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Column: Bringing work back to life

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Corporations need to change their top-down, stuck-in-the-past management structure; otherwise they can never change quickly enough.

“Companies are up against a set of problems that lie outside the performance envelope of management as usual,” said Gary Hamel, business thought leader and professor at the London School of Economics, in an interview with author Steve Denning. “They are being compelled to look for answers in new places. They are facing an unprecedented amount of change. Not just change at the margins, but change that challenges the deepest assumptions of their business model. So they are having to come to grips with the fact that the top-down structures that give an undue share of voice to people who have most of their emotional equity invested in the past — that is fundamentally toxic. The question is: how do you adapt and change rapidly?”

Hamel is right. Many business leaders are too invested in the management methodologies of the past. We should step back and look at how we manage work and lead people with a set of fresh eyes — from a new paradigm. It’s time we bring work back to life.

Bringing the work to life in your organization isn’t rocket science, but it does require some effort. What’s more, that effort needs to take place at the grass-roots level — with the individuals that make up your project teams and the rest of your work force.

“The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it,” Theodore Roosevelt said.

I’ve observed that most people have a real desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. I also believe that those closest to the work understand it the best and when they understand the “why” behind what they’re doing and have the freedom to make choices and decisions about how they do it, they are empowered to contribute at a higher level, take ownership of their work, and it comes to life for them.

With that in mind, let me suggest three keys that have the potential to really improve the way work gets done.

Empower the front line

People want empowerment with ownership and flexibility regarding their deliverables and deadlines. A more team-centric work assignment model enables team members to contribute to the establishment of benchmarks and time-lines while creating a greater sense of responsibility among team members.

Listen to the real story to create confidence

Conversational information about work and projects provides deeper insight into what’s really going on within the organization. Business leaders who leverage solutions that facilitate free-form conversations around assignments capture better information to help them keep an accurate pulse on their businesses and make more proactive decisions.

Recognize accomplishment

Most people take pride in their work and care about what their managers and peers think of them and their accomplishments. Organizations that facilitate the recognition of individuals and their contributions foster an environment where team members are more inclined to participate at a higher level.

There is no question that an engaged work force is a happy and more productive work force. Creating an environment where team members are empowered to make meaningful decisions about their work, where information about goals and objectives flows freely down and the real story about what’s happening at the front line flows freely upward and accomplishments are recognized are the first steps to bringing work to life.

Is the work alive in your organization?

Ty Kiisel is the manager of social outreach for project management software maker AtTask Inc., based in Orem, where he produces the Strategic Project Management blog and his podcast TalkingWork.

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