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Are modern organizations more zen and more change-ready?

March 7, 2011

Transformatorphoto © 2009 Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig | more info | Wylio

Two organizations with the same activity in a common transforming market: the former has been acquired several times, had its strategy adapted to enhance competitiveness and align with the headquarters, offers high wages and employee retention programs ; the latter offers reasonable wages, has a stable strategy (even a strategy of stability). One could think the first one will better motivate its employees, nevertheless instinctively we understand it is not that simple: the actual issue is about the work atmosphere, which is not only influenced by the wider business environment or financial results. Several factors are in play, and in this instance, the second organization is more zen, less stressful for its employees and executives, and has better medium and long-term durability prospects.

Occupational health versus neurosciences: making the enterprise Biocompatible

In France, the concept of psychosocial risk factors is spreading : it is on the agenda of Human Resources as well as of Corporate Social Responsibility, and has full attention from enterprises and government organizations, as we saw in this recent round table of HEC au Féminin (French).Other countries have a similar focus: see for example updates from the World Health Organization.

Last year, the Institute of Environmental Medicine (IEM) ran a national survey in France whose conclusions are even more interesting as they are analyzing the foundations of welfare and ill-being, not only the symptoms, risks and individual factors. To summarize:

  • Job roles must adapt to people who hold them and vice versa, to allow deep and durable motivation – I’d say, to formulate it differently, that talent analysis should be extended to include personality analysis
  • Information needs to move freely, transparently and appropriately: upstream to allow work to be done, and downstream to improve both individual and organizational synergy. We can see commonalities with Lean management, however here all type of jobs are included as well as an active and continuous constructive feedback about the job, through transparency. Beyond reporting, it touches the very functioning of teams and the corporate culture.
  • Responsibilities and power need to be balanced, for each job and at each organizational level, to avert frustrations and drifts which can surface as power struggles, always hard to live with and usually counterproductive, or a discrepancy between one’s daily tasks and the “heart of function”.

The IEM puts all this unders the concept of biocompatibility at work, and it is obvious that more than the individual and his job, the entire organization as a system has to operate in a healthy way.

Beyond the enterprise’s health: change readiness

The survey report and the tool behind it engaged me more from a corporate adaptability view point than in relation to the psychosocial risks factors. Indeed, when one works on organizational change, a prerequisite is to delineate if the organization can welcome a transformation. And when analyzing the corporate culture, neurosciences and tools such as the IEM one are of value: a healthy enterprise will be more open and will better adapt than a stressed one, whatever is the change to implement. Not only must what makes the strength of the organization be respected, but one needs to detect and compensate its weaknesses to avoid putting it at risk with a growing distress, if not an identity injury or loss.

Are collaborative organizations less stressing, more agile ?

In addition, the « healthy information circulation » dimension leads one to think of the collaborative organization: have enterprises who undertook this change eliminated some of the stress factors, are they as a consequence more agile?

A while ago I reflected on parallels between the different layers of the human brain and the evolution stages of the enterprise (Is Enterprise 2.0 the neuro-organization?): it led to a picture of some potential similarities between the prefrontal cortex, the last in the brain’s evolution, and collaborative organizations due to their ability to connect people and groups, circulate information independently from the organization chart, and allow collective intelligence. The prefrontal cortex is also the area of the brain called upon to address complex or new situations, those which may otherwise generate stress. One can infer that collaborative organizations might well be less stressful and more agile than traditional organizations.

Now when looking at the other two dimensions depicted in the IEM report, responsibility-power balance and jobs suited to people’s deep motivations, there is no a priori evidence that modern organizations might be better there than traditional organizations. Nevertheless, we know that a well deployed collaboration increases people’s autonomy and initiative ability; it seems that collaboration then allows balancing each person’s responsibilities and powers, eventually. There remains the adequacy of jobs to people (to their personalities, beyond their talents): if the enterprise allow its employees to move jobs and maintains a list of openings (which should be the case when the organization communicates correctly), we’re on the right path.

Collaborative organizations and neurosciences which connections, which contributions?

To conclude, one can speculate that a corporate transformation for more cooperation, collaboration and collective intelligence will be easier if the enterprise is in good health ; and that this transformation will make it more agile and stress impervious. If the transformation is well led, and well digested, from the bottom to the top and for all organizational constituents.

Collaborative organizations and neurosciences which connections, which contributions? : this will be the theme of a Boostzone Institute workshop (in French) facilitated by Jean-Louis Prata, IEM’s R&D Director and one of my friends and mentors, on the 4th of March. If you are interested in the reflection and debate, don’t hesitate to join us: more information here .

As this post by @ceciledemailly was originally published on the Booostzone Institute’s blog in French, some linked resources remain in French; google translate or altavista babelfish may help the reader to understand more of these resources.

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