The Regenerative Organization – Guidelines for Work Design and How to Manage People for Innovation, Growth and Responsibility – Part III


Carol Sanford explores guidelines for The Regenerative Organization including management and work design. This vblog centers on core human characteristics – the power of initiative and act.  In essence, how do you foster and develop personal agency, embedding it into work when there are no traditional supervisors?


Audio-only version



Carol Sanford:

Welcome back to the extended video blog that I am doing on work design and management systems, particularly how I believe they will look in the business of the future. I have been building them for forty years and I know they really work. Their qualitative characteristics are that people love being in them. My companies often win best places to work. People do not have any traditional supervision and they are able to make a huge difference personally and experience that in regard to markets, to stakeholders in a larger sense. Today, what I want to talk about is a way to pick up from a blog I gave you last time on what it meant to have people be externally considering. Until they can do that, they can’t really work responsibly. I want to give you a way that I’ve done that for years with businesses.

Let’s back up and look at just a little reminder about what external considering means. When I go into companies, one of the first things that my CEO’s or general managers leaders will say to me is “Well what do you do with those people who don’t want to change?” and “What do you do with those people who only want a paycheck and they only do what is best for themselves?” And I say well you’re obviously a bad manager because that’s the state they get to when you really don’t invoke a natural condition they have, which is a part of their brain psychology and their mirror neurons to be able to experience caring for the other. My grandmother called that external considering. It was her “aren’t you thinking about anybody else besides yourself” process? In order to do that in a company, I want you to look at the three forces that are necessary to make that happen.

I call those forces activating, restraining and reconciling. So the restraining is where we are going to start on this one. Most companies have now built in a process that was fostered by John Watson and passed on by B. F. Skinner, which is the study of lab rats as a surrogate for how humans work. And as a result, they offered everything from incentives and reward and recognition to copying and picking up on the feedback that had come out of machine theory. So here are some things you actually have to stop. Organizations I’m in take a little while to do this and it is very disruptive. So if you’re a startup, don’t put them in because they will undermine you for a very long time. So you need to stop, reward and give recognition. Now there is a way you can do recognition and I will give you a brief hint on that. You need to stop rating and ranking because all of it is artificial anyway. All of it is projection, and it is often like when you are in Amazon, used to convert and turn people toward evaluating others in a rating or ranking to get themselves higher.

You need to work to stop everything that’s related to the study of rats that’s applied to humans, but you need to put in some other things. The major thing that you have to do is start doing more work with co-creators, which includes suppliers, vendors as well as what are called employees, to be connected to caring and not just counting. We have created work systems where we count everything and the minute you count you get it back to something you can see, something the senses can pick up. Here’s the customer out here and you bring it back into the people who are making it and you have them count what they are doing and then you reward them recognized on what they’re doing. As a result of that, their experience of what to consider, what makes a difference, is not out here in the life of the customer or the forest or the community they live in, but it’s all the way back down here to their own life.

You have to move the kind of measurement you are doing out here to the system where you are measuring what customers measure. That’s what I call moving from counting to caring. You actually still count some things, but you are not counting what’s happening in this narrow window. The next thing that you have to do to add back at the reconciling level is the ability to connect with these three lines of work. So people connect what I do with the effect it has on the greater whole and how the business is able to support that happening. So here is one of the most fun things – I think I figured this out thirty five years ago – that teams should never be organized around anything internal, anything- nothing. Now that doesn’t mean that they can’t run a line and have morning meetings and they can’t figure out what to do together.

Don’t think of that as the primary team, because those people will be working on in the moment what has to be handled right now. I’ve organized teams in every company I have been in around the market around things that are external, and everyone who’s in the business is in one of those. So in Colgate Palmolive, for example, in Europe we looked at who are the distributors because all of Colgate’s products don’t go directly to a consumer; they are a b2b operation. We asked how it was that those people needed to succeed. So again I am getting them all the way out here on the end. So we would go look at “the we” I’m talking about is the teams were organized around something like a big box store. There would be one group that was formulated that way and it would be working on the equivalent of our Walmart, but there it’s Carrefour.

You would be a separate group that was organized around mom and pop grocery stores- the ones who are on the corners who can carry six tubes of toothpaste totally and a couple of canisters of deodorant. You had those people spending time understanding that market. Those teams were made up of cross functional expertise. So on any one team you would have people who were from marketing, who were from sales, who were from various parts of manufacturing. Everything from the finishing, being ready to ship out of and into the warehouse, to the people who were running a line. You also had people who were in administrative roles. You had managers who were at a very top level, and you needed each of these teams to have someone with fiduciary responsibilities so the team could move. But there’s a set of phases you go through to build these.

You don’t just put them together, turn them loose and say now go make the mom and pop grocery stores more successful. The first phase we always put them into was an education and understanding phase. People in the teams, each of these different teams, and there were about six of them there. The Carrefour and mom and pops are two of those. They were chartered with really understanding the life day to day of each of those distribution channels. They tracked them on various industries who had material on what it was that mom and pops are doing, retail industry. They brought that information back to monthly meetings that had people beginning to live in the life of the people who were selling their products. The second phase was they begin to generate ideas that could make it possible to make their life work better by what Colgate did.

So the intention was to move everyone who was there, not to how they improve their own process and count that, or even how it contributed to Colgate. You still tend to have a counting, not caring if you take it out just to Colgate, which is a bit of what Zappos is doing. You actually had them working to figure out how they were going to improve the life of the team which they were on. We often call these champion teams, and if someone had trouble, there were people authorized within that team to go make it work. They could champion them; they could get on a plane without having to have a supervisor’s approval. And they did feel like champions. We told stories about their success and they brought back in ideas when they succeeded with something great with the team. They shared them with the entire team; well it depended on who were there.

At least within the location they were in, sometimes within the business unit they were in, we had annual meetings where they brought a set of things into the annual meeting for the entire region. The reason this matters is because it moves people to a big part of their daily life thinking about how their actions right here affect the people whose lives they are intended to improve. Over time we build some teams around consumer groups, and we did a lot of that in South Africa. You can read about that story in The Responsible Business. But the big key is what you have to activate is the team that is learning to care, not count, which means they are moving into external considering. It moves them away from internal considering which is it’s all about me, wonder how this will affect me if they make changes, where will I go. Now people will still ask those questions, but they become minor. So the point I’m making here is move from internal considering to external considering, from counting to caring, by wrapping people’s evaluation, them evaluating themselves. We will talk about that more later. Wrapping that process of their work and their decision making based on the effect it has that has them really care for the people they are serving. So that’s all for today. Join me again for number four and I’ll tell you a little more about how you can create teams that don’t have supervision, but they also don’t have all the side effects that prevent them from meeting the conditions of humans playing their role.