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Sustainable Innovation

Building organisations worth working for

Building organisations worth working for
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So, here’s a question. Is your organisation worth working for?

We have been asking that question in a whole host of conversations over recent months. We have been asking it because we are interested in where the conversation goes in the process of trying to answer it. And we are interested in that because we believe that building organisations worth working for is a vital campaign for the future of the planet.

Let me explain how we got into this. Like lots of other organisations we are working hard to be a responsible business. We have won many awards for being a Great Place to Work (GPTW) and have learned a lot about building positive workplace cultures. We apply that learning to our work all over the world. We support charities, we work on poverty issues in the developing world through a sister organisation, we are a signatory of the UN Global Compact and much more. Yet we know it isn’t anywhere near enough. Why? Because the problems we face as a global community are too big for any one single organisation, however well intentioned and smart, to take on.

The challenges that confront us over the coming 20 years are huge. Some have called the collision of population growth and the impact of climate change a perfect storm, connecting water, food and energy shortages on a global scale.[1] Others are talking about the limits of our current economic model in relation to the sustainability of the supply of natural resources upon which it depends.[2] And there are the wider challenges of advancing technology - not least the arrival of advanced Artificial Intelligence - which some regard as an issue even bigger than climate change.[3]

For many of us, these kinds of issues remain abstract and beyond our immediate field of view. But whether we think about them or not they remain real, urgent and demanding problems that we collectively need to solve if we are to thrive as a global community. So who is going to do that solving? Who, exactly, are we delegating that task to? Who are we expecting will step up and let us know that all will be well?

I am an optimist. I believe in the capacity of the human race to learn, to adapt and to grow. Our amazing success as a species is rooted in that capacity. I believe we will meet these challenges successfully - and we will do so through our organisations – our companies, our governments, our institutions, charities and community groups – because that’s how we do stuff.  We work together, in groups, in teams, in departments, in organisations. Entrepreneurs create organisations. Governments organise themselves into departments. Got a problem to solve or an opportunity to exploit? Then create an organisation and get started.

So our view is that it is through our organisations, in all their variety and forms, that we will work together to address the challenges we face. But in order to do so effectively our organisations need to be the best expression of human ingenuity, endeavour and enterprise. Our organisations need to be vibrant places that inspire meaningful action, releasing and harnessing the talents of their people, creating real and enduring value in contributing to our collective future.

Yet our day-to-day experience is that too many organisations fall some way short of being the best expression of what we are capable of achieving together. Too many organisations are not great places to work. Employee engagement figures tracked over decades continue to show an overwhelmingly disengaged workforce[4].

Of course there are lots of organisations that are amazing. But are we are in danger of moving to a point where we are giving out awards to organisations just for doing things that should be commonplace, just simply part of what it is to design and run any kind of organisation well?

Shouldn’t every organisation be a great place to work? Collectively, we know what matters in building a great workplace culture. We know what matters in employee engagement and in talent development. We know how to create performance frameworks that work, we know how to build learning organisations that can continue to evolve and adapt. So why do too many organisations struggle to get even these basics right?

It seem to me that if our organisations are to serve us in meeting the future challenges that we face then we need to do much better.  We need our organisations to be more than just great places to work (they all should be, as a matter of course) we need them to be organisations worth working for.

Organisations worth working for are examples of the best expressions of human ingenuity and enterprise. They attract, harness, develop and retain talent not because of their employee benefits, not because of their CSR programmes, not because of their engaging culture (these are all a given); but because, in some authentically meaningful, inspiringly awesome way, they are in service to our collective future, solving real problems, creating real value and doing so within a culture that gets the best from everyone involved.

There is no template for an ‘organisation worth working for’, there aren’t any awards or checklists. What there is instead is a deeply felt need that we need to do better than we are doing, that we have too many organisations that are not worth working for and too many global problems that need solving to be putting up with that for much longer.

This is why we are asking the question, ‘is your organisation worth working for?’ And it is also why the answers, the conversation that flows and the work that emerges have rarely been more important or more urgent.

If you are interested in getting involved in our global conversation about building organisations worth working for then drop me a line and we’ll explain what we have planned and connect you in.

[1] John Beddington, the then UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser warned of the “Perfect Storm’ in 2009 suggesting that by 2030 we will be facing a global population of 8-9 billion, with an increased demand for food (up 50%), water (up 30%) and energy (up 50%), whilst simultaneously having to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

[2] Today we use the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. Obviously this isn’t sustainable. The team at Footprint network have the details on the scale of the problem and the urgent need for action.

[3] Recently several high profile figures, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have been sounding the alarm about the existential threat we face from the potential development path of Artificial Intelligence (AI). For a superb primer on why we need to care about this whole issue try Tim Urban's blog.

[4] Gallup have been tracking employee engagement since 2000.

Grahame Broadbelt is Global Head of Communication and R&D.