Way back at the end of their terrific Why Should Anyone Work Here, back behind the notes and even the index, back in the bloody “Acknowledgements”, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones explain why they thought the world needed this particular book, and more importantly, why people like you should read it:
Over the course of almost thirty years, our research has been concerned with two major themes: organizational culture and leadership. The former concern arose from an observation that the old integrators – structures, hierarchies, and careers – were becoming weaker and culture more important; and the latter from a profound dissatisfaction with predominantly psychological approaches to the study of leadership.
To both these areas we have attempted to bring a more distinctively sociological perspective, focusing on the relational aspects of leadership and rescuing the concept of authenticity from an obsession with self-awareness.
Talk about burying the lede.
Now there’s a lot there for as slim a book as this is, so let’s unpack it a bit.
First, it is their opinion, based on decades of research (over, let us concede, a fairly volatile time for the business community what with the explosion of cable, the internet, wars, and so on), that the businesses that had built the economy that every business was building upon were now unsound, because the things that held them together were becoming less important to the people within those very organizations. And that those things were structures, hierarchies and careers. And one can see the truth of that. Those businesses were built on a post-war, post-Depression world, where stability was the goal. Which is why you had Organization Men, and employees who spent their entire careers at one company. Or in one industry, populated by companies who were more alike than they were different.
But that by the 90s, the people coming into the workforce were not interested in stability per se – they took it for granted, rightly or wrongly. As a result, employees built their careers (and bank accounts) by bouncing from company to company. We recall someone in Silicon Valley saying to us during the dotcom boom that people thought there was something wrong with you if you were at one place longer than eighteen months.
So what did hold those companies together? Well, in the dotcom case, often, nothing, which is why they’re no longer with us perhaps. For the ones that are, Goffee and Jones point to that nexus of meaning and relevance and trust and purpose called “culture” – by reminding us that we spend most of our time at work, and that many of us end up defining ourselves by our jobs. Thus merely having one was less important to these generations than feeling like you were actually doing something with your time on the planet.
As for leadership, they have balked at the focus on the psychology of it, on what makes a leader tick, on how to handle the cut and thrust when the weighty mantle of subordinates is placed upon your shoulders. They feel this approach has divorced it from its role within corporations. You know, how to actually get people to actually do the things they’re actually supposed to do. So Goffee and Jones with their training as sociologists attempt to reinsert it back into the context of the organizations they were, um, leading.
And if all that sounds like starting points that might provide you with some importantly different and extremely valuable insight into how to structure your company for success in the future, well, yeah, you’re right, it does.
But wait there’s more.
For while they are too wise to say “do this, don’t do that, and you will be successful”, neither do they leave you high and dry. Each chapter is not only built on a particular principle that they felt was vital to future success, but also includes a series of “diagnostics” that will help you take a long hard look at your business to truthfully analyze how you’re doing. Which then provides you with some insight on what the underlying failures might be that you can rectify. These are augmented by very smart “where to start” suggestions based on the problems facing your organization, and “watchouts” that will give you a real dose of reality – like for example something as simple as “Pursuing one … element may undermine another” and “Large investors want change and improved performance quickly, but embedding values-based authentic leadership takes time. In addition, even among his most senior colleagues, there are reservoirs of cynicism that hold back the desire for change.”
But none of this matters if you don’t buy into the basic premise – that what employees want out of their jobs is different from what most organizations are built to give them, and that it even bloody matters what they want at all. Because let’s face it, most organizations don’t. And we don’t mean that pejoratively. Organizations are built to do whatever it is they do, as efficiently as possible, as quantifiably as possible. They evaluate current and future workers based on the skills those workers have that meet the need the organizations has. They are looked upon as cogs in the machine – a machine that makes something someone pays for. And if that sounds a bit brutalist for you, well, look at your org chart and tell me which dotted lines indicate “humanity.”
But here’s the crazy thing – this squishy approach is quantifiable. Companies that have highly engaged people – in other words, who are doing what Goffee and Jones suggest:
outperform firms with the most disengaged – by 54 percent in employee retention, by 89 percent in customer satisfaction, and by fourfold in revenue growth.
Not bad for sociologists who try to stay away from data.
But you have to buy in. And if you don’t after reading Why Should Anyone Work Here?, then maybe it’s just as well anyway.
Why Should Anyone Work Here? by Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones was published by Harvard Business Review Press on 11/03/2015 – order it from Amazon here, or from Barnes & Noble here, or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).