Working Communities

Where are Modern Working Communities Headed?

Is employee appreciation visible in your company's leadership and management style, the organizational culture, and its development and training activities?

People in the world of business wonder why some companies are more successful than others. The significance of employees is especially highlighted as work environments are becoming more complex. Understanding the human potential and how to put it into broad-based use is now a concept central to success. It is no longer enough that a company's employees are competent and professional; they also need to be mentally nimble and creative, and able to rejuvenate themselves.

Rapid changes in the economy are challenging the workplace. Companies are experiencing labor shortages while simultaneously downsizing. There is a disconnect between the skills and knowledge needed by an organization and those that its employees have. Changes in the younger generations' value systems are another challenge. They are more committed to their careers than a particular organization, which affects retention. Further challenges are scarcity of leadership and management skills, and difficulties improving them. Also, people who work independently or with loose guidelines are a special management concern. Not only are the organizational environments changing, but – perhaps even more importantly - the employees' expectations are changing. In the future, an organization's ability to change and adapt will determine its success. Following are four points to take into account when trying to understand the changes necessary to guarantee organizational success.

Cost Consciousness

Cutting production costs is one of the most important competitive factors, especially as production volumes grow larger. Production-driven businesses strive to increase their competitive edge by implementing efficient and streamlined procedures. This trend has been followed by emphasis on the quality and effectiveness of products. However, that is not enough anymore. Today, progressive businesses are increasing their competitiveness by satisfying their customer's comprehensive needs.

It is also essential to figure out how an individual employee can enhance their contribution to the business. A key for fostering a productive business operation is to give more and more employees the opportunity to amend the way they contribute. This way, their efforts mirror their abilities to benefit the customers better.

However, the above view is not very visible in management styles today. Very few employees are paid or otherwise rewarded for thinking. Employees are routinely not given decision-making powers in areas where their insight and problem solving skills would be beneficial for the business. Additionally, when employees are not making decisions, they lose the opportunity to understand the big picture of the company's success. This attitude towards employees reflects an organizations' lack of confidence in its people's ability to run a successful operation without strict controls.

Consequently, the lack of autonomy and trust leads to employees' lack of motivation to exhibit cost consciousness in their decisions. Cost consciousness cannot fully develop in companies that are not aware of all the factors affecting their production capacity, including each individual's ability to influence it. The relationship between resources made available to employees and clear goals given to them also reflect the clarity of a company's management vision. In other words, if employees feel that the resources given to them make it possible for them to achieve their goals, their jobs are more likely to support their psychological well-being and bring them pleasure from working.

Creativity

The importance of creativity has become a focal point for development ventures in organizations. Despite much ambiguity, it appears that there are sincere efforts to understand the challenge of fostering and promoting creativity.

Creativity in working life manifests itself largely in resourcefulness and ingenuity – it challenges "the way it's always been done." It is a personal mode of operation that makes a person ask if any given task could be done in a smarter way. It is the skill to use existing knowledge to form new working models, the courage to part with the old ones, and allowing new ideas to emerge are vital for innovative businesses.

A creative work process often roams into unknown territory. Operating outside a person's comfort zone and even in risky areas often causes stress, anxiety and uncertainty. However, if a creative process can take place in a safe and supportive environment, it can be a very rewarding and liberating experience. Most innovations spring up in atmospheres that emphasize creative freedom.

Although creativity is considered important in general, it seems that no significant changes have been made to promote widespread creativity in organizations. This suggests that more research on the matter is needed. It is necessary to better understand organizational culture and social interactions, how they influence the organization, and how they can be influenced.

Resiliency

Increased competition and productivity stress naturally brings up the matter of employee resiliency. Just as top athletes need excellent coaching to maximize a team's performance, so do high performing organizations need to support their employees and a positive work environment. A company's ability to serve its customers stems from its ability to take care of its own.

During and after peak performance periods, employees need enough freedom to adjust their work processes. The effects of excessive mental strain are familiar to many of us. Stress-related factors elevate the risk of extreme psychological and physical symptoms. It also is clear that even before an employee shows extreme symptoms from stress, his or her diminished working ability can lead to substantial financial losses to the organization.

Improving Working Communities

Hierarchical operating models are being replaced by flexible, flat organizational structures. Even in large companies there are several small, entrepreneurial teams. At best, the whole company is constructed from these active, loosely operating cells.

Leadership and management styles that ignore the connection between employees and their tasks are becoming less meaningful. Flat organizations give more room to self-guided work groups and independent individuals. One must keep in mind that maintaining creativity and functional energy in such systems presupposes freedom. Furthermore, power bestowed by a hierarchical position is not enough any more – managers need to be active members in their work communities.

Future managers will not only secure their teams' resources and take responsibility for the outcomes; they will also act as counselors, coaches and mentors. Personally internalizing cost consciousness, having a creative attitude and demonstrating commitment to demanding work processes create new challenges for leaders. People don't sacrifice themselves for a commercial benefit that is unfamiliar to them. They will strive to reach the goals of an organization only when they are convinced that it is also beneficial for them to be a part of the larger entity.

A dynamic organization may also awaken a sense of insecurity. In such cases, a value-based organizational culture is a crucial support system. Personal relationships and social networks that reach across the organizational structure provide a foundation for employees' attempts to adjust to changing work environments. In addition, today's demanding business world, loaded with many levels of uncertainty, requires a strong ethical atmosphere to support the people working in it.

Juhani Hokkanen, Managing Partner at Catalyst Advancement

Heimo Langinvainio, Chief Physician of Health and Stress Research and Care Unit at Diakonissalaitos Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, and Specialist in Organizational Development

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