Now, It's Personal
Business is becoming more personal; I have witnessed this transformation in startups and organizations large and small. While much of the change is driven by the demands of an increasingly millennial workforce, it is also the transformation of business tools and the evolution of the meaning of the office that are changing the mindset of the workforce.
“When work becomes personal, people do not disengage, and many feel naturally compelled to take actions that will make a positive impact on the world”
A recent PWC report argues that today’s millennial workforce is seeking more than just a job or a path up the corporate ladder. Money is absolutely not the sole motivating factor, development and work/life balance are more important. The millennial generation is committed to personal learning and development and also strongly values flexible working hours. Cash bonuses come in behind both of these in importance.
In fact, the very notion of a “corporate ladder” is becoming an outdated idea–hierarchical organizations are not, generally speaking, very efficient and cannot respond quickly to market changes.
Innovative thinking is also more likely to stagnate in hierarchical organizations because there are more opportunities for new ideas to be shot down. A manager with too much on their plate can toss out a great idea that would have been successful in the hands of the champion. Cross-functional groups with a flatter structure and more decentralized decision making are far more hospitable to new ideas. This is so largely because cross-functional units are capable of making decisions independently, rather than seeking approval from multiple or more risk-averse layers of the organization.
Flat structure is particularly helpful for early-stage companies. Our team at Procurify had no hierarchy for several years as we grew-which allowed for an abundance of ideas, some with great success, and some with a process of failure and learning. Even our tagline: “Purchasing Made Ridiculously Easy,” was coined by a part-time team member who was still in university at the time.
People take greater pride in their work and learn to take responsibility for themselves when granted trust and greater autonomy. Punching the clock is a recipe for demotivated team members.
Another cause of demotivated team members is the implementation of archaic business systems such as legacy software that is difficult to use or takes months to learn. It has long been the norm for a business to send its staff for training on such systems. These sessions result in certifications and joyless mastery of tools that most users didn’t really want to be using.
“It’ll be good for your resume,” “this will be an investment, everyone uses this tool so you’ll need to know how to use it too,” “I know it’s complicated but we have to make sure we capture all the data we need.” There is endless justification for learning to use a tool that does indeed capture the data you need, but doesn’t really make your life any easier. Data on these systems is stored in a way that makes accessing it and exporting it very difficult, and formats designed for antiquated processes cannot be changed.
This paradigm is shifting as new cloud and SaaS technologies reach the masses. Focus on a great user experience, workflow and intuitive user interfaces are beginning to encroach on the business software market, and for good reason. This can be seen in the successes of SaaS solutions like Zendesk and Slack.
Another trend impacting the way modern business works is the increase of the use of mobile phones for work. Mobile usage facilitates a culture shift in that workers no longer need to be chained to their desk, and work-life balance becomes more fluid, natural and organic.
In a more free-form team structure, “work” no longer necessarily signifies a place but an activity, because with today’s technology it’s possible to get so much done without being stuck in a particular location. With mobile business applications, work can be done while in the line at the grocery store, or waiting for the bus.
Increasingly, it is becoming the norm to communicate electronically; a sweeping study by PWC said that 41 percent of millennials prefer to communicate electronically at work, rather than via telephone or face to face.
This comfort with technology, while potentially unsettling for those who prefer live interaction, is actually an exciting opportunity for teams to collaborate in ways that would not have been possible otherwise; for example, using software like Invision, teams can collaborate on designs together without being physically together. And this is not limited to straightforward activities like design, new SaaS-based services allow access to entire ERP ecosystems to be accessible via mobile or browser, anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
When work is more organically intertwined one’s life, people feel more empowered to own what they produce. When a person feels that they own their project, they become more engaged and attached to their work, allowing creativity to flow more freely. This mindset enables teams to come up with more innovative ideas and find better solutions to problems. Freedom in work allows for freedom of thought.
When work becomes personal, people do not disengage, and many feel naturally compelled to take actions that will make a positive impact on the world. Teams that are free to find passion in their work will do great work that brings satisfaction to their souls.