Thomas Laborey

Thomas Laborey

  • is a prac­titioner and a scholar in busi­ness consul­ting, and a foun­ding partner of Bloo­ming Part­ners – a work­shop in inno­va­tive manage­ment that aims to decon­struct novel models to ferti­lise their clients’ own busi­nesses. Thomas shared his insights on company-wide reinvor­ga­tion of employer-employee rela­ti­onships, reve­aling how embra­cing colla­bo­ra­tors’ initia­tives is key.

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Manage­ment is evol­ving. Compa­nies, governments, inve­stors, colla­bo­ra­tors, clients: all fight for one another’s atten­tion. Each stake­holder is stri­ving to engage with the others in a meaningful way, and digital chan­nels make this both faster and more dizzying.

Within compa­nies, top execu­tives are hard-pressed to come up with a vision that is both novel and sustain­able, to inject fresh blood while not rocking the boat too much. Then they’re dismayed at the lack of response from the orga­ni­sa­tion at large to contri­bute and to deliver. Can’t those people who clamour for exci­te­ment, meaning, respon­si­bi­lity, or benevo­lence see when these
things are being offered to them?

Younger employees are of two minds. They want both chal­lenges and approval: a meaningful life and the means with which to live it, and a singular destiny that others can still relate to. They want to be employed, as it were, by parent figures who help them grow, but ulti­mately let them fly the nest. They want to feel out of the ordi­nary without it being diffi­cult to own up soci­ally.

Middle mana­gers have it the worst. They need to keep the boat afloat in a damaged economy while it’s simul­ta­neously being rebuilt with unfa­mi­liar new mate­rials and tech­ni­ques, and old ones in disguise. They need to capture and retain the staff’s increa­singly short atten­tion spans, and inter­pret the elusive, shif­ting vision from on high, all while being incen­ti­vised, evaluated, promoted, and pena­lised within the original frame­work. They feel torn as a result and make up the bulk of burnouts.

“Dedi­ca­tion is mutual and freely consented.”

Each tribe feels like they’re coun­ting on all the others, yet shoul­de­ring most of the weight, which is unfair. It’s tough and getting tougher. It’s bleak, lonely and lacking in trust, and not looking happy is tanta­mount to sedi­tion. It’s not condu­cive to going the extra mile. All the while, we keep hearing that new methods are emerging…just not here.

Let’s go back to basics. Orga­ni­sa­tions are collec­tions of people working towards a shared goal. Those involved must know, under­stand and approve of that
shared goal, how they contri­bute to it and what’s in it for them. A few years ago, we reached the end of an era when working well meant applying a best-prac­tice process, and checking that others did too. Indi­vi­duals and groups could main­tain the illu­sion of being singu­larly in the right. Not so now. How you clarify your purpose, your stra­tegy, your beliefs or your model cannot be done as it used to. Buying startups doesn’t turn you into an entre­pre­neur over­night. Most compa­nies are under­going this shift, so we won’t go into more detail.

Onto another neglected basic, then: people are not cogs. Groups do not just work through a well-oiled sequence of tasks; a band is not just the lead singer. Mapping out indi­vi­dual contri­bu­tions over and beyond the jobs to be completed — like showing new people how it’s done, provi­ding reas­surance where there is doubt, and ligh­tening the tone — need to be viewed as having the same import­ance as mapping skills. You need these factors to build a team that will find a way, that won’t crack under stress, that will remain loyal. You need inter­per­sonal bonds, trust, people who feel beholden to one another. This is already happe­ning all over the place, only in a covert way, on the grounds that beha­viours can’t be fairly assessed and steered. They can. I do.

All that we’ve said so far is true of any group of humans: a sports team, an army squad, a choir. These are not compa­nies. Compa­nies are built on promises to deliver some­thing. We said earlier that top execu­tives needed to start thin­king like entre­pre­neurs. They can rally people around them who don’t share the same drive (mercen­a­ries, for instance), but even­tually they’ll need people who do.

And that’s one of the ways I’ve been helping compa­nies engage with their colla­bo­ra­tors: by making the compa­nies sparkle with intra­pre­neurship. Dedi­ca­tion is mutual and freely consented. You want people to consent to your orga­ni­sa­tion as an ongoing project? Consent to their own project as part of the whole. Make them intra­pre­neurs. Engage with them so they’ll engage with you.

How it’s done

1

Make it optional. That’s right. Ever­y­body has diffe­rent reasons for being there (game theory calls these enga­ge­ment modes), such as making enough to see their kids through univer­sity, being intel­lec­tually stimu­lated, being acknow­ledged as respon­sible, helping others grow, and so forth. But not ever­yone feels always ready to birth and raise their own project. That doesn’t make them bad employees. Don’t forget that consent hinges on the actual possi­bi­lity of saying no — let them. Some employees are slower, and will even­tually hatch some­thing; some lack self-confi­dence, and will be inspired by the example set by others; some will never join the trend but still feel inspired by its very existence; some will be called upon by those who actually have a project. Embrace diver­sity.

2

Make it bottom-up. Abso­lutely any colla­bo­rator can put forward their own project. No one is too insi­gni­fi­cant or too important to be denied this right — top mana­gers can have their pet projects too. No project is too ambi­tious or too small to be squashed. Have a dream. What would you like to see happen? New furni­ture in the cafe­teria? A new logo? A new product? A new busi­ness model? A new manage­ment frame­work? Step up.

3

Make it accoun­table. The cornerstone of each project is the benefit case: what does this idea bring and to whom, and on what time­frame? How do we know whether we’re getting those bene­fits on track? The only crite­rion on which a project is judged, then, is whether the benefit case is achieved or not. Next, the necessary effort is assessed: skills, toolset, people time, machine time, office space, external assets to buy and so forth. But how much it costs is not a crite­rion; what is, however, is whether it fore­see­ably supports the benefit case.

4

Make it modular. Most projects are better off split into minimal value steps, that is, self-contained levels of achie­ve­ment that make it possible to account for team fatigue, lessons to be learnt, avai­la­bi­lity of rare resources for other projects, digesting time for a major change, build-up of user ownership, etc.

5

Make it fair. Any number of projects can be pitched. They’re not in compe­ti­tion, as they have diffe­rent prio­ri­ties based on their respec­tive benefit cases. Projects are not pitched to a closed committee of big bosses with lots of poli­tical toes to step on, but are avail­able for ever­yone to view on internal social media, pitched to the “states general” of the orga­ni­sa­tion: repre­sen­ta­tives of the young and old, the low and high, the newbies and the old-timers, the ones from the company we just absorbed…the states general will be able to debate, modify,enrich, suggest merging the idea with another project, or split­ting it up into more chewable mouth­fuls, and some­times reject, and this response will be reached as a consensus with the project owner.

6

Make it manda­tory. The owner commits to deli­vering the agreed benefit case on time, and the orga­ni­sa­tion, through the states general, commits to supplying the agreed means on time. Both parties commit to reviewing the level of bene­fits reached on each step, as compared to the benefit case, and decide what the next level of ambi­tion will be.

This is how I’ve been making every willing colla­bo­rator an intra­pre­neur, contri­bu­ting to the whole in a way that is meaningful to them. This is how to vest inte­rest in a common good built toge­ther. This is how to attract and retain talent. This is how to foster a sense of belon­ging. This is how parts of a machine are turned into ships in a fleet. This is how to invi­go­rate corpo­rate stra­tegy. This is how to learn to colla­bo­rate (liter­ally “work toge­ther”) again. This is how your orga­ni­sa­tion sparkles.

Thomas Laborey

Thomas Laborey

  • is a prac­titioner and a scholar in busi­ness consul­ting, and a foun­ding partner of Bloo­ming Part­ners – a work­shop in inno­va­tive manage­ment that aims to decon­struct novel models to ferti­lise their clients’ own busi­nesses. Thomas shared his insights on company-wide reinvor­ga­tion of employer-employee rela­ti­onships, reve­aling how embra­cing colla­bo­ra­tors’ initia­tives is key.

Want to get to know Thomas Laborey?

Get in touch

Still curious?
There is more to see here:

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