An awakened organization requires that everyone is involved. In a democracy, everyone is responsible for the end result. It is a mistake to assume that the leaders are more engaged than the rest of the population. Indeed, I have met line workers who are more engaged than some of the leaders in charge of engagement programs. We all have much to learn from anyone, no matter their level, who shines in the area of self-driven change and engagement with their work.
In a true democracy, everyone is responsible in the process of learning how to change and engage. The leaders and managers can provide the right conditions, but they are not ultimately responsible.
We need to provide people with the skills to break out of their trances at work. For years, academics, management consultants, and human resource professionals have discussed the “broken employment contract.” However, as the promises and assurances of the Industrial Revolution have disappeared, organizations have typically failed in defining what it is that we need to do in order to thrive within today’s rapid, disruptive, and transformative period of change. By extension, much of today’s talent has obsolete work skills and no new life skills. Consequently, they become overwhelmed in simply trying to keep up with change. We need to help them close these gaps.
In 1970, the great futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that technology would accelerate the rate of change to such dizzying levels that by the turn of the century most people would be in a perpetual state of shock from trying to absorb too much change in too short a period of time. This “future shock” directly ties into the going-through-the-motions behavior that typifies today’s trance-like, disengaged worker.
We are emerging from the 300-year cycle of the Industrial Revolution. During this cycle, we were conditioned to view change as threatening, dangerous, and unsettling. Yet thriving today requires more than just coping with change. The wisest of us are not only developing the skills for self-change, but also establishing an enthusiasm for growth. Growth is the new game, and it offers far greater payoffs than the era of survival and predictability ever did.
How many of us are conscious enough to be excited about trading in a sense of security for perpetual growth? Most of us need to be educated to even realize what the opportunity means on a personal level. For the vast majority, real change is a frightening prospect. For example, when Inspired Work began its programs in 1990, most of our participants were pursuing one big professional change. After making that transition, many would tell me, “I’m glad that is over.” But it wasn’t over. The world just became faster and faster. Now, many people are too confused to even define what it is that they want. Imagine how much the national workplace would improve if we developed a thirst for learning and growth within ourselves and throughout our organizations.
Developing such a thirst will require us to reinvent, learn, unlearn, and relearn in shorter periods of time. When we ask or order our employees to “snap out of it” or “get used to it,” most of them do not yet comprehend how to do that. Nevertheless, many leaders continue to deploy the “do it or else” tactic in a world where talent pools are filled with experts in going through the motions. The idea that people should somehow be skilled at continuous personal change is equally far-fetched. This is why organizations, realistically, must develop their workers both to understand change and to learn how to change themselves continuously.
Let’s get real: There isn’t a corporate budget in the world to pay for the consulting fees it would take to do all of this. However, when we move the entire process in house — where it belongs — the financial investments are minimal, especially when we factor in the ensuing increases in performance and engagement. This is much more an investment in time and energy. It is also, simply, what it will take to get beyond these real challenges we are facing.
Many workers are still ensnared by the cataclysmic breakdown of the old industrial-based work paradigm, but it is good business to invest in their futures. Developing a change program for these individuals is far more valuable than showing them the door and trying to recruit from the small slice of available talent who have already mastered the game of engagement.
Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from The Workplace Engagement Solution © 2017 David Harder. Published by Career Press. All rights reserved.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.