Many top business leaders don’t understand that business transformation is rooted in the narrative they operate about their own business. For transformation to be authentic you have to transform the narrative of the organisation from a system that works to a community of people who collaborate to serve customers and clients.
Practically speaking, getting this right at an organisational level requires getting things right in four areas of work:
Business Transformation: The Business Itself
Any organisation of people, however large, is wholesome based on the degree to which it exists to make a contribution. A group is toxic when it is there for any reason other than this. As a metaphor consider any organ in the body, the liver for example. The liver does not exist for itself. The liver exists to produce things required by the rest of the body. If the cells in the liver decide that they are going to compete with the rest of the body; the condition produced will be fatal both for the body and the liver.
Mercifully this organic metaphor only goes so far. Unlike the organs in a body, the communities in a broader society have volition; and they have the ability to detect the intent of a malevolent group within the community. The community will try to eliminate a group which it perceives to be fundamentally self-serving; particularly because that self-serving intent will always be at the expense of the community. This is not an ethical observation about morality, it is a purely pragmatic fact of the matter.
The Principle of Intent in Business
When applied to a business, it is apparent that supply exists to serve demand, not the other way around. This implies that a business which is not fundamentally orientated to the needs of clients & customers, will be be taken out by the very same customers and clients.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the production of surpluses, a key measure of the success of any economic enterprise. A surplus suggests that a group of people have worked together in such a way that the total product produced was bigger that what each individual took out. In other words, collectively these people gave more than what they took. A surplus is therefore a direct measure of the degree to which the individual in the organisation is giving unconditionally.
Business Transformation and the Narrative of the Business
This further implies that an organisation does not exist over and above the intent of the individuals involved. Only individuals have volition. Only individuals can exhibit the intent to serve. It follows that an organisation that is genuinely there to serve its world does so because it has enabled the intent of the individual in the organisation. This observation brings the intent of each person to the forefront of the organisational concern. T
All other elements, such as structures, systems and processes are subordinate to this concern; of the intent of the individual. We must not fit people into the organisational requirement. Instead, we must fit the organisation to the people and the contribution each one of them need to make. We must design our businesses to enable the people within the business. This indicates the narrative we should be operating about our business, particularly when our agenda is business transformation. You must not envisage your business as a system that works, but rather as community of people who collaborate to serve.
Personal Excellence: Business Transformation and the Individual
It may seem naive that a person can be in an organisation to make a contribution; rather than just to get something. There are two fundamental sorts of reasons for people going out and looking for a job in the first place. These are firstly concerned with security (earning a living) and secondly with fulfilment (job satisfaction). We easily forget that both of these things are actually the product of our own intent.
Intent and Your Happiness
Take firstly security. If I based my sense of security on anything that I get from the world, a salary or some assets; it is apparent that the world rarely gives me what I want at the particular point in time. I will therefore rarely be secure. Should I base my security on the quality of what I am contributing; then I am basing my security on something that is always within my control. I will therefore always be secure. The same has to be true for fulfilment. If I base my fulfilment on what I am getting from the world, I will always be discontented; because the world rarely responds precisely to my expectation.
This suggests that it is entirely feasible for an individual to serve others unconditionally; and to produce in themselves an immediate sense of security and fulfilment in doing so. Surprisingly, we see then that asking people to come to work to make an unconditional contribution is not only feasible; it is actually in the person’s best interest to do so. This does further suggest that we need to make the intent of the individual the central problem of our business. Clearly however, if you want to populate your business with people who are there to give unconditionally; you need to give the individuals the tools they require. You need to help them work on their own intent; to do the necessary inner work to transmute their intent from taking to giving.
Leadership Excellence: Business Transformation and the Hierarchy
The task of helping people work on their intent has significant implications for leaders and how they view their role. The key deliverable of the leader is people/employees that are animated by an intent to serve is the key deliverable of the leader. This is the unique contribution that leadership makes to businesses.
The Traditional Approach to Hierarchy
In all organisations, businesses included, every individual occupies a place in the hierarchy of command. The traditional, mechanical view of businesses becomes apparent when you ask the leader to define the word leadership. In my experience most leaders have the view that “leadership is about achieving a result through people”. The view clearly sees the person as subordinate to the business’s objective; a means to the end, a human resource. The problem with this view is that it disables the intent of the individual to make a discretionary contribution to the business.
Leadership and Intent
Assume you have two subordinates, Joe and Fred. Imagine you are very experienced in what you have asked them to do because you did that in 2000. In Joe’s case you say to him “Joe, in 2000 I did what you have to do now and what I did worked. Don’t argue with me, do what I did.” In Fred’s case you say to him “Fred, in 2000 I did what you have to do and what I did worked, it may be helpful to you, take look.”
You will immediately see that Joe will do what is required of him because he has to, whereas Fred is more likely to do the job because he wants to. Further to this, it is apparent that the outcome is likely to be better in the Fred case because he is more likely to own the problem and be willing to commit discretionary effort in pursuit of getting the job done.
If you examine the difference between the two interactions, it is apparent that your intent in the Joe case is to get the job done; and Joe is your means to do so. If you meant what you said to Fred, however, it is apparent that you could have a completely different outcome from what you had in 2000. In fact, it could, in all likelihood, be worse. This shows then that your intent is to teach Fred something; and you were using the job that he has to do as a means to do so. Crucially, in the Fred case you are not using the person as the means to get the job done, you are using the job as the means to enable the person. You are not achieving a result through people, you are achieving people through results.
This insight regarding Intent has implications for our definition of leadership. The traditional definition of leadership as being about “achieving a result through people” is deeply flawed. We need to re-define it to properly reflect the intent of the Fred interaction. This gives us the following definition of leadership: “Leadership is about achieving people through results”.
The Leader as Coach
While this phrasing sounds clumsy, it makes sense when you consider the relationship between a coach and a team. If the coach said to the team “listen up! My job as the coach is to achieve a result and I am going to use you, the players, as my means to do so, the team will probably be very disgruntled”. This is because it is clearly the player’s job to achieve a result. The coach’s job is to coach the player.
In fact, a good coach knows his job is not to play the game and produce a result, his job is to coach the player. I do not mean here that he has no interest in the game that’s being played or the result. He clearly does because he cannot coach the team if he does not know what is happening on the field or what is on the scoreboard. It suggests that the game and the scoreboard are his means to coach the player. He is not there to get a result from the player, he is there to give something to the player.
Intent and Power
This shift in the intent of the boss from taking to giving is what lies at the root of the legitimacy of the hierarchical relationship between the boss and the subordinate. It is clear that Joe works for you because he has to and Fred works for you because he wants to. The person who has genuine power is the person you would work for because you want to; because you would be loyal to that person and allied to them and not hostile to them.
In fact the root of all power is in the intent to give. If I want something from you, your ability to withhold what I want gives you power over me. You are strong and I am weak. When I shift my intent to what I can give to you, I am now concerned with what I have power over and I become powerful. The boss who is here to give to the subordinate has power. This is because the boss is seen to be legitimate. When this happens, subordinates commit discretionary effort in pursuit of the business’ objectives. From a business transformation point of view, this insight has immensely powerful consequences.
Team Excellence: Business Transformation and Colleagues
If one envisaged a business to be like an inverted cone, because there are generally more people at the bottom than at the top. When you do a horizontal cross section through the cone, you get peer groups. Successful businesses need to have peer groups, groups of colleagues, setting each other up to succeed. Getting teams right is essential for business transformation.
A very good metaphor for successful peer groups is to think of them as football teams. In top level football it is apparent that most of the work that happens on the field is not concerned with someone scoring; it is concerned with someone setting someone else up to score. This means that the player concerned is saying to her team mate; “I’m ok with not being then star”. “I’m willing to make you, my colleague, the star”.
It is clear that one only has a team when one has this degree of magnanimity between the members of the team. A team that only has individuals who are pursuing their own agendas is a proverbial “herd of cats”. This team is characterised by in-fighting, territorial behaviour and politics. It will continuously require inordinate control imposed from above to function.
Peer Relationships and Intent
Teams that have individuals who are here to take are characterised by conflict. We indicated before that when you base your behaviour toward someone else on what you want to get from them, that person has power over you. That makes that person dangerous to you because you are vulnerable with regard to them. However, not only is that person dangerous to you, but you are dangerous to them; precisely because you are trying to get something from them.
On the other hand, when you are there to give something to your colleague you are no longer vulnerable because you base you behaviour on what you have power over, not what they have power over. You are safe from that person. However, not only are you safe from that person but because you are there to give to that person the safe from you. You are safe from them and they are safe from you, and when two people are safe from each other they are in a state of harmony.
Teams that have people who are there to take are characterised by conflict; teams that have people who are there to give are in harmony.
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