on-demand work that so many companies can/should benefit from, we are presented with an ideal opportunity for implementing this cultural attitude of trusting workers and pushing them, at the same time as giving them the right framework to increasingly become self-managers of their time and productivity. And if possible, their creativity to boot!

Organizational models of smart companies are heading this way, as I explained in my book on Knowmads, the workers in the future, “Knowmads. Los trabajadores del futuro” (published by Lid). Organizations are moving towards much more nomadic forms per se, seeking to have precisely this worker profile among their ranks. Each knowledge worker, the knowmad, is someone who champions this way of working, to be responsible for themselves, and self-manages.

What does self-management involve?

Motivating everyone to contribute in the best way, and for all to work “on the same page” much more. If I’m connected, I gain visibility into the team and get the same information as everyone else and even extra help (with content that others provide me “altruistically”), then I’ll build more and better. Opening knowledge up to everyone on the team, generating interaction with employees from the bottom up also helps to bring out many good ideas and makes everyone feel involved in the project. Self-management implies that each one, even within a company, thinks and acts as an entrepreneur of their own work. Besides each one deciding on how they should manage their own time, this includes each one thinking about what the organizational environment should be, what they need to get their work done properly, what culture they should promote, etc.

We cannot think of self-managing just ourselves, but also of the labour network around us. What’s needed for that? Well, let the company establish a framework obviously, but then let all parties get involved. This helps with realizing goal-driven projects and improving collaboration. This is a step that goes beyond teamwork, because here it takes an empathetic mindset. Everyone, the company and workers, cares about each other’s needs, thinks about what they can offer and how to share their knowledge to achieve the defined goals, but with an extra component. Less surveillance, more sharing, and more trust.

As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do”.

Let’s get rid of the signs, but let’s have more bridges.

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